North Korean Cinema | Hong Kil Dong & O Youth!

North Korean cinema has been long-dominated by large-scale propaganda pieces designed to inspire national pride and other revolutionary emotions in the viewer.

Films such as Wolmi-do (Wolmi island) tells the story of a battle group defending an island off the coast of Inchon during the Korean conflict. The film, based on a true story, sees a battlegroup holding out against the US-led invasion of Inchon led by General MacArthur. The film is an example of classic North Korean cinema during the 80s and 90s, a time when such films churned out at a rate of knots.

A scene from Wolmi-do

The General Kim Jong Il was an avid lover of the big screen and often directed these publications himself. There are many works attributed to the General on the art of cinema and other artistic pursuits such as opera and theatre. Other films produced in this vein include ‘Order No. 27’, a story about Korean commandos working behind enemy lines during the war and ‘Traffic Girl at the Crossroads’, a tale of one of Pyongyang’s iconic traffic girls as she balances doing her duty as an officer of the law with a personal romance blossoming between herself an a man she pulls over for reckless driving.

'The Flower Girl', one of Korea's 5 revolutionary operas was converted to film and is now one of the DPRK's most popular movies

These themes of doing your patriotic duty is a theme throughout Korean media, film was specifically mentioned by the General Kim Jong Il as a way to inspire the masses and educate them on the party line, hence much importance was placed on this industry.

The Flower Girl is one of Korea's most famous films - with a beautiful soundtrack, this film is based on one of Korea's 5 revolutionary operas. The story of a girl living under Japanese occupation, it was written by the President Kim Il Sung and shows the harsh conditions the Korean people were forced to live under during the occupation - while most revolutionary films focus on Kim Il Sung's military operations and other anti-Japanese guerrilla forces, this movie shows a more day-to-day story but still packed with emotion and and a powerful storyline.

There are two films however, which do not conform to these themes;

Hong Kil Dong

The film is an example of a low-born peasant during the Chosun dynasty, rising up and achieving greatness through his own personal endeavours. The story lines up very well with the Juche philosophy which stipulates that man, and man alone, is master of his own destiny. The unequal class system plays a huge role in the film as the very un-socialist feudal system and it’s social constructs prevent him marrying the woman of his dreams – hence he sets of on an adventure to achieve his ambition.

The film is a rare example of a fantasy-action movie from the DPRK – whilst there are strong socialist themes throughout, the lack of any revolution or Juche makes this film stand out amongst the crowd.

O Youth!

This light-hearted comedy movie sees the main character, Ki Ho - a researcher obsessed with Taekwondo, repeatedly encouraged by his mother to marry since he is already 30. Each of his 5 sisters introduces a potential girlfriend until he eventually meets a female martial artist, whom his family wrongly believes to be an embroiderer (as you do). This warm family movie wouldn’t be out of place in a western movie with hilarious mistaken identity and an overbearing mother (relatable, I’m sure) this is one of Korea’s most palatable films for a western audience.

If you are interested in owning a DVD copy of Hong Kil Dong or O Youth direct from the Korea Film Export & Import Corp. in Pyongyang, get in touch here:

£8 for one or £14 for two – get in touch while stocks last!

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