North Korean Film Turns to Romance on the Failure of Propaganda Campaign

Daily NK
Yang Jung A

“North Korean government has employed movies to propagate superiority of the regime and Su-Ryeong (supreme leader) absolutism. However, North Korean movies have seen a new wave recently.” John Feffer, co- director at Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF), an Institute for politics & diplomacy in the U.S, declared through his article on the web on 12th.

Feffer remarked “North Korea was quickly recovered from World War∥ and Korean War. From the 60s to 70s, North Korean had had a great expectation on Utopia” “However, it has been stagnated since then.”

He was interested in the fact that even Kim Jong Il himself perceived that North Korean film was stagnant the same time of North Korean stagnation. Additionally, “The government and the films were portraying an ever-improving society and yet the population must have been noticing that reality was stubbornly not keeping pace” he explained.

◆ People noticed North Korean reality

He appraised “During the reign of Brezhnev (1965 ~1983), people in the former Soviet Union could get their entertainment from foreign movies, books and samizdat publications. On the other hand, the North Korean had no other alternatives” Thereafter, North Korean film industry has gone for a romance for escapism, he explained.

The most representative film is “the family” series. This series of short film, 9 episodes in all, pictured a struggle of the family caused by the couple’s divorce and their troubled children.

Feffer also said that North Korean movies, which haven’t opened to the public, have released to the world audience one after another.

Currently a film titled “A Schoolgirl’s Diary” portraying a story of a North Korean girl, has been expected to be released in Europe by a French distributor. Also, Daniel Gordon British director, have produced documentary films “A State of Mind (2005)” and “The Game of Their Lives (2002)” gaining permission from North Korean government.

Feffer pointed out “Since Film has played an prominent role in North Korean culture and history, scholars are beginning to comb through North Korean films for clues about how the system ticks.” However, he doubted whether North Korean films ultimately reveal the reality of the country or not.

He continued “We should look at film in order to understand and coexist and to have a glimpse of North Korea instead of reducing it to a one-dimensional propaganda tool.” “Besides, Kim Jong Il made most of movies to manage his political agenda.” He added.

He said that media have often said Kim Jong Il is a huge film buff.” “Therefore, the rise of the “Dear Leader” to political leadership is linked inextricably to his film career.” He explained.

  • Bulgarian audience fascinated by “Hong Kil Dong”

He continued to observe “North Korean movies would play a role to idolize Kim Il Sung. And Kim Jong Il, unlike Deng Xiaoping in China and Gorbachev in the former Soviet Union, was able to escape from criticism against the hereditary succession of power.”

Feffer noted. “In the 70s, Kim Jong Il, having established idolatry cult on his father, Kim Il Sung with movies, realized North Korean film hit the dead end.“ At that time, Kim, who is a remarkable film collector, had clearly understood the widening gap between national and overseas films.”

” ‘Hong Kil Dong’ was the most popular movie in the late 80s in Bulgaria and this classic tale, Korean version of Robin Hood, introduced Hong Kong style action to the East European for the first time.” “The brilliant action footage of the film dazzled the East European audience. It was part of the plan to revive North Korean film adopting Hong Kong style action.” he specified.

Kim’s passion on film reached the peak as abducting Choi Eun Hee , South Korean actress, in 1978.

Feffer mentioned “He also abducted Shin Sang Ok, the estranged husband of Choi Eun Hee, and made him to produce movies. This couple had brought a new wave on North Korean film industry until their escape in 1986.”

”The most renowned movie among Shin’s production is “ Pulgasari,” North Korean version of “Godzilla” and “Love, Love, Oh my Love,” revived Chunhyang, classic romance in Korea. Shin Sang Ok adapted Romance and SF to Korean style story line,” he assessed.
However, he pointed out “It’s difficult to know whether entertaining aspect on “Hong Kil Dong” and the new wave on Shin Sang Ok distracted the North Korean audience from political messages or made those messages easily absorbed.”

Indeed, Feffer appraised Kim Jong Il is not the first individual who recognize the political uses of film.

He explained that North Korean regime have recognised the evolutional potential of the media. Korea Workers’ Party, under the Kim Il Sung’s lead, was able to occupy Northern Korean Peninsula after the World War ∥ relying on the support from the former Soviet Union. The Soviets had already pioneered film technique in the early days of the Russian revolution.

However, North Korea already showed its independent streak not following the Soviet model .

Feffer said “Film was ideal means to adapt Russian Communism to North Korean Nationalism, which is solely manipulated for idolatry on Kim Il Sung.” “Leaders in Pyongyang was able to control over all the context. Government can manipulate publications. Still, film can be more powerful maneuvers of the past for it reflects reality.”


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