[KS] A musical about Juche! - and a new genre of experimental films on the DPRK?
Afostercarter at aol.com
Afostercarter at aol.com
Wed Mar 24 05:54:11 EDT 2010
Dear friends and colleagues,
Is there an emerging genre of films about North Korea
which are innovative, experimental, or off the wall?
Three examples come to mind. None of which,
alas, have I managed to actually see in full as yet:
1. The Red Chapel, from Denmark: _http://theredchapel.com/_
This - or some of it - was shown in the UK on BBC TV
recently, when it was called Kim Jong-il's Comedy Club .
Had I been paying attention, Philip Gowman's ever excellent
London Korean Links has several posts about this, most recently:
For those in London, this film is still doing the rounds.
Perhaps it's being shown in other countries too?
2. Another case is Yodok Story, the DPRK gulag musical
- itself a startling concept: Springtime for Hitler comes to mind -
which is now also a movie. There are clips on YouTube:
3. And I just ran across the link below. Wholly new to me.
Has anyone seen this film? Is it any good?
Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Sociology & Modern Korea, Leeds
E: _afostercarter at aol.com_ (mailto:afostercarter at aol.com)
_afostercarter at yahoo.com_ (mailto:afostercarter at yahoo.com) W: _www.aidanfc.net_
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Skype: Aidan.Foster.Carter Twitter: fcaidan
Plot Summary for
_The Juche Idea_ (aoldb://mail/title/tt1233599/) (_2008_
(aoldb://mail/year/2008/) ) _More at IMDbPro_
Ready for a Marxist-Leninist-musical documentary? The Busby Berkeley of
propaganda, Jim Finn, follows a South Korean video artist in North Korea who
hopes to revitalize Juche cinema, somewhat inspired by a true story of a
South Korean filmmaker kidnapped in the 70s to make the North Korean film
industry better. In the mod 60s, film-fanatic Kim Jong Il adapted his father's
Juche (pronounced choo-CHAY) philosophy to propaganda, film and art.
Translated as self-reliance, Juche is a hybrid of Confucian and authoritarian
Stalinist pseudo-socialism. Finn is the undisputed champion of propaganda as
pure art, and this is his best yet. He uses the tools of traditional
documentary, formal avant-garde, language lesson videos, and some sci-fi
recreations to dig down to the souls of governments, leaders and media
manipulation. No kitsch mockumentary, just careful analysis of the love of cinema that
is as surreally funny as it is truth. Isn't art revolutionary? Is there
humanism within all those faces? Written by _Mike Plante_
The Juche Idea (_2008_ (aoldb://mail/year/2008/) ) _More at IMDbPro_
7.5/10 _18 votes_ (aoldb://mail/write/ratings) »
Down 8% in popularity this week. See _why_ (aoldb://ma
il/r/movie-con/rg/title-tease/meter-why/title/tt1233599/graph-data) on _IMDbPro_
_Jim Finn_ (aoldb://mail/name/nm2171308/)
_Jim Finn_ (aoldb://mail/name/nm2171308/) (screenplay)
_Jong-il Kim_ (aoldb://mail/name/nm0453535/) (text)
_Documentary_ (aoldb://mail/Sections/Genres/Documentary/) | _Comedy_
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Ready for a Marxist-Leninist-musical documentary? The Busby Berkeley of
propaganda, Jim Finn, follows... _See more_
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Weird and wonderful insights into a wonderful ideology that isn't _See
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(http://resume.imdb.com/) _Sung Kim_ (aoldb://mail/name/nm3015788/)
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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful.
Weird and wonderful insights into a wonderful ideology that isn't, 4 July
Author: _Chris Docker (eyeforfilm)_ (aoldb://mail/user/ur0064493/comments)
from Scotland, United Kingdom
"Creativity is an attribute of social man who transforms the world and
shapes his destiny purposefully and consciously. By virtue of his creativity,
man transforms nature and society to be more useful and beneficial to him
by changing the old and creating the new." It doesn't sound too
controversial. The artist can consciously or unconsciously influence the world, for
good or bad. It may be to uphold or challenge social norms, such as marriage
and family values. Or it may be more political, to give moral support to the
troops or propound a specific ideology. When combined with a culture of
censorship, whether legally-enforced or effected by market and cultural
hubris, the effect is greatly multiplied.
Extreme cases of Marxist or Nazi propaganda are offensive to Western
sensibilities, but the issue is rarely discussed in depth unless forced upon us.
Take the repressive regime of North Korea. The quotation at the beginning
of this review is part of the official ideology called Juche (pronounced
choo-CHAY). Reading the philosophy of Juche, one cannot but be impressed by
its noble purpose. Its infusion of moral goodness into the arts. It's
wondrous leadership potential. So how is North Korea seemingly so inescapably
f*cked up? Jim Finn's awkwardly placed film is unsettling by its approach as
well as its subject matter. It seems to be a documentary about a media
studies student completing a residency in North Korea. How did she get there?
Her background is mixed. Having spent her formative years in South Korea, and
time in America before settling in Japan. Her work on arts projects and
video has enabled her to secure a place in a North Korean establishment where
she learns to make films in accordance with Juche.
Her own political views are very mixed. The US is "always invading or
threatening to invade someone." She finds some good ideas, from a technical
point of view, in Juche Theory, but struggles to implement them to her tutor's
standards. She must try harder to make films that "speak to the workers"
and not to an "artistic elite." Her underlying objective is to learn about
and then give a true idea of Juche and its role in the development of
The North Korean academics are equally interested in her work in
'capitalist' countries. What's it like, making a film there? Like building your own
boat on a bay, she says. People are very helpful and contribute timber and
advice. But when it's launched no-one notices cos they're all watching the
cruise ship spread its bilge. About Kim Jong Il (who is apparently a film
fanatic, not just a despot), she explains that, in the West, "of course, he's
stereotyped – with some basis in reality." But even as I was appreciating
the remarkable insight into a closed kingdom, I still had doubts. How did
all this filming get in – and then get out again? Who exactly was this
student? It felt as if I had missed an essential first five minutes.
But I hadn't. The film is a re-creation, or serious mockumentary, with
original footage produced entirely within the USA. Added to the confusing mix
are avant-garde techniques and language lesson videos ('English as a
Capitalist Language' and 'English as a Socialist Language'). Does this reduce its
value? Perhaps not. Clips of mass celebration dances are from official
North Korean sources. The quotations from Juche, frequently appearing on the
screen, are authentic. Travelogue it ain't. Off-beat study of an off-beat
cinematic closed circuit it certainly is.
In the mid 60's, Kim Jong Il adapted his father's Juche philosophy to
propaganda, film and art. Translated as self-reliance, Juche is like a mixture
of Confucian and authoritarian Stalinist pseudo-socialism. Excellence in
film themes and stories is judged partly on how well they portray Juche, since
this is unquestioningly accepted as the most enlightened approach. For
instance, "conflicts should always be settled in accordance with the law of
class struggle." Or, "There are no negative people in socialist society." Its
high-minded (if rather arrogant) approach reminds me a little of the Hays
Code (censorship guidelines) that governed US film-making from 1934 to
1968. Except that the moral code of Juche seems to be universally respected
within North Korea (And it does also look very much more philosophically
coherent than the rather patchwork Hays Code). Certain precepts seem almost to
contain a Judeo-Christian crossover: "A negative person must always be led
to repent of his mistake and take the right road." It would be easy to
become enraptured of Juche Idea, even if it is a bit restrictive. Examples of
good poetry and good cinema seem to suggest that it works. The sad reality is
that, like communism, it sounds great but is a disaster in practice. The
concentration on 'message' eventually makes for sameness in even the most
colourful of creations.
One of the most dramatic state clips is of 'Flesh Ring in Sea of Blood.'
(Sea of Blood is a North Korean expression for capitalist aggression.) My
overall feeling was that North Korea is not as unsophisticated as we might
think. That we tend to trivialise or stereotype it just as it stereotypes us.
The film seems to be a very worthwhile project that at least scratches the
surface. Yet it also gets a bit monotonous and its ambiguous 'documentary'
status niggled me throughout. It is also an unusual and chic example of
how elegant ideology bears no resemblance to the reality upon which it has
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