Coming to a theater near you: DPRK films

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Coming to a theater near you: DPRK films

One of the boundaries between North and South Korea is a cultural one. In the event of reunification, each will be discovering many of the other’s films and other cultural products for the first time. It’s unclear how many sources of information North Koreans have about life and culture in the South. No outside TV programming is allowed; radios are sold with dials fixed to state stations. It’s widely known that the North’s government is active in film and other arts as a means of propaganda. Most Northern films still stress socialist ideals, Kim Jong-il’s personal philosophy and the importance of loyalty to the country, according to experts; but some say modern TV dramas in the North include more realistic portrayals of everyday life than in the past. Though some North Korean films have been screened at international film festivals, most don’t circulate outside the country. Films, however, are one of the most popular forms of cultural life enjoyed by North Koreans. The government-sponsored films are widely seen, in state-run theaters and on television. Lee Woo-yeong, a North Korean film expert, writes in his essay “A Guide to North Korean Cinema” that South Koreans might find worthwhile insights in some North Korean films. For example, in “People and Fate,” a TV series about South Korea under Park Chung Hee, Mr. Lee says it’s noteworthy to see what the North finds problematic about society in the South, such as bribery. “Regardless of what [the filmmakers’] intentions were, the rarity of films dealing with political subjects in the South makes these films meaningful to us,” Mr. Lee writes. Some North Korean films based on classic Korean literature and folk tales, Mr. Lee says, provide action thrills comparable to Hong Kong martial arts films. But Seo Jeong-beom, a film studies professor at Kaemyung University, doubts their appeal. “The South Korean audience might go see them a few times just out of curiosity,” he says. “But the cinematic techniques and the messages delivered in the North’s films will be seen as comical by most of us.” Kim Seok-hyang, a professor at the Institute of National Unification, thinks the films and other cultural effects of the North may give some South Koreans a sense of nostalgia. But the effect of South Korean culture on North Koreans will be far more intense, she said. “Eventually, the cultural trends will follow South Korean culture if there is reunification,” she said. “There will be denials and resistance, but many from the North will want to imitate and catch up with what they’ve missed so far.” by Park Soo-mee

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