Review: My Home Village (1949)

It’s been such a long time coming.

I finally tracked down – and finally sat down and watched – the first North Korean film ever produced: My Home Village (1949), directed by Kang Hong-sik.

I knew what to expect from the film (a lack of English subtitles meant I only had a crude English synopsis to guide me) but having watched my fair share of Chinese films made after the Communists took power in 1949 I recognized many of the staples in this DPRK effort.

I managed to isolate the opening scene from the film, which I think represents what’s the come quite nicely.

Present were the imperialists, the landlords and the downtrodden masses. As with most communist films set “pre-liberation” the arrival of the communist masses brings about a happy ending for all involved. And some archival footage of Kim Il-Sung (who looks remarkably like the DPRK’s present leader Kim Jong-un) caps it all off.

For an idea of the plot, here’s what the book Korean Film Art had to say about it:

This was the first feature film to be produced after the country’s liberation. It gives a pictures of boundless joy and emotion of the Korean people who are now liberated from the colonial yoke of Japanese imperialism thanks to the glorious anti-Japanese struggle organized and led by the great leader Comrade Kim Il-Sung.

Unable to endure the insult of the landlord, the leading character Gwan Pil gives vent to his rage. Because of this, he is deprived of his tenant land and is put in jail by the Japanese imperialists. In prison he gains class consciousness under the influence of Hak Jun, a political operative of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army. He runs away from prison and joins the KPRA. In the flames of struggle he grows up to be a staunch fighter and able underground operative. He discharges with credit the charges of underground activities in the homeland. Gwan Pil returns home after liberation and enjoys a happy reunion with his mother and the villagers. Together with his sweetheart Ok Dan, he comes out in the building of a new society.

It was a struggle making it through the film, to be honest. Not much in the way of visual excitement could meant that I was often left totally bewildered about what was going on. Still, as a historical artifact, the film reflects the importance of cinema new communist regimes. And I’m glad I got to see it… eventually.

If you’re looking to get your hands on a copy (as I mentioned there are no English subtitles), you can head over to North Korea Books.

2 thoughts on “Review: My Home Village (1949)

  1. South of the 38th parallel, the first Korean film made after Liberation was Hurrah for Freedom! in 1946. It was shown last year at the Korean Cultural Centre in London, and the critic who introduced it said that the only surviving version was heavily cut because one of the actors later defected to the North and the censors ordered all his scenes to be deleted.

    The (South) Korean Film Archive says that Choi In-Kyu, the director of Hurrah for Freedom!, “was kidnapped to North Korea during the Korean War”. Conversely, Johannes Schönherr, who spells his name Choe Ik-gyu,.says that he defected in 1950 to escape a crackdown on left-wing film-makers and went on to direct Sea of Blood and co-direct The Flower Girl.

    The Korean Film Archive does not know (or pretends not to know) anything about what happened to Choi/Choe after the war. Instead it declares, “Choi In-kyu’s greatest accomplishment is in the fact that he taught important directors in Korean movie history such as Hong Seong-ki, Shin Sang-ok, and Chung Chang-wha and is considered the Father of Korean Film after the Korean Independence.” Perhaps Choi/Choe was the one who brought Shin to Kim Jong Il’s attention.

  2. > Conversely, Johannes Schönherr, who spells his name Choe Ik-gyu,.says that he defected in 1950 to escape a crackdown on left-wing film-makers and went on to direct Sea of Blood and co-direct The Flower Girl.

    Indeed, that’s what I wrote in a 2004 article for Film International magazine. I didn’t know that the text made its way online and is therefore still available.
    I’m sorry to say that in my more recent research I discovered that I had been wrong. Choi In-kyu and Choe Ik Gyu are different persons with very different careers.
    Choi In-kyu, the director of Hurrah Freedom, disappeared to North Korea in 1950 and was never heard of again.
    Choe Ik Gyu directed not only Sea of Blood and co-directed Flower Girl but became later the director of the Korean Film Studio in Pyongyang and from 2003 to 2006 Culture Minister of North Korea. Find here a more detailed biography of him:
    Now, I will head over to the Film International site and leave a correction there as well…

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