A huge thank you to those who came out and watched the pristine 35mm print from the Swedish archives. I like to imagine what Swedish films were sent the other way and found their way into Kim Jong-Il’s personal collection…
I also found out the incredible story of the 1,000 Swedish Volvos that were sent to North Korea in the ’70s and were never paid for.
I guess they must have thought that a 35mm print of a documentary about agriculture was more than enough.
In previous posts I’ve touched on North Korea’s animation industry, which, through a combination of cheap labour costs and skilled animators, has attracted a number of well known companies to outsource their movies (with or without their knowledge) to North Korea.
One of the main people behind this is animation legend called Nelson Shin. Shin, a South Korean, and his production company in Seoul has contributed the majority of the animation from such American classics as “The Simpsons” and the original “Transformers” cartoon.
Recognising the potential to build bridges between the North and South, it’s been suggested that Shin has outsourced a lot of work for major projects to North Korea. Controversial as it may seem, Disney’s “The Lion King” is rumoured to have been partly drawn in the DPRK.
One such clue to this fact comes in one of the film’s more controversial scenes when a cloud of dust kicks up from under Simba’s body seemingly spelling out the word “SEX”. A cheeky move from infantile animators… or perhaps it was actually our North Korean animators working for the company SEK sneaking in their companies name into the movie?
It’s often been denied by Disney (who would have had no part in a third party outsourcing move that would have been illegal under US law) that any of the movie was made there, but it is interesting to note.
A really important (purposeful) collaboration did take place, however, in 2005 when Nelson Shin produced the first ever animated film made and distributed in North and South Korea at the same time. “Empress Chung” agonisingly has never been released on DVD, but I would give my right arm to be able to see this film sometime soon… that or to find out if I can see SEX or SEK in the dust from under that lion.
It’s been an incredibly busy year for North Korea politically. And as December saw the death of leader Kim Jong Il, few (and by few, I really mean me) were recalling that this time last year saw the first screening on North Korean television of a Western movie. Of course, Russian, Chinese and other friendly communist countries have had films broadcast on sate TV before, but the appearance of Bend It Like Beckham (2002) on December 26, 2010 was an absolute first.
Earlier in 2011 I managed to get into contact with Peter Hughes (UK Ambassador to the DPRK from 2008-2011) and asked him how this event managed to be organised. After some delay – apparently there are things even more important than this website going on over there – he responding with the following article. You will also note the good people at Koryo Tours had a hand in getting it on TV and – despite what the media reported – not as much of the movie was edited out as was first claimed. Anyway, not strictly about North Korean films but you may find it interesting:
It’s difficult to over emphasize the importance of The Flower Girl (1972) in the history of North Korean cinema… and possibly even harder to find an analogous example in another country’s movie cannon. The US may have iconoclastic Citizen Kane (1941) and China the psycho-sexual drama Spring in a Small Town (1948) but there is a reverence paid to The Flower Girl that makes it far more than just the “greatest” film ever produced in the country.