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Madame & Little Boy
Magnus Bärtås

In 1978 the legendary South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee was kidnapped in Hong Kong by North Korean agents and brought to Pyongyang. Two weeks later her ex-husband, the director Shin Sang-ok, was abducted to North Korea as well. After spending five years in the country the couple was offered a ‘contract’ which included a public statement declaring their willful defection to North Korea, a major film budget, enormous resources in terms of equipment and extras, and furthermore a re-marriage. Two years later the artist-pair managed to escape, after having directing and producing a number of films in North Korea, eventually taking political asylum in the United States. Not yet finished was Pulgasari (1985), a Japanese-style monsterfilm based on a Korean legend and made in the vein of Godzilla.

Madame & Little Boy is a video essay where historical lines and the circles of repetition in the life story of Choi Eun-hee (Madame Choi) are examined. The genealogy of the monsters from Godzilla, via Pulgasari to Galgameth (Shin’s remake of Pulgasari in Hollywood) is interpreted as a series of deliberate messages about atomic weapons.

As an experiment with situated narration this video essay takes a standpoint against documentarism and common documentary practice. The story of Madame and Little Boy (the code name of the Hiroshima bomb) is narrated by the American musician Will Oldham (aka Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy) in a studio building next to The Nike Missile Site outside San Francisco. The studio building becomes place for viewing and talking back to images: the surrounding American landscape, the missile site (‘a petrified monster’) where atomic weapons were kept in secrecy, clips from Shin Sang-ok’s production together with footages from North Korea. This site, serving as an intersection of the present and past, is also the meeting place with the Choi Eun-hee’s gaze, filmed in a hotel in Seoul.

Keywords Documentary, Montage
Aspect ratio 1.78:1 (16:9)
Prod. format Generic HD-video
Duration 00:27:00
Language English
Color Color
Year 2009
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About the artist

Magnus Bärtås

Born 1962 in Jönköping, Sweden. Currently based in Stockholm, Sweden.

Magnus Bärtås is an artist and author. His installations and video essays are often investigating in the fields of marginal architecture, biography and storytelling. He is a professor of fine arts at Konstfack, the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm since 2008. His PhD in practice-based research was presented in 2010 (You Told Me – work stories and video essays). His video essay Madame & Little Boy won the grand prize at Oberhausen International Film Festival. He has published three books of essays together with Fredrik Ekman. Their latest book (Alla monster måste dö) was nominated to the Swedish national book prize (Augustpriset). He participated in ‘Reshapes’, the IASPIS contribution to The Venice Biennale in 2003, “Modernautställningen” at Moderna Museet, Stockholm 2006 and 2010 and the 9:th Gwangju Biennale 2012 among other exhibitions.