North Korea’s Cinema of Dreams

Filmmakers Lynn Lee and James Leong of Lianain Films gained unprecedented access to the Pyongyang’s main film academy for an exceptionally well observed documentary piece.

It’s fascinating to see filmmakers battling with constant power cuts and also a group of obviously privileged students living in comfort in Pyongyang addicted to their mobile phones.

The 30-minute short appeared on Al Jazeera English in February but a feature-length project The Great North Korean Picture Show is scheduled to be released in the near future.

Money and flowers

 

 

I finally managed to track down an English-subtitled version of The Flower Girl (1972) the other day.

I imagine it will be a while before I manage to get around to watching it, but the iconic opening scene did remind me that the film was so popular in North Korea that its star graced a DPRK banknote (that’s actress Hong Yong-hui in the bottom picture, centre).

Stay tuned for more updates as I recently got my hands on a few more North Korean films and will let you know about them as soon as I have time.

Unknown Heroes

I’ve already posted about James Joseph Dresnok (he made a cameo in from 5pm to 5am), one of the most notorious members of the US army to walk across the DMZ and essentially defect to North Korea. Another key player in the story of his life, although featured less in the documentary Crossing the Line (2006), is Charles Robert Jenkins.

Unlike Dresnok, Jenkins was not in serious trouble with the army when he decided to desert in the 1960s he was worried about being sent to fight in the Vietnam war. His arrival in the DPRK would be the start of 40 years in the DPRK which he wrote about in his book The Recluctant Communist.

Like Dresnok – and practically every other foreigner in the DPRK at the time he was required to act in movies. Here’s an extract from the book about his experiences working on Nameless Heroes, one of the longest running sagas in North Korean film history.

“I was being ordered to act in a movie. I remember one time I was watching TV in 1978. All TV in North Korea is propaganda… but still, it is there so you watch it. It was a movie about the Korea war… and who was it who popped up on screen? [fellow US defector] Parish, playing the part of a British army officer! I couldn’t believe it. It was an early installment of a multipart movie called Nameless Heroes [the book Korean Film Art gives it the English title Unknown Heroes] that eventually stretched to 20 installments. Well 1980 had rolled around and the Organization intended me to play a new part in Nameless Heroes: the evil Dr. Kelton, a US warmonger and capitalist based in South Korea whose goal in life was to keep the war going and benefit American arms manufacturers. They shaved my head on top since my character was supposed to be balding, and I wore heavily caked makeup. I can still remember my first line. I was talking to Claus, the Seoul CIA station chief (played by the Italian vice dean of the music college in Pyongyang), and I yelled: “You coward! You didn’t keep the secrets! I will personally telephone the representative of the Federal States, Carl Vinson.”

Centre Forward

The excellent folk at Beijing-based Koryo Tours (the best people to deal with if you want to travel to the DPRK) licensed this little “gem” of a film directly from North Korea around the time of the last world cup.

It’s a chipper production that surprisingly mirrors many of the problems in modern football: too much player power, interfering owners and supporters who just love to complain.

The actual scenes of football, however, are not that great. They make Sly Stallone’s efforts in Escape to Victory look like these fellas in yellow. It also makes another addition into the sporting genre of North Korean films that I’ve been watching recently. Watch out of more updates on those in the next couple of days.

Still definitely worth a gander, especially as this is a particularly rare film to make it out of the DPRK with great English subtitling. To purchase a copy, email the guys at info@koryogroup.com and then can hook you up.