Shortly after, Berlin Film Festival 2000 opened and I was back in town. As always, my first visit was to the film market to meet my friends at the ‘New Cinema from Japan’ booth. This time I had a special question to ask them: “Do you know anything about the movies on that list the North Koreans from the ‘embassy’ here in Berlin gave me?” Takashi Nishimura, the organizer of the booth looked at the list: “Oh, I have seen some of those films when I was young. Most of them are part of one series, called Gokutsuma, produced by Toei in the 1980s, and featuring stories about the wives of Yakuza gangsters. They generally depict turmoil after the death of Yakuza bosses. ” He had not much hope that any of those films might have made it to Europe and said that most likely I would have to get them from Japan.
Armed with this and some other new knowledge, I met U again, and again he came outside of the ‘embassy’ building once I entered the premises and we drove to the nearby Chinese restaurant.
“Any progress?” he asked via the inevitable Kim.
“Yes.” I said. “UFA sounded rather ambiguous about you paying for the completion of a 35mm print of Katharina die Grosse. On the one hand, they would like you to do it, on the other they don’t really see a point in spending any energy on this. It’s just work for them and they are not really interested in your deal. They sold it to TV and that’s it for those guys, basically.”
“You will keep on trying? We pay for your services. Just send us an invoice once you got the movie. You decide the price.”
“Sounds good. Well, I also found out about the Japanese films. Most of them are part one big series about the wives of Yakuza gangsters, made by Toei. Did you know that?”
“What wives of gangsters? No, I didn’t know.”
“But you ordered those films.”
“I was just curious. Of course, I still have to see those films myself; please get them for me. I love films.”
“And what about Shiri? Can you get us a print?” he continued.
“The show is tomorrow, why don’t you see it at the film market? I get you tickets for free.” I replied.
“No, that is not possible. We want to see it in our ‘embassy’.”
Trying to rent Shiri simply on my own, pretending to want that movie for the small independent little theater in Nuremberg I was working for at the time? That was what U wanted me to do as he went on explaining, but it sounded pretty farfetched to me, given the fact that no German distribution deal on that film had been made so far, that it had been South Korea’s best selling hit movie of all times so far, plus, most importantly, the fact that the print was here only for a screening at the film market; not a theatrical rental situations by any means. So, I decided to just try a straight-ahead approach, knowing that there would be the danger that the North Koreans might not like my way. But that was perhaps the only way to get the film to U.
After watching the film at the market, I walked over to the booth of Mirovision, the South Korean company representing Shiri and introduced myself to the representative as somebody being interested in Korean cinema, in North Korean cinema especially, telling him that I was preparing a North Korean film series to be shown in Europe, that I was in contact with the Berlin diplomatic mission of the North Koreans and that, yes, this mission was looking for a print of Shiri for an internal ‘embassy’ screening. The sales representative seemed to be rather puzzled by all that.
“The print is going to be shipped to Los Angeles today” he said, “We can’t keep it in Berlin. And showing it at the North Korean embassy? I think we would need some permission from our government first.”
Just at that moment the phone rang. It was the director of Shiri, Kang Je-kyu. He was all for it, the sales representative told me after the call was finished, he loved the idea of having the film played in the North Korean ‘embassy’ and just gave his personal okay on everything related to such a screening. Still, the print had to go to Los Angeles and there was nothing he could do about that. Sorry, he said.
Another meeting with U and Kim at the Chinese restaurant the next day. “Any news on Shiri? We need the film!” U said.
“Sorry, you should have seen it yesterday. The print is on the way to Los Angeles now.”
“And on the Japanese films?”
“I’m working on it.”
“And on the Katharina die Grosse film?”
“I’m working on it.”
U looked worried for a moment but then his face brightened: “Do you have 2.500 Deutschmarks in cash with you?” he asked.