BUSAN, South Korea - A movie funded by donations and crowding-funding investments from nearly 7,000 people has highlighted the battle of a Samsung factory worker's family to win compensation for her death from leukemia in the face of media indifference and corporate obstruction.
"Another Family," which premiered during the 18th Busan International Film Festival ending on Saturday, is a fictional account based on the story of Hwang Yu-mi, who died aged 23 from leukemia in 2007, four years after joining Samsung's memory chip factory in Yongin, South Korea. The title resonates widely in South Korea because it is a well-known Samsung advertising slogan.
Hwang's father Sang-gi, a taxi driver, won a court ruling in June 2011 that overturned a government agency's finding that Samsung was not responsible for Hwang's cancer. In South Korea, the Korea Workers' Compensation & Welfare Service levies companies and compensates workers after reviewing their claims on industrial hazards and diseases. The agency has appealed the ruling.
Of three dozen Samsung employees who last year sought compensation for diseases allegedly caused by Samsung, only two won compensation, according to Lee Jong-ran, an attorney who helps tech industry workers who contracted leukemia and other cancers. About a dozen people have filed lawsuits seeking to overturn the welfare agency's refusal to recognize a link between their diseases and working conditions at Samsung, she said.
In the fictionalized account of "Another Family," a sickened young woman and her father are ignored by most reporters and former colleagues as they try to show a link between chemicals used at the factory where she worked and her cancer.
The company, named Jinsung to avoid a possible libel suit, stymies her father's efforts to find witnesses. A company official tails her family day and night, offering increasingly larger sums of money to settle. The names of Hwang and her father are also altered for the movie, to Han.
In one poignant scene, Han's father stands outside Jinsung's factory gate seeking witnesses who could testify in court about working conditions. Suddenly he is surrounded by three buses that blast dance music. Co-producer Daniel Park said the dramatic scene was based on an incident outside a Samsung factory involving two buses.
Samsung denied the bus incident occurred. "The scenes depicted in this film are not a factual representation of actual events," it said. "Since 2012 Samsung has reached out several times to the families of former employees and remains committed to active dialogue"
Director Kim Taeyun said "Another Family" was inspired by a 2011 news article about Hwang's father who won the court victory after a seemingly hopeless battle against South Korea's largest corporation.
As families of the sick workers lose income while facing mounting hospital bills, many cannot resist settling with Samsung, rather than being submerged by years of lawsuits against the government agency and Samsung.
"If he had settled with the company, I wondered if he could have continued smiling," Kim said of Hwang's father.
In another echo of reality, Kim depicts South Korean reporters flocking to Jinsung's press conference saying its factory is safe. In the following scene, victims and their families hold a sparsely attended press conference saying they got sick from working at the factory.
"There is almost no media that is critical of Samsung," the director said. "For example, when (tech workers advocacy group) Banolim issues a press release, the following day there are articles about Samsung's new products." Banolim is the Korean name of SHARPs, a coalition of workers and activists helping electronics industry workers diagnosed with rare diseases.
The movie also highlights the burden on the workers who bear the onus of proving the link between their disease and the company even without the access to information about what is going on inside the factory.
"Even now Samsung is not releasing the names of the chemicals saying they are trade secrets," Hwang's father told audiences at the theatre.
Hwang's father said he laughed and wept watching stories that he knew so well. Many members of the audience also wept during the movie.
Kim said seeing other movies getting donations and finding investors through crowd-funding websites emboldened him to make the movie that others said might be risky. More than 6,000 people donated nearly 280 million ($260,000) for "Another Family" in exchange of movie tickets or DVDs. Other individuals invested some 450 million won.
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