Shunned as North Korean spy
A Christchurch demolition expert has been shunned by his South Korean community after starring in a mockumentary seemingly produced by the North Korean Government.
Engineer Eugene Chang, who narrates the film, is now being accused of being a North Korean sympathiser and spy.
The first-time actor has been refused communion at his Korean Catholic church and had to step down from the board of trustees of the Korean school after parents refused to send their children while he was involved.
His wife, a teacher at a language school, was accused by students of being a North Korean spook.
"I'm now very isolated. I thought I had friends but not one of them showed any support," Chang, who moved to Christchurch with his wife and two children 12 years ago, said.
His mother was born in North Korea and lives with the family.
The highly charged mockumentary argues that the world is controlled by corporates who use consumerism, religion and pop culture to prevent people rising up against their corrupt rulers.
North Korea is promoted as a glorious exception. Posted on YouTube, the film purports to have arrived in the West via North Korean defectors living in Seoul.
In fact the film, Propaganda, was made by Christchurch film-makers Slavko Martinov and Mike Kelland and had its world premiere in Amsterdam in November, with support from the New Zealand Film Commission.
Martinov said Chang helped with translation and was then invited to play a North Korean psychology professor.
"Someone in the South Korean community saw the film and recognised him as the narrator and reported him to the South Korean embassy.
"The matter was referred to the authorities in Korea and the Korean Society accused Eugene of being a North Korean spy.
"It can only be described as a McCarthy-era communist witch-hunt. We told Eugene about the possible consequences of being in the film but we didn't see this coming. I tried to tell the South Korean community it's a satire or parody. But they don't care. To them it's treasonous."
Martinov said the reaction of the community in Christchurch had proved the message of the film.
Propaganda was extremely powerful but should teach people to "question everything", he said.
Chang said articles in the local Korean newspaper The Korean Review had fuelled rather than explained the controversy behind his appearance in the film.
The repercussions had been "very costly" but he would still have acted in the film had he known of the after-effects, he said.
Although he had explained his role and stressed he was a loyal South Korean, "once you are suspected of being a North Korean sympathiser it stays with you".
The South Korean embassy had told him he was under investigation, had questioned him and asked him to sign a declaration he was not a North Korean citizen.
A prominent person in the Christchurch Korean Society, who asked not to be named, said many in the community now regarded Chang as a North Korean sympathiser and spy, even if they did understand he had been acting.
Chang's acceptance of the role was highly inappropriate given his previous position as vice-president of the society and the tensions on the Korean peninsula.
The film appeared to praise the North Korean system. That the film had reached a wider audience was "even worse", he said.
A spokesman for the South Korean embassy in Wellington said it was aware of the film but did not want to comment.