This Tuesday, the Ohio State East Asian Studies Center and Institute for Korean Studies will be hosting a screening of “Comrade Kim Goes Flying,” the first film made jointly with North Korean and Western directors and producers, the first North Korean film made without a state-sponsored political agenda and the first North Korean film to feature “girl power,” according to the program’s website.
“Comrade Kim Goes Flying” is a romantic comedy that follows a female North Korean coal miner on her journey to becoming a trapeze artist. Until this movie, all media dispersed in North Korea included heavy political propaganda and never featured the Western filmmaking anecdote of a female character achieving her goals for her own personal gain, said Nicholas Bonner, one of the three directors of the film.
“Every film and magazine and newspaper has ideological content about the greatest of Korean regime and the struggle against capitalism,” said Mitchell Lerner, the director of OSU’s Institute for Korean Studies who helped organize the event on campus. “It’s very political, it’s very ideological and there never has been a North Korean film that has just been about going to watch it without any larger political message like we can in the West.”
Bonner will be introducing the film at the screening. He will also be answering questions after. He worked alongside Anja Daelemans, a director from Belgium, and said Kim Gwang Hun is the only North Korean director he could find who was willing to take on the film because it did not fit into the trope of Kim’s country.
“Prior to this film, all the North Korean actors could act in were propaganda films — even if they were war films, romantic comedies or historical dramas, they all have a strong political message,” Bonner said. “This is the first time a heroine achieved her dreams by herself and not because of the state so it was quite contrary.”
Both the leisure of viewing the film and the premise of a female protagonist being successful in her journey toward self-betterment reflect Western filmmaking traditions, but the directors of “Comrade Kim Goes Flying” kept their focus on appealing to the natives.
“We made sure that the film was not a mash up of Western and North Korean film, we kept the film as much in the style of a North Korean film as possible,” Bonner said. “Perhaps the biggest changes we made from traditional North Korean films were to remove the politics in the script writing and to push the strong individuality of the heroine.”
Since the making of “Comrade Kim Goes Flying” in 2012, the North Korean filmmaking industry has allowed movies without propaganda content to be made.
“Western culture has made it to North Korea even though they’ve done everything they can to keep it out,” Lerner said. “Maybe this is them accepting the reality that Western values are coming regardless.”
But Lerner is not convinced the collaboration between Western and North Korean directors on “Comrade Kim Goes Flying,” and all the changes it has brought will lead to improvements in relations between the regions.
“If there is any impact of this cultural penetration of ‘Comrade Kim Goes Flying’ in North Korea, it is going to be about weakening the North Korean regime, not forming a relationship with Western civilization,” he said.
Lerner does, however, believe that seeing North Korea in the light the film presents it in can be very beneficial to Americans.
“As Americans, we think of prison camps and illegal nuclear programs and hostility and violence, but what we see in the film are North Korean actors and technicians and acrobats,” Lerner said. “We see everyday North Koreans doing everyday normal things, so I think if we see that country in this way, it broadens our horizons.”
The screening of “Comrade Kim Goes Flying” will take place at the Gateway Film Center at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free.