Everybody and their brother is writing about North Korea, so I didn’t think that Cold War Studies had much to add to the mix. We published our Korean War Timeline in 2011, and I updated it about a week ago. But when I was playing around with some work I’m doing on Havana Film Festivals, I was astonished to come across information about how much North Koreans love the movies. They even have a Pyongyang International Film Festival. According to the Huffington Post, the festival, held every two years,
offers North Koreans their only chance to see a wide array of foreign films on the big screen – from Britain, Germany and elsewhere (but not America). And it’s the only time foreigners are allowed into North Korean theaters to watch movies alongside locals.
Before I talk anymore about their festival though, I’d like to suggest that you familiarize yourself with the country by watching some Hollywood films about North Korea as well as an award winning documentary, Welcome to North Korea, made by Dutch filmmaker Peter Tetteroo and his associate Raymond Feddema.
You can also stream Welcome to North Korea online at http://archive.org/details/WelcometoNorthKorea .
Here is the archive.org description of the documentary:
Type: Documentary Rating: NR Running Time: 60 Minutes Starring: Directed by: Peter Tetteroo, Raymond Feddema PLOT DESCRIPTION The winner of the 2001 International Emmy award for Best Documentary, Welcome to North Korea is a grotesquely surreal look at the all-too-real conditions in modern-day North Korea. Dutch filmmaker Peter Tetteroo and his associate Raymond Feddema spent a week in and around the North Korean capital of Pyongyang — ample time to represent the starvation and deprivation afflicting a good portion of the population, and to offset such “contemporary” imagery as cars and public facilities with the conspicuous nonuse of these trappings. As the filmmakers reveal, the North Koreans have no opportunity to compare their existence with that of the outside world, due to the near-total cutoff of news and free transportation. The one predominant feature of this oppressed nation is manifested in the scores of statues, sculptures, and iconic paintings of North Korea’s Communist dictator Kim Jong II, who has gone to great and sometimes ruthless lengths to convince his subjects that he has inherited godlike powers from his equally “divine” father, the late Kim II Sung (whose mummified body still lies in state, à la Lenin). Were this not all too painfully true, Welcome to North Korea could easily pass as a grotesque fairy tale, out Grimm-ing anything found in Grimm. The film made its American TV debut via the Cinemax cable network on March 18, 2003. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
Three Hollywood films come immediately to mind. If you have others to recommend, be sure to leave a comment at the end of this post.
First, The Bridges at Toko-Ri. According to Amazon, the film, set during the Korean War, tells the story of a Navy fighter pilot must who must come to terms with his own ambivalence towards the war and the fear of having to bomb a set of highly defended bridges. The ending of this grim war drama is all tension.
Buy The Bridges at Toko-Ri on Amazon.
A second Hollywood movie about North Korea, and one of my all time favorites, is the original version of The Manchurian Candidate. Amazon says:
You will never find a more chillingly suspenseful, perversely funny, or viciously satirical political thriller than The Manchurian Candidate, based on the novel by Richard Condon (author of Winter Kills). The film, withheld from distribution by star Frank Sinatra for almost a quarter century after President Kennedy’s assassination, has lost none of its potency over time. Former infantryman Bennet Marco (Sinatra) is haunted by nightmares about his platoon having been captured and brainwashed in Korea. The indecipherable dreams seem to center on Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), a decorated war hero but a cold fish of a man whose own mother (Angela Lansbury, in one of the all-time great dragon-lady roles) describes him as looking like his head is “always about to come to a point.” Mrs. Bates has nothing on Lansbury’s character, the manipulative queen behind her second husband, Senator John Iselin (James Gregory), a notoriously McCarthyesque demagogue. –Jim Emerson
The third Hollywood film about North Korea is the remake of Red Dawn (2012/13). I’ve read that it’s not so good, but I don’t know anyone who’s actually seen it, so it might be just your cup of tea. Be sure to let me know what you think in the comments section. This is what Amazon has to say:
Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games), and Isabel Lucas (Immortals) deliver a full arsenal of pulse-pounding excitement in this explosive action-adventure! The unsuspecting citizens of Spokane, Washington, wake up one morning to the shocking sight of foreign paratroopers dropping from the sky in a surprise attack on the United States. Soon the entire city is under enemy control, but a group of courageous teenagers has decided to fight back, by waging an all-out war against the invaders, to take back their town – and their freedom!
Buy Red Dawn on Amazon.
Now, back to the Pyongyang International Film Festival.
In 2012, festival goers saw two feature films shot in North Korea but edited overseas: the romantic comedy Comrade Kim Goes Flying, a joint North Korean-European production, and Meet in Pyongyang, made in conjunction with a Chinese studio.
Foreign offerings include a Sherlock Holmes film and the romantic comedy The Decoy Bride from Britain, the Jet Li kung fu film Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, the French hit Women on the 6th Floor about a community of Spanish emigres to Paris, and two love stories from Iran.
I was surprised to learn that Kim Jong Il, the late leader of North Korea, was quite a movie buff. He even wrote a treatise in 1973 titled On the Art of Cinema. He said:
Creative work is not a mere job, but an honorable revolutionary task.
Current North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, is also very interested in film according to Korean Film Studio spokesman Choe Eun-hee. According to Choe, the main purpose of North Korean cinema is propaganda.
Our films carry a different purpose than movies made in other countries. We make films for the purpose of ideological education.
Want more information? Check out North Korean Films.