[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?
Best wishes
Aidan  Foster-Carter 
Honorary Senior Research  Fellow in Sociology & Modern Korea, Leeds 
University, UK 
E: _afostercarter at aol.com_ (mailto:afostercarter at aol.com)      
_afostercarter at yahoo.com_ (mailto:afostercarter at yahoo.com)    W: _www.aidanfc.net_ 
Flat 1,  40 Magdalen Road,  Exeter,  Devon,  EX2 4TE,  England,  UK 
T: (+44, no 0)     07970 741307 (mobile);     01392 257753 (home)    
Skype:  Aidan.Foster.Carter   Twitter:  fcaidan 

Plot Summary  for
_The Juche Idea_ (aoldb://mail/title/tt1233599/)  (_2008_ 
(aoldb://mail/year/2008/) ) _More  at IMDbPro_ 
(http://pro.imdb.com/rg/plotsummary-title/tconst-pro-header-link/title/tt1233599/)  »

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_ 
)  »




User  Rating:

7.5/10   _18  votes_ (aoldb://mail/write/ratings)  »

MOVIEmeter:  (aoldb://mail/help/show_leaf?prowhatisstarmeter) 
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_ 
(aoldb://mail/r/movie-con/rg/title-tease/meter-prolink/) .

_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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Plot  Keywords:
 (aoldb://mail/keyword/kim-jong-il/)  (aoldb://mail/keyword/north-korea/)  

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User  Reviews:
Weird and wonderful  insights into a wonderful ideology that isn't _See 
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(Credited cast)
     (http://resume.imdb.com/)  _Sung Kim_ (aoldb://mail/name/nm3015788/)  
... North Korean actor   (http://resume.imdb.com/)  _Daniela Kostova_ 
(aoldb://mail/name/nm3015841/)  ... Bulgarian filmmaker   
(http://resume.imdb.com/)  _Jung Yoon Lee_ (aoldb://mail/name/nm3015438/)  ... Yoon Jung   
(http://resume.imdb.com/)  _Oleg Mavromatti_ (aoldb://mail/name/nm2616514/)  ... 
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Additional  Details
Parents  Guide:
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USA:62  min

_USA_ (aoldb://mail/Sections/Countries/USA/) 

_Korean_ (aoldb://mail/Sections/Languages/Korean/)  | _English_ 

_Color_ (aoldb://mail/search/title?colors=color) 

Aspect  Ratio:
1.85 : 1 _See more_ (aoldb://mail/title/tt1233599/technical)  »

Sound  Mix:
_Stereo_ (aoldb://mail/search/title?sound_mixes=stereo) 

Filming  Locations:
_Buffalo,  New York, USA_ 
(aoldb://mail/search/title?locations=Buffalo,%20New%20York,%20USA)  _See more_ (aoldb://mail/title/tt1233599/locations)  »

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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 
cinematic  ideas.

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 
inflicted itself. 
Was the  above review useful to you?  

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