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.