Documentary: Kim Jong-Il and Stars (Part 1)

I know I promised the mother-lode  but I’m afraid it’s just going to have to be another taste. Here’s the first part (there are three in total) of a DPRK documentary about Kim Jong-Il’s efforts as a producer in North Korea.

Fascinating because: you see interviews with actors, some great pictures I’d not seen before and, best of all, it’s in English.

Happy Friday everyone.

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Taedongmun Cinema House

I discovered the mother-lode of North Korean films. More on that later. For now, here’s a documentary – in English – on the cinema in the middle of Pyongyang. So happy to have tracked this down.

Book Review: North Korean Cinema: A History

This has been a long time coming.

It’s coming up to two years that I’ve been intermittently running this site. And before that it was a a good year or two that I was talking about writing “something” about North Korean cinema. The casual observer would well be within their rights to say that this site is haphazardly put together and rarely updated. It’s often because work or life get in the way. And after an 11-hour shift I more regularly opt for the easy watch, instead of delving into my bulging collection of DPRK films to watch and review.

Throughout the hours of time I’ve spent Googling for information on North Korean cinema – finding dealers to buy films, searching for books which reference anything to do with film production – there is one man who stands above them all in terms of North Korean cinema: Johannes Schönherr.

Among the throngs of websites trumpeting “facts” about Kim Jong-il’s cinephilia, the kidnapped stars from South Korea forced to make movies and the giant film library that served his love for Rambo and other Hollywood tosh, if you look deeply, you’ll find articles written by Johannes Schönherr.

Steering clear of those easy nuggets, his articles has managed to accumulate an outsiders view of the history of North Korean cinema. From interviewing Spaghetti Western director Ferdinando Baldi about the unbelievable Italian-North Korean co-production  Ten Zan: The Ultimate Mission (1988), to reviewing all of the films that Shin Sang-ok made during his time in North Korea, Schönherr has recorded for prosperity’s sake some marvellous adventures associated with North Korean cinema that those of us unable to read Korean may never have discovered.

So now comes the release of his excellent book North Korean Cinema: A History. Here, for the first time in English, we are given the opportunity to bring together pretty much everything available in English on the subject. Too long had snippets of information been contained in lofty academic texts, or merely hinted at in generalist newspaper articles. Exploring, thematically as well as chronologically the history of DPRK cinema, Schönherr charts the rise of the medium with reference to other Communist states.

Of course, we like Johannes Schönherr here on this site. He kindly comments on some of our articles. He’s even forwarded me material or highlighted an interesting news story from time-to-time that would be worth picking up on. But what we need to point out is that he’s actually knuckled down and written the only “essential” book on North Korean cinema that you could need.

By turns academic (when discussing the early years of development in the DPRK’s cinema), to anecdotal (on speaking about his experiences visiting the Pyongyang Film Festival, there is enough breadth in the book to appeal to a large number who are interested in not only film but in the DPRK itself.

As the DPRK begins to – inevitably – open up over time, who knows what more we can learn about Kim Jong-il’s cinema-loving regime. Perhaps there’s a huge amount to discover that will delight and bemuse us all in equal measure. But then again it might all be condemned to be lost in history. If so, thank goodness we have Schönherr’s book in English to educate us on what there is available to know.

You can purchase the book from Amazon here. I don’t get any money from sales but I was sent a review copy free of charge. 

13th Pyongyang International Film Festival opens

I dug out some footage from Chinese broadcaster CCTV of the Pyongyang International Film Festival that is going on at the moment.

I am sick as a dog not to be there – alas my application to enter a film into the festival was not accepted… in fact I just never heard back after a long period of time getting things together for the application. Oh well, perhaps I can go in two years time.

The member of the audience speaking is Korean and his soundbite translates as:

“It’s my first time to take part in the film festival. I am so excited. I think Chinese movies are the best.”

Johannes Schönherr interviews “Somi – the Taekwon-do Woman” producer

Johannes Schönherr dropped me a line the other day to highlight an interview he conducted with Masao Kobayashi, the producer of Somi – the Taekwon-do Woman.

Always good to hear from the man as he highlights another little insight into making movies in the DPRK. You might remember us speaking previously about a potential screening of the DPRK-Japan co-production in London in an earlier post. If you are interested in seeing the film, please contribute!

A little down the line I hope to have a review of Johannes Schönherr’s book on North Korea cinema which has now officially been released. Grab your copy here.

Comrade Kim Goes Flying to premiere at PIFF

Koryo Tours gets a lot of mentions here on the site. And with good reason. Nick Bonner and the guys run a slick outfit offering tours to North Korea, but most meaningfully for me they have had a hand in some of the best documentaries about North Korea as well bringing attention to the DPRK’s own cinematic output.

I’ve knew Nick Bonner during my time in Beijing and had long heard of his dream of filming a rom-com in North Korea with an entirely North Korean cast. So I was especially pleased when a long-time follower of the site forwarded me this New York Times article about the imminent release of the film Comrade Kim Goes Flying.

The film is due to get  a premier at the Pyongyang International Film Festival and we’ll keep an eye out for it turning up on DVD, too.

Potential Somi – the Taekwon-do Woman screening in London

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CORRECTION:

As was pointed out to me on twitter, these guys are actually searching for money to make this screening happen! If you want to see it, contribute!

Well it’s not often I get to highlight screenings of North Korean films here on the site and it’s even more rare that I get to do it in the city I live in:

The Zipangu Fest – which describes itself as UK’s independent Japanese film festival – is screening Somi – the Taekwon-do Woman (1997) – aka  Woman Warrior of Koryo – (on 35mm film!) at the Cinema Museum in Kennington, London on Friday September 14th 2012.

Regular readers will remember this is one of the films that DPRK film expert Johannes Schönherr mentioned in his interview back on the site a few weeks ago.

If you’re in London do not miss the opportunity to see this Japanese-DPRK co-production. More can be read about the project of bringing the film to the UK on the Crowd Funder page.