Crash Landing on You: your questions answered


To be honest, I didn’t know Crash Landing on You was that popular in other countries before I left a tweet about meeting the defector writer. The tweet was probably the most viral tweet I ever posted.

My interview with Mr Kwak, which actually went on about three hours and the transcript of which exceeds 8,000 words, had to be heavily trimmed for obvious reasons.

So I decided to write a separate Q&A piece on my blog. Enjoy!

This is where Kwak and other defectors differ. Kwak told me that he thinks it’s 70-80% accurate while other defectors gave much lower score. Hyo-jin, one of the defectors I talked to said 20-30%. Then again, she added she’s from a border village that is far from Pyongyang and the drama shows rather upper class life in North Korea so she might not be the best judge.

Kwak said he wants us not to be fixated what a handful of people say about North Korea.

“All the world, including North Korea, has a bright side and a dark side. As a coin has two sides. People can only what they see from where they stand. I can’t see what’s behind me from there,” Kwak said.

“What I tell you also is just one side of the story. Take a look in every possible aspects and have a balanced view on North Korea, I hope.”

Kwak picked out, in terms of the NK accent, Hyun Bin for the best actor and Kim Jeong-nan (Yeong-ae in the drama) for the best actress.

I kind of felt like he picked Hyun Bin for his acquaintance with the actor. Kwak and Hyun have known each other since working together on the 2009 drama Friend, Our Legend. He showed me a picture they took together during the production of the drama.

But for Kim Jeong-nan, he never hesitated to praise her accent. “Her accent was almost 100% Pyongyang accent. I was surprised!” he said.

His favorite character was, as you can guess, Pyo Chi-soo. He also praised the actor’s play.

Interactions among the women were definitely the work of the head writer Park Ji-eun, Kwak told me.

Part of the answer is in my original draft:

The hardest part, according to him, was how to keep the female lead unnoticed in a North Korean village. 

“For a dramatic purpose, Se-ri had to experience North Korean culture for a while.” Kwak says. 

“How can a chaebol heiress from the South, with such a hot-tempered personality, go unnoticed in a North Korean village under strict surveillance? But we had to make it happen.”   

The first idea the team discussed was having Captain Ri to teach her learn North Korean accent. Only to be dismissed soon since it looked far-fetched. The second was to keep her in Ri’s house but in this case, she wouldn’t have any chance to establish rapports with the ladies from the village. 

Kwak’s intimate knowledge from his military service offered a breakthrough.   

“I said, ‘let’s get her exposed then,’” Kwak said.   

To viewer’s surprise, Ri tells the secret police agent who caught Yoon from his house that she’s from South Korea. Why has Ri been keeping her in his house then?   

“She belongs to Division 11,” Ri says. Division 11 of the United Front Department is in charge of spies dispatched to the South, the viewer’s told.

Pretending Yoon as a spy returned from the South, the writers set her free to roam around the village without being worried about suspicions due to her Southern accent. 

Technically the Division 11 is known to take care of the families of the dispatched spies rather than the spies themselves but Kwak’s knowledge, without doubt, helped setting the ground for the crucial moment of the story without a bump.  

Crash Landing on You: meet the defector writer behind stunning details on North Korea

Kwak added that also hard was to devise how to make Ri Jeong-hyuk cooperate with Yoon Se-ri.

As some defectors pointed out, elite military officer like Ri wouldn’t easily let her get away even if she somehow has him by the balls.

Kwak was also aware of this. Even if he does, it would make him look bad to the audience. So he suggested to make his soldiers blunder so serious that Ri has to cooperate to her in order to get his men out of problem.

According to Kwak, the head writer Park Ji-eun and the head of the production company Studio Dragon initially agreed on the idea of fantasy rom-com featuring North Korean officer and South Korean heiress.

We may never know since Park hasn’t given an interview but it sounded like they didn’t hesitated. Considering the ROK government’s change of stance on North Korea as Moon Jae-in (very friendly to NK) replaced Park Geun-hye (not really), I don’t think they had to worry much about getting approval.

But the writers did worry about possible backfire from the audience. Some indeed criticized it for ‘glamourizing’ North Korea.

However, Kwak said they were quite sure the controversy won’t last long as the series goes on and shows darker side of North Korea: homeless children and frequent power cuts, etc.

For middle-to-high ranking officials in Pyongyang, Kwak said it won’t be a fiction. Virtually every landline and mobile phone is wiretapped.

Kwak told me several inter-Korean love stories he knew. Since any contact with South Korean within NK territory is strictly controlled by the authority, it usually happens abroad.

One who worked in the North Korean embassy in Moscow he knew happened to fall in love with a South Korean woman and defected to the South.

It also happens among North Koreans studying abroad. Kwak said that it rarely happens for female students to be allowed to study abroad so it’s usually between North Korean boys and South Korean girls who met in colleges and universities abroad.

He said he hasn’t experienced any discriminations in person for being a defector. He works in a creative field that is film and drama industry so his minority feat has been more of competitive advantage.

If he chose to get a job in a regular company, things would have become a lot different, he admitted.

No shit. Almost every defector agreed that the power cuts were so real.

According to Kwak, North Korea relies on thermal and hydro plants for electricity. Hydro plants are useless during the winter and thermal plants are so antiquated.

Most of the thermal plants NK has were build by the Soviet Union during the 50s and 60s after the Korean War. So even the capital Pyongyang suffers from frequent power cuts.

Which could be harsher for Pyongyang dwellers who live in high rise apartments than those who live in the countryside. In these apartments, there won’t be no heat nor water when electricity goes off.

This, in fact, proved to be the most controversial topic among the defectors. Some say there could be no one like Hyun Bin in the North while others don’t agree.

“Do you believe that there could be no one out of 25 million people in North Korea?” with a raised voice, Kwak asked back to me. (LOL)

There are four NK underground tunnel discovered so far. They are way bigger than what Captain Ri used.

You can also visit the three tunnels. I remember visiting one when I was a child. Come, come!

By the way, the tunnel Captain Ri used to come to the South is impossible in reality. It has to be at least 60km long and a tunnel so narrow like one from the drama won’t have enough oxygen for Captain Ri. We don’t want him to die of asphyxiation.

He studied film direction from Pyongyang University of Dramatic and Cinematic Arts. In the 80s when he sought for higher education, NK film industry was booming.

Major reason of which was that Kim Jong Il the hermit leader of North Korea was a huge fan of films. He even ordered to abduct a famous South Korean director and his former wife who was also a famous actress and forced them to make movies for him.

After he defected to the South, he was offered to work in the South Korean film industry by chance.

One of the most influential film directors in South Korea during the 2000s Kwak Kyung-taek, was working on a North Korea related project and was in need of help on the details of NK.

At the moment, Kwak Moon-wan just finished his interrogation by the South Korean spy agency. Every defector has to go through a routine interrogation by the agency and the military intelligence to be cleared in case they are bogus or worse, North Korean spies.

Director Kwak seemed to have some contacts with the agency. So when he asked fore help, the agency recommended Kwak Moon-wan. It was the beginning of his career in the South.

Actually the name Kwak Moon-wan is a nom de plume. Kwak the director gave his uncle’s name, who couldn’t join his father to the South during the Korean War and is believed to be living in the North.

When Moon-wan’s first contribution in Kwak’s film was finished, Moon-wan was reluctant to use his real name, fearing any harm to his family in the North. After he told the director this, the director discussed it with his father and offered Moon-wan to use his uncles name as nom de plume.

“This may be a case of inter-Korean union. Started from a name,” Kwak Moon-wan said.

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