More than three decades later, a pair of British filmmakers was invited by the North Korean government to film and interview the seven surviving members of the team. "The Game of Their Lives," released last year, recounts the team's triumphs and chronicles their lives in the years that followed.
Their achievement, Liem says, was unprecedented. Lightly regarded and little known, the North Korean team pulled off an astounding upset of mighty Italy before losing to Portugal in the quarterfinal. So compelling was the team's performance that many fans in England, where the tournament took place, adopted the North Koreans as their "local side," Liem notes - even though their countries had no diplomatic relations.
But there is more than sports trivia to the story, says Liem, a founding member of the Boston Korea Friendship Association, co-sponsor of the documentary's nine-city tour that begins tomorrow in New York City. The organization sponsored the film's American premiere last fall in Boston.
"Most Americans' views of North Korea have been shaped in the context of confrontation," said Liem. "Our objective in showing this film is to offer a rare, human view of North Korea, to encourage people to broaden their perspective, and to ask themselves how much - or how little - we really know about North Korea and its people. This is especially important for Americans because of our history of conflict with the North.
"It really is a remarkable film for its ability to show sport as a means of reconciliation in the face of deeply contested political relationships and ideas."
Liem, whose parents emigrated to the United States from northern Korea years before the country was partitioned, has long been active in efforts he says are aimed at building understanding between Americans and Koreans in the north and south, and to promote reconciliation among the peoples of the divided peninsula.
"The Game of Their Lives" offers an avenue for rapprochement, according to Liem, whose current project is an oral history on Korean-American memories of the Korean War. During last year's World Cup, South Korean fans cheering on the Republic of Korea national team held up signs saying "Again 1966" in recognition of the historic feat by their countrymen 36 years ago.
The filmmakers, producer-director Dan Gordon and associate producer Nicholas Bonner, will be on hand for the tour, which concludes in San Jose, Cal., on March 15. Last fall, Gordon and Bonner arranged for the former players to make an emotional return to England, the site of their triumph.
Liem says plans are being formulated to hold a screening of the film at BC.
More information on the film is at www.thegameoftheirlives.com.
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