Films From North Get Smooth Rides On Faraway Roads

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Films From North Get Smooth Rides On Faraway Roads

North Korean films are increasingly showing up in foreign theaters, and two of them grabbed moviegoers' attention at film festivals in Moscow and Hong Kong recently.

"Saraitneun Ryeongheondeul" ("Living Spirits") and "Heong-gil Dong" were the talk of Moscow when they appeared there among five films screened in the noncompetitive section during this year's Moscow International Film Festival on June 21 to 30.

Directed by Kim Chun-song, "Living Spirits" is about the explosion of the ship Wokishimamaru that was carrying Korean soldiers home after Korea's liberation from Japanese colonial rule at the end of World War II. Russian newspapers gave the film good reviews.

The scale of the production, and themes in the film such as the ultimate destruction of the vessel, young love and hope for a new life, resemble James Cameron's "Titanic." However, while Cameron's film emphasized romance, Kim has chosen to focus more on history.

"Living Spirits" was a crowd-pleaser at the Hong Kong Film Festival in late June and attracted several contract offers for commercial screening.

The minimal endorsements or references to communist ideology in the film have made it more palatable in many markets than most other North Korean films. At a preview, an official at the South Korean Consulate General said, "If just a few nuances are changed in the dialogue throughout the film, there shouldn't be a problem showing it in the South."

Other films such as "Sangeui Heunjeok" ("Traces of Life") and "Dorajiggeot" ("Doraji Flower") follow the lives of active, working women, and are also examples of the increased quality and diversity of North Korean films. Hard work and patriotism are the main themes. Oh Mi-ran, North Korea's best-known actress, starred in both films.

"Traces of Life" was said to be a personal favorite of the North Korean leader and rumored movie addict Kim Jong-il. He recently told to the North Korean press, "I have never shed so many tears during a movie as I did this time." The movie's plot line is about a woman who volunteers to work on a collective farm after her husband dies. There, she throws herself into the work of recultivating the barren land without a complaint. Her efforts pays off as she is recognized by her town and transcends her low social status in her collective.

The 1987 film "Dorajiggeot" ("Doraji Flower") is also about a young woman who pushes love aside and strives to make her hometown a better place, but this film has a more somber message.

While there are signs of new currents in North Korean film, most productions can still not be screened in the South due to political content. Heavy controls on filmmaking still largely dictate the content, ideological message and style of North Korean films.

by Chung Chang-hyun

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