Directors: Nicholas Bonner, Anja Daelemans, Kim Gwang Hun
Starring: Han Jong-sim, Pak Chung-Guk, Ri Yong-Ho, Kim Son-Nam, An Chang-Sun, Ri Ik-Sung
Coal miner Comrade Kim Yong-Mi (Han Jong-sim) dreams of becoming an acrobat at the National Circus of North Korea while entertaining her work mates, her dad tells her to keep her feet on the ground, but agrees to let her travel to the capital for a year to work on the construction crew.
On the way she meets a man who turns out to be the head of the construction site, but is more interested in getting in to see the circus, while outsmarting the door man and causing embarrassment later when she finds out who the man was.
She does get the opportunity to try out for the circus, but decides to do the hardest thing as her trial, the trapeze, failing spectacularly, she is also insulted by Pak Jang-Phil (Pak Chung-Guk) who says only a certain few can by acrobats. Insulted, she returns to her construction work and even refuses his help when he boss asks him to instruct her to train the rest of the crew in acrobatics. Returning to her village to work in the mines, Jang-Phil goes to see her to beg her to try out again for the circus and even brings the big bosses. Training is hard, but she eventually reaches her goal and even represents the country.
While this was quite light and fluffy compared to some of the films I have seen lately, it is very sweet and was designed to be purely an entertainment piece, making it stand out from most North Korean cinema as there is no political message.
While the movie is a co-production between three countries, it was written by North Koreans hence the scenes such as the concrete mixing contest, which does work within the context of the movie. I thought the scene at the steel mill with the arm wrestling contest was quite sweet. The lead actress was cute as a button with that hat. While there were disagreements over the script, the director said they were resolved by going to have a drink.
The director Nicholas Bonner urged the audience to put themselves in the mindset of a North Korean audience who do not have all the modern films to compare it against. He is quite proud that the movie was a hit in North Korea and is screening on collective farms around the country.
Nicholas Bonner runs Koryo Tours that brings tour groups into North Korea and also manages people wanting to go in individually. The company has had problems with journalists doing exposés in the past and their tours have been shut down. He and Anna Broinowski had quite strong words to say about the director of the Red Chapel and Nicholas thought the documentary by Panorama in the UK last year with the journalist who snuck into North Korea by lying on his visa was ‘very thin’.
At the same time Nicholas is no fan of the political system, but says that a lot of people just get on with their lives as happens everywhere.
This movie was the first to be edited outside of North Korea and also it is shown as a digital print as movies in the country are still shot on film. While the director does seem some scope to making more movies in the country, foreign crew would be required as the skills are just not there in North Korea to be able to work up to a modern standard. There was an interesting story about a propaganda movie being shot on the same lot that fell apart and people kept coming over to join this movie. Everyone on the crew stayed at the same hotel and got up at 6am day to start work on the shoot, something you do not see much these days.
Not sure if this movie is going to get a cinema release in Australia or worldwide, but it would be a good one to get on DVD regardless.