Review: The Schoolgirl’s Diary

Sacrifice is something that is particularly hard to comprehend during adolescence. In Jang In-hak’s modern melodrama, we see the 16-year-old Su-ryeon (Pak Mi-hyang) struggle to come to terms with the fact that her absentee father works tirelessly in the city on a scientific breakthrough (“for the good of the Nation”) while she, her mother, her sister and her grandmother must live in the countryside without him. Her self-absorbed notions bring her into conflict with her family and friends, but after a period of struggle she realizes that sacrifice by everyone is essential for everyone in the modern age.

This low-key melodramatic tale of the problems facing the current middle classes appeared at the Cannes Film Festival where it attracted attention from French distributor Pretty Pictures. The release of the film in Europe meant that it was one of the first North Korean films to receive healthy distribution outside of the DPRK.

So what was it that made “The Schoolgirl’s Diary” more appealing than the kung fu hit “Hong Kil Dong” or the action adventure of “Order No. 27”? Gentle and comedic in tone, “The Schoolgirl’s Diary” touches on themes of patriotism but never rams them down your through. Also, Pak Mi-hyang in the lead creates a believable portrayal of a mildly angsty teen who wishes to see more of her father and move to a big apartment in the big city.

Technically proficient photography (this is, of course, all relative) and a few scenes of Su-ryeon’s father on the football field (yet another example of the North Korean’s love of the beautiful game) make this a perfectly watchable tale of modern (as the government would want you to see it) life in and around Pyongyang.

You won’t find any references to the demon Americans in this one, but if you find melodrama to be sickly sweet then you might want to look elsewhere.

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5 thoughts on “Review: The Schoolgirl’s Diary

  1. Pingback: Kim Jong Il and the Development of Cinema Art | North Korean Films

  2. A great read, thanks! This was fun to watch and I agree, definitely very light on the patriotism, ignoring the songs. I did notice though, the use of the DPRK flag colours (i.e. the colours of pretty much every flag ever) appear together in many shots. It was a simpler version of the red-green colour palette in Vertigo. I’ve “catalogued” all of the shots that do this here if you’re interested: http://williamwozzeck.tumblr.com/post/18683814926/north-korean-flag-colours-in-a-schoolgirls-diary-1
    I have only watched three movies from North Korea – ‘My Home Village’ is next if I can find it!

  3. helo.i want to ask about the relationship between football and north korea.recently i have seen two north korean movie that show “something” between football n this country..i just want to know,i’m curious…anybody how know about this,plis reply my question..tq very much… 🙂

    • Football is definitely the most popular sport in North Korea and their national team (men and women) are actually pretty successful in Asia. I guess the theme of a team sport is really easy to fit into North Korean films which always look for ways to show teamwork etc. There are a great number of films that showcase the sport – even if it’s just briefly.

  4. Pingback: A Short History Of North Korea’s Film Industry (Update) | Harry Whitehead

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