Comrade Kim Goes Flying

COMRADE KIM GOES FLYING (North Korea, 2012)
New York Premiere
81 minutes, DCP, in Korean with English subtitles
Directed by: Kim Gwang-Hun, Nicholas Bonner, Anja Daelemans
Starring: Han Jong-Sim, Pak Chung-Guk
Directors Nicholas Bonner and Anja Daelemans will be in attendance.

The first North Korean movie we’ve ever screened, COMRADE KIM is the sweetest, most delightful Communist confection you’ll ever see. Comrade Kim is a coal miner’s daughter, destined for life underground just like her dad. But her heart belongs to the circus and her love of gymnast Ri Su-Yong has given her a passion to one day be a trapeze artist. Through sheer gumption she makes it to the circus and, with the help of her coal miner buddies, learns how to fly through the air with the greatest of ease. A happy ending is inevitable but along the way the grass is so green, the flowers are so pink, the cinematography looks so retro, and everything has the jaunty charm and irrepressible good nature of a Doris Day movie.

North Korean expert Nicholas Bonner (producer of the mass games documentary A State of Mind) and his Belgian partner, Anja Daelemans, spent almost five years convincing North Korea’s Ryom Mi-Hwa that COMRADE KIM was an idea that could work both at home and abroad. She finally agreed and used her film industry connections to get director Kim Gwang-Hun on board (he’s best known for military propaganda movies). With him at the helm, and about $1.8 million raised overseas, it was full speed ahead (although the two foreign producers weren’t allowed on the coal mine or steel foundry sets for fear that they would steal state secrets). It’s impossible to get box office numbers from North Korea, but apparently COMRADE KIM tore up the screens there, the first romantic comedy to come out of that country and one of the only North Korean movies to show a woman fighting sexism and pigheaded men and overcoming all odds. As Bonner says, “In North Korea you rarely see an individual triumphing and rarely a story about a woman. Unless she’s dying.”

The result is a glossy charmer that has a retro throwback feel to a more innocent era. It’s a fiction film, not a documentary, a movie designed to give North Korean audiences a chance to experience some girl power and to talk about achieving their dreams. Only the most joy-hating grump could criticize this fun, retro, and giddy flick, and within its context it’s also quite touching. This is a movie about the best sides of people, a movie that wears its heart on its sleave and proclaims, “Whoever you are, wherever you are, anything is possible.” By the time Comrade Kim is flying through the air as if she has wings, you might even be weeping into your red hankie and praising the Great Leader yourself.

Friday July 5, 2:30PM Walter Reade Theater 2:30PM Buy Tickets