Museum curator: “Our traditional martial art was established as Thaekkyon in Ri Dynasty through Koryo’s. Regionally its practitioners were nicknamed differently. Eg, Chaebi and Jebi…”Mr Ko: “… and those around Mount Taesong were called Pyongyang Nalpharam… “
I loved the feel of Pyongyang Nalpharam (2006), a film that was on my top 3 “must see” titles from North Korea. The opening scene, set in an impressive looking library, had all the elements that I love from this kind of kung fu movie: ancient texts, hidden forms of kung fu and details of long forgotten battles.
In fact, in the same way that Hong Kil Dong (1986) reminded me of the Hong Kong kung fu classics from the Shaw Brothers, Pyongyang Nalpharam evoked Ang Lee’s sumptuous Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).
Of course, this being a North Korean film after all, the main action takes place in time of Japanese occupation. This gives the films protagonists ample room to demonstrate the “good” versus “evil” nature of things (check out the subtitled below).
But where would any kung fu (or even action) film be without the obligatory training sequences? Here the practitioners of Pyongyang Nalpharam smash pots containing water with their heads. Crude, yes, but also pretty dramatic. The action goes some way to breaking up the long scenes of exposition which primarily revolve around a valiant man who is attempting to marry a woman he was betrothed to from a young age whilst also protecting the secret texts of the Nalpharam from the Japanese judo brigade. Simple stuff.
Considering Pyongyang Nalpharam arrived at a time of quite meager output for the North Korean movie industry it’s possible to see that the budgets were not quite as they were during the ’70s and ’80s. Yet committed stunt work and a reasonably light helping of propaganda make this film zip along at a comfortable pace.
If you’re looking for an entry film to get you into North Korean cinema, this could be it.