Documentary about activist Pauline Park reveals a personal tale that never strays far from politics

By LOUIS FLORES

The LGBTQ activist Pauline Park is the subject of a documentary short, "Coming Full Circle : The Journey of a Transgendered Korean Adoptee," which was screened at the School of Visual Arts on Sunday. The screening was part of PINKS Documentaries NYC, a four-day festival showcasing films from or about Korea. Following the screening of "Coming Full Circle," a brief Question-and-Answer session brought Ms. Park and the film's director, Larry Tung, together before the audience, providing for an interactive experience.

Pauline Park, left, with the director Larry Tung, at the School of Visual Arts in Chelsea on Sunday during a Question-and-Answer session following a screening of "Coming Full Circle : The Journey of a Transgendered Korean Adoptee" (2015). The documentary short was screened as part of the PINKS Documentaries NYC, a four-day festival showcasing Korean films. Source : Louis Flores/Progress Queens

Pauline Park, left, with the director Larry Tung, at the School of Visual Arts in Chelsea on Sunday during a Question-and-Answer session following a screening of "Coming Full Circle : The Journey of a Transgendered Korean Adoptee" (2015). The documentary short was screened as part of the PINKS Documentaries NYC, a four-day festival showcasing Korean films. Source : Louis Flores/Progress Queens

"Coming Full Circle" documented Ms. Park's experiences and reflections on the occasion of her first return trip to Korea, in 2015, since she was adopted in 1961 as a baby by an American family of Northern European heritage in Milwaukee, WI. Although Ms. Park spoke of her twin brother in the film, the documentary short was limited to the experiences of Ms. Park's life.

In the documentary short, Ms. Park speaks of her coming-out experiences -- twice :  first, as a gay man in college, and second, about 20 years later, as a transgendered woman. Because Ms. Park's life experiences have been anthologised in various books, these milestones in her life, as well as some of her achievements to codify legal protections -- and their enforcement -- on behalf of the LGBTQ community, were very quickly glossed-over in order to situate the film in South Korea for Ms. Park's trip.

The primary purpose of the trip was to allow Ms. Park the opportunity to conduct a search for information about her birth family as part of a tour with other adoptees. The documentary short revealed some of the lengths to which adoptees will go in the search for information about their birth families, including taking DNA tests. Ms. Park spoke about the poor health she and her twin brother were in at the time of their adoption. But for the adoption, Ms. Park said that she did not think that she and her brother would have survived, had they stayed in Korea. Furthermore, Ms. Park said she would not have been afforded opportunities to attend college, to have a career, to enjoy social advancement, and to live openly as a woman had she been raised in Korea.

A secondary purpose of the trip allowed Ms. Park to engage in speaking engagements, including addressing attendees of the 2015 Korea Queer Festival, estimated that year to number up to 35,000. In that address, Ms. Park observed that at the time of her adoption, Park Chung-hee had just come into power in South Korea following a coup d'état. Upon her return, as an adult, in search of information about her birth family, Ms. Park noted that the military leader's daughter, Park Geun-hye, was in power. In a campy play on words, Ms. Park told the crowd at the Korea Queer Festival that we needed fewer "princesses" in power and more "queens." Queens is a slang term sometimes used by some members of the LGBTQ community for self-identification.

Mr. Tung, a journalist by training, approached his subject without exploiting the sentimentality surrounding Ms. Park's search for her birth family, and the documentary short noted some of the drastic measures undertaken by Christian fundamentalists in an attempt to shut down the 2015 Korea Queer Festival. Some of these tactics were the subject of news reports at the time. "Coming Full Circle" was also screened in New York last summer during the Asian American International Film Festival. This is Mr. Tung's second documentary about Ms. Park. His documentary films have been screened at over 40 film festivals around the world, according to his biographical information.

Ms. Park, one of the nation's leading LGBTQ activists, has earned the respect of her peers for her autonomy and for her political acumen. In 2013, Ms. Park was one of many leaders in a loosely-organised, anti-corruption movement that ousted former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Chelsea) from elected office. In the past, Ms. Park has provided political analysis for reports published by Progress Queens.

During some of the remarks Ms. Park made during her address of the 2015 Korea Queer Festival, she expressed hope that, upon another return trip, Christians would be joining with the Korean LGBTQ community in pride festivities, instead of staging protests, and there would be legal protections in Korea against LGBTQ discrimination. Already, there has been change. In the time since the documentary short was filmed, Park fille, the South Korean leader, was impeached and removed from office. Mr. Tung followed Ms. Park half-way around the world in search of her origin, and they came back, having been witness to events that would yield to the kind of political change that appears to intertwine with Ms. Park's life.