By Johannes Schönherr.
Kim Jong Il, the son of North Korea’s founder and Great Leader Kim Il Sung, went early in his youth in the direction of eventually inheriting his father’s position as leader of the country. At the same time, Kim Jong Il was an ardent cineaste with a fine-tuned understanding of the power that movies could exercise in forming public opinion. He joined the Agitation and Propaganda Department of the Workers Party, which oversaw the national film industry, and produced in 1965, at age 23, his first film, A Path to Awakening. Interestingly, this film was not set in North Korea but told a story of young revolutionaries in Seoul battling South Korea’s Park Chung Hee dictatorship. Although the film was a thoroughly North Korean production, Kim expressed an interest in developments outside the North Korean borders right away.
Kim Jong Il became over the following years more and more active in North Korean cinema, often acting directly as on-the-set producer (though he was never credited as such). His main productions included the classic Sea of Blood (1968) and especially Flower Girl (1972). The latter film received a special prize at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in Czechoslovakia, the main movie showcase of the Eastern bloc. Kim also authored the book On the Art of the Cinema (1973) in order to instruct his film workers on his ideas of correct and successful North Korean film making (and avoiding being “removed from the screen”). And yet, he seemed not satisfied with the quality of the national film production.
In a secret meeting in 1983, he told South Korean director Shin Sang Ok, at the time in Kim’s service:
We send our people to East Germany to study editing, to Czechoslovakia to study technology, and to the Soviet Union to learn directing. Other than that, we cannot send our people to anywhere since they are enemy states. … I acknowledge that we lag behind in filmmaking techniques. We have to know that we are lagging behind and make efforts to raise a new generation of filmmakers. (1)
Shin Sang Ok
In July 1978, the South Korean director and producer Shin Sang Ok suddenly disappeared in Hong Kong. In January of the same year, his estranged wife, actress Choi Eun Hee, had gone missing in the same city. Speculation was ripe that both been kidnapped by North Korea. But were they?
Shin ran in the 1960s and early 1970s with Shin Films the biggest movie studio of South Korea. When dictator Park Chung Hee’s censorship became ever more strict during the 1970s, Shin rebelled and provoked Park. As a result, in 1975 Park revoked Shin’s film production license. Shin had to close his studio. He directed a few films for other companies but was thoroughly unhappy. Shin later wrote about this time: “Those three years [1975 -78] when I was forcibly kept away from film represented the most difficult, frustrating and unbearable period of my life.” (2)
In 1984, Shin and Choi reappeared together at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in Czechoslovakia. At Karlovy Vary, they presented their first North Korean film, An Emissary Unreturned, a historical film focusing at the efforts of a Korean diplomat to save the independence of Korea at the The Hague Peace Conference in 1907. Choi Eun Hee was credited as the director. The entire plot of An Emissary Unreturned was set in Holland. The film opens with stock footage of the real The Hague while the remainder of the film was shot in Prague and at the Barrandov Film Studio, the main film studio of Czechoslovakia.
That was a first – A North Korean film shot outside the country and using a great number of foreign actors and extras. It can be argued that with An Emissary Unreturned the history of North Korean international movie collaborations really started.
Shin Sang Ok had the full backing of Kim Jong Il. He had been allowed to open his own large-scale film studio near Pyongyang, named Shin Films, just like the one he had to abandon in Seoul, and Kim Jong Il provided him with almost unlimited funds. Shin could operate in a relative freedom not granted any other film director in North Korea. Starting out in 1983, when the shooting of An Emissary Unreturned began and up to his and Choi Eun Hee’s escape from North Korea on a business trip to Vienna in 1986, Shin directed eight feature films in North Korea and produced about 13 films more, realized by other directors.
The majority of the films directed by Shin had an international angle. Runaway (1984) and Salt (1985) were set in pre-war Manchuria and the shooting was done partly at studios in China. Scenes for the adaptation of the folk tale The Story of Shim Chong (1985) were shot at the Bavaria Studios in Munich, using the set of The Neverending Story. That Shin was allowed to shoot in capitalist West Germany was another first.
For his final North Korean film, Pulgasari (1986), Shin worked closely with Toho in Tokyo. In addition to producing the Godzilla monster movie series, Toho produced Pulgasari, a monster movie in its own right and closely modeled on Godzilla. To get the monster’s moves right, Shin invited 15 special effect technicians from Toho to Pyongyang to work on the movie. He also invited Kenpachiro Satsuma, the suit actor who was the man inside the Godzilla rubber costume in the 1980s. Although originally only invited as an adviser, Satsuma ended up being the man inside the Pulgasari rubber suit as well. He later wrote a book about the experience, North Korea Seen Through the Eyes of Godzilla (1988). (3)
Shin’s presence in North Korea had a great impact reaching far beyond his own productions. The whole industry opened up and began to explore new territories including collaborations with foreign partners. Especially the Korean Film Studio, the main studio of the country, couldn’t possibly stay behind.
One of their major productions in that era was The Separation (1985, written by Ri Hui Chan, directed by Park Chang Song). The film starts out with actual documentary footage showing views of Paris before focusing on posters announcing performances of the North Korean state circus. From there, the narrative of the film kicks in: the father of the circus’ famed female trapeze acrobat is living in the South. The Southern secret service brings that father in and wants him to convince his daughter to defect. But of course, the daughter convinces her father that life in the North is better. At the end of the movie, merciless South Korean secret service men drag the hapless father into a plane back to Seoul where he lives in poverty. All the fiction parts of the movie were shot in Prague while Paris documentary footage of the circus’ actual performance was cut in every now and then.
The Separation with its Paris footage was the first North Korean film offering home audiences actual glimpses of a Western metropolis. North Korean audiences, brought up believing that Pyongyang was the greatest city in the world, were impressed. (4)
Collaborations with the Chongryon Film Studio in Japan
During the time when Korea was a Japanese colony (1910 – 1945), close to two million Koreans emigrated to Japan, looking for work and better prospects. During World War II, Japan conscripted several hundred thousand more Koreans as forced laborers. When the war was over and Korea was liberated, the majority of Koreans in Japan returned to the area from where most of them originally had come from – the South of the Korean peninsula. About 650.000 Koreans remained however in Japan. They have been commonly referred to as zainichi, (Korean) permanent residents, in Japanese.
The Korean peninsula was split into a Soviet-occupied Northern part and an American-occupied part in the South after the war. In August 1948, the Southern part became the Republic of Korea (South Korea). Within the same month, the Northern part became the Kim Il Sung – run Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).
In 1946, Mindan, the Korean Residents Union in Japan, the pro-South organization of Japanese Koreans was founded. Members of Mindan eventually became South Korean citizens with special residence status in Japan.
Choren (the League of Koreans in Japan) was founded as the first pro-North Organization in 1945 but it was outlawed after a riot in 1952. In 1955, Chongryon was founded, the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, still active today.
Choren began to produce newsreels dealing with the situation of pro-North Koreans in Japan in 1946 and set up its own production outlet Minshu Eiga within the same year. When Chongryon was founded, Minshu Eiga became part of the new organization.
The organizational structure of the pro-North documentary film collective changed several times but in 1974, it eventually became the Chongryon Film Studio. Its main focus remained the documentation of the lives, culture and politics of the pro-North Koreans in Japan. Some of their documentaries were feature-length.
When in the mid-1980s, inspired by Shin Sang Ok, the Korean Film Studio in Pyongyang began to consider international co-productions, the Tokyo-based Chongryon Film Studio became one of their first partners. They were culturally close and ideologically like-minded, had a long experience in making films and knew how to go about it in Japan.
In February and March 1985, a film team from Pyongyang went to Japan. It included some of the biggest acting stars of North Korean cinema as well as at least two North Korean directors.
The group was led by Ko Hak Rim who was by then a well-known North Korean director who had, among other films, directed many of the parts of the 20-part spy series Unknown Heroes (1979 – 1981). He had grown up as a Korean in Japan himself and had moved to North Korea in 1960 at age 25. He knew the situation of Koreans in Japan very well.
With him went experienced director Rim Chang Bom (Song of Love, An Ambitious Girl) as well as veteran actors like Kim Ryong Rin (A Flourishing Village, 1970) and So Kyong Sop (We Are the Happiest, 1970).
During their stay in Japan, they shot two movies: Thaw and Silver Hairpin.
Thaw (1985) (Haru no hi no yukidoke / Bombnari nunsuki)
Also known under the more literal translation of the Korean title, Snow Melts in Spring, the film was co-directed by Ko Hak Rim and Rim Chang Bom and had been written by Ri Chung Gu.
While the opening credits roll, scenes unfold of Koreans being forcibly taken from their homes and brought to Japan for hard work in mines and quarries.
Then, a sudden cut to stock footage of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline, introducing Chol Mun, a Korean-American university professor, played by So Kyong Sob. Chol Mun teaches a class on Korean history and wins a debate with a student who challenges his views on the politics of the Japanese occupation.
Back home after class, his wife hands him a letter from Tokyo – an invitation by his old friend Hyung Chol for the wedding of his daughter. Chol Mun and his wife fly to Tokyo.
When they arrive at Haneda airport, another friend of Hyung Chol, Seoul businessman Sang Ho, is also welcomed by Hyung Chol.
Hyung Chol (played by Kim Ryong Rin) and his family are wealthy and live in a large house in a Tokyo suburb, they even have a Japanese maid. His daughter is in love with a boy named Namsu and their wedding is only a few days away.
But then, trouble sets in. Hyung Chol is member of the pro-South Korean zainichi organization Mindan and he finds out that Namsu and his family belong to the pro-North Chongryon. He tells his daughter that she can’t marry Namsu.
She’s upset and angry and so is Namsu. In this situation, communication between the two lovers doesn’t work well and leads to serious misunderstandings.
Meanwhile, flashbacks reveal the personal war time history of Hyung Chol. As a forced laborer, he worked in a Japanese quarry. When the work conditions and the cruelty of the guards became unbearable, he and another Korean laborer incited a riot and fled. The other laborer was shot down by the pursuing guards and fell into the sea. Saddened Hyung Chol believes him dead.
At the end of the movie, it turns out that exactly this lost old friend was not only alive… but was Namsu’s father. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter anymore who belongs to Mindan and who to Chongryon. They all went through the same cruel past, they are all Koreans. The wedding of their children can go ahead.
With Chol Mun as oversea Korean, Sang Ho as South Korean, Namsu and his father representing Chongryon and Hyung Chol Mindan, all important factions of Koreans can eventually find together and unify in the great wedding reception of the young generation.
The basic message of the film – that Koreans are one people – was by no means new to North Korean cinema. The way that message was delivered however was revolutionary. Real images of Tokyo show Japan as a rich country in which Koreans can live very comfortably.
The film even features a Tokyo strip bar including full frontal shots of a topless dancer. That was certainly a first for North Korean cinema. (5)
Just as back in Pyongyang Shin Sang Ok was busy opening up North Korean cinema, Ko Hak Rim and Rim Chang Bom went all out in Tokyo to capture realistic images and cover daring subject matter previously strictly off-limits to North Korean audiences.
A Silver Hairpin (1985) (Gin no kanzashi / Eunbinyeo)
A Silver Hairpin was made at the same Japan sojourn of the North Korean film team and also in collaboration with the Chongryon Film Studio.
The screenplay was written by Kim Su Jung, Ko Hak Rim co-directed together with four other directors: Ryo Un Gak, O Hon Rok, Kim Jong Chi and Ko Hwi Ung. The latter co-directors most likely came from the Chongryon Film Studio.
The main actors however are from North Korea and largely identical with the ones playing in Thaw. So Kyong Sob, who played the Korean-American professor Chol Mun in Thaw, acts here in the role of the central character, Jin Sok.
Jin Sok is the local branch manager and only employee of the Chongryon newspaper Choson Sinbo in a coastal town in Hyogo Prefecture, in the West of Japan. For more than 20 years he has made his daily bicycle rounds delivering the paper to the local pro-North Korean community. Rain or shine, he never missed out even one day.
The local Koreans run tea houses, bars, gambling parlors. They are well settled and held together by regular meetings of their Chongryon charter as well as by reading their daily paper. It is the lifeline that provides them with the news and national directives from Pyongyang.
Jin Sok knows his newspaper subscribers well and helps them out in all their daily struggles to preserve their identity as Koreans. It is those struggles, the film centers on.
The most severe infraction of the Korean community rules is committed by one young girl who dares to date a Japanese boy. Her desperate mother calls Jin Sok for help. The Japanese boy is portrayed as a really nasty guy. In one rainy night, he accidentally hits Jin Sok with his car. Instead of helping the injured bicycle rider, he beats him up for causing damage to his car.
But the films makes clear that does not mean that he is one bad individual… it means that that is the way Japanese are. From the brutal guards of the forced labor camps to today, they have all remained the same.
Soon after, the girl runs away to Tokyo. Jin Sok travels there and finds her in a Shinjuku disco. Drunkenly stumbling below the strobe lights and being beaten by her cheating boyfriend. When Jin Sok takes her out of that hellhole of frenetic dancers, she gushes out in Japanese: “I don’t like Koreans!” Jin Sok slaps her in the face and takes her to a hotel. Once she has sobered up in the morning, he tells her that the Koreans are a very special race and very lucky to be led by the Great Leader Kim Il Sung. The Japanese, he says, are of a different blood. Koreans and Japanese should never mix.
Right then, he opens the curtain and in the distance a North Korean flag is shown fluttering above Tokyo on top of the building of a Chongryon credit union. The girl learns from her mistakes and becomes a good Korean daughter again.
Towards the end of the film, a big ceremony is held for Jin Sok’s 60th birthday. While the tables are packed with food and drinks and every one of the local pro-North Korean community is present, suddenly a big black car stops outside.
To everyone’s surprise, it brings members of the Central Committee of Chongryun in Tokyo. They deliver a special personal greeting from Great Leader Kim Il Sung to Jin Sok. The Great Leader has for years been aware of Jin Sok’s activities to keep the Korean community of his town together despite all the challenges he encountered, it says.
A Silver Hairpin was clearly more aimed at the Chongryon audience in Japan than it was at the home viewers in North Korea. Pro-North Koreans in Japan could easily relate to this picture while, according to what defectors told me, folks in Pyongyang considered it rather as a foreign film dealing with largely foreign problems.
The same defectors stated that North Korean viewers were most astounded at the scenes of kissing and open emotional display featured in the film.
The Mother’s Wish (1987) (Omoni no negai / Emeoniui sowon)
In 1987, Rim Chang Bom, the co-director of Thaw, returned to Japan and shot the film The Mother’s Wish as another co-production with the Chongryon Film Studio. His co-director was Ryo Un Gak who had already been one of the co-directors of A Silver Hairpin.
At the time the film was made, a large wave of pro-democracy demonstrations shook the dictatorship of South Korean president Chun Doo Hwan. The former Chun-supporting general and government official Roh Tae Woo was made presidential candidate by Chun in June 1987, a move that greatly infuriated the protesters and vastly enlarged the protests. It turned eventually out, however, that Roh would be a reformer, introducing democracy to South Korea.
The film, clearly inspired by the ongoing protests, tells a very melodramatic story in support of the protesters, loosely based on the real Campus Spy Ring Incident that took place in Seoul in 1971.
The film is set in 1971 as well, during the South Korean dictatorship of Park Chung Hee. A non-political zainichi family is living in Kyoto, headed by the mother (played by Kang Yo Song) as the father has died. They have South Korean citizenship and mother, son and daughter lead happy lives.
The son, Hong Te Myong (played by Kim Chol) heads off to Seoul for his university studies. He loves poetry and is far from any politics. One day, however, he happens to be on the street when a student protest rally takes place. His books get thrown to the ground by the onward racing protesters but one of them, a cute girl, helps him to recover them. When he then sees how that same girl is attacked by a violent policeman, he steps in and defends her. He gets arrested.
As a zainichi from Japan he is immediately suspicious to the South Korean police. They torture him, they put him on trial as a North Korean agent.
His mother, willing to do anything to free her son, reverts to the ways she knows in dealing with the South Korean government: she goes to the Korean consulate in Kyoto and tries to bribe the consul to use his influence in setting her son free. By then, however, the South Korean government had decided to implicate her son in a cooked-up North Korea spy show trial.
The mother still tries to stay out of politics. When her daughter joins a leftist group and collects signatures on the streets of Kyoto, she tears the signature lists up. Politics is not her way and she doesn’t want to get involved.
Things in Seoul however turn more and more nasty. Mother goes there to all the different stages of the trial, her emotional displays of crying out to her son at the court house getting ever more desperate.
Trying to help her son in any way she can, mother learns more and more about the evil ways of the South Korean government. She begins to feel sympathies for the protesters.
Eventually, the son is sentenced to death for being a North Korean spy. When he is led to the court room for sentencing, his face is disfigured by torture with a blow torch, received at the hands of a prison interrogator, one of his ears has been burned off. By now and exactly because of the cruel treatment he had received from the South Korean government, he has become an outspoken adversary of the South Korean government. He doesn’t hold back in telling the public at the trial about it.
Desperate mother returns to Kyoto. 10 years later, the son’s death penalty is revoked. Hopeful, mother travels to Seoul again, believing that he will now be released and she can pick him up from prison. Instead, he is only getting transferred to another prison.
After she does an angry speech towards the responsible official, she tries to block the way of the prison bus transporting her son. The bus runs her over and she dies from the injuries sustained. The son remains in prison.
Compared to the relatively realistic earlier North Korea / Chongryon collaborations, The Mother’s Wish is highly emotionally charged propaganda.
It was the last co-production between North Korea and Chongryon and it was also the last feature film production of the Chongryon Film Studio.
The Chongryon Film Studio went back to produce documentaries on zainichi life in Japan, by then made on video. It still exists but only in digital form via its website http://www.elufa-tv.net/
Collaborations with the Soviet Union
The Soviet Union had occupied the Northern zone of Korea as a result of World War II. It was the Soviets who installed Kim Il Sung as leader of North Korea.
After Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev renounced Stalinism in 1956, the relation between the two countries cooled considerable. During the Sino-Soviet Split in the 1960s and 1970s, North Korea sided with China, further deteriorating relations with the Soviet Union.
When China and the Soviet Union became friendly with each other again in the 1980s, North Korea didn’t want to be left out and opened its doors to the Soviets. In cinema, this resulted in three Soviet co-productions.
Eternal Comrades-In-Arms (1985) (Sekunda na podvig / Yeongwonhan jeonu )
North Korean film crews were busy going abroad to shoot movies in 1985. It was a first since the 1959 French co-production Moranbong, however, that for Eternal Comrades-In-Arms a foreign film team was invited to shoot in North Korea.
The film was produced by the main Soviet studio Mosfilm in collaboration with the Korean Film Studio and the screenplay was written by the Soviet writer Aleksandr Borodyanskiy and North Korean Paek In Jun. Uzbek director Eldor Urazbayev and top-notch North Korean director Om Gil Son (An Jung Gun Shoots Ito Hirobumi, 1979) co-directed.
They picked up on a very recent news story: former Soviet Lieutenant Yakov Novichenko had in 1984 been invited to Pyongyang where he was awarded one of the highest North Korean orders. On that occasion, he personally met with Kim Il Sung.
Novichenko received his belated honors because in March 1946, he had done a very heroic deed. Renegade Korean nationalists opposed to Kim Il Sung had thrown a hand grenade at the future leader when he was giving a speech outside the Pyongyang railway station. Novichenko caught the grenade by hand. Because he was surrounded by people on all sides, he threw himself to the ground and covered the detonation with his body. A book he was carrying on his chest saved his life but he lost an arm.
Through his quick action, Novichenko most likely saved Kim Il Sung’s life. North East Asian history might have turned out very differently if Novichenko hadn’t caught that grenade.
The movie starts out pre-title with exactly that heroic deed: Novichenko, played by Andrei Martynov, catches the grenade, throws himself over it and an explosion engulfs him in smoke and dust.
Post opening title we see Novichenko traveling to Pyongyang on an Air Koryo plane to receive his honors.
The film then cuts back to Novichenko becoming friends with a wounded Korean guerilla fighter in the early 1940s. His comrades brought him over the Siberian border after he was shot while ambushing a Japanese army unit. The Soviets take care of him.
Cut to 1945 and the Soviet invasion of Korea. This was a first in the North Korean movies – so far North Korean film propaganda had insisted that Kim Il Sung’s guerrilla and nobody else had liberated the country from Japanese rule. But this film makes it very clear that the Soviet Red Army took a very active role in liberating Korea.
Novichenko meets his old guerrilla friend again while taking part in Stalin’s military campaign. The close friendship of the two men is of course meant as a symbol for the eternal friendship between the Korean and Soviet people.
Cutting back and forth between Novichenko’s visit to North Korea in 1984 and his activities as a Soviet officer in Pyongyang in 1945 / 1946, the film very much tells the story of the early days of the Soviet occupation. Kim Il Sung getting chosen as leader of the country by the Soviets (because of popular Korean demand, the film insists), Kim meeting Cho Man Sik, the Korean independence activist who didn’t agree to work with the Soviets and nationalists from the South infiltrating the country hoping to violently remove the dreaded Communists from power.
In the film, those nationalists act on direct American instructions and closely collaborate with Cho Man Sik. In reality, though, Cho Man Sik was already under Soviet arrest at the time the plot took shape.
The film ends with Novichenko saving Kim Il Sung’s life… and eternal friendship between the two countries is declared.
What sets this film clearly apart from North Korean productions, other than directly showing Soviet involvement in the liberation of Northern Korea, is that Kim Il Sung was shown on screen – played by an actor. In North Korean films, Kim could never be represented by a mere actor… that would be a sacrilege. In this, the North Koreans closely followed the tradition of the World War II era Japanese Empire where it would also have been unthinkable that an actor played the Emperor.
The Soviets however had no such inhibitions. Lenin and Stalin had been portrayed by many actors in many Soviet films.
From Spring to Summer (1988) (S vesna bo reta / Bombuteo yorreumkkaji)
Three years after Eternal Comrades, the next Mosfilm team went to North Korea to work with the Korean Film Studio on a war adventure movie.
Co-directed by Russian Nikita Orlov and North Korean Pak Sang Bok, From Spring to Summer pretends to be the fictionalized account of a true story from 1945.
The plot: Four Soviet military scouts, as they are called in the movie, arrive in spring 1945 by submarine on the Korean coast. Twenty-year-old Marsha (played by Elena Drovseba) is one of them, another one is a Korean originally from the area and member of Kim Il Sung’s guerilla, closely working with the Soviets.
Rumors had it that the Japanese army operates a secret camp there and that biological weapons from the notorious Unit 731 in Harbin were being transferred to the camp. The Soviets want to know the details.
The scout group is soon detected by the Japanese army and all of Marsha’s comrades are quickly killed off – though not before discovering the location of the secret camp.
Marsha is hidden by Korean villagers who are sworn-in followers of Kim Il Sung. One Korean boy takes a special interest in Marsha’s safety. Their relation could be interpreted in various ways. To Western (and Soviet viewers) it certainly looked like a love story without kisses, for North Korean audiences it was most likely intended to look more like comradeship. North Koreans are taught to regard romantic relations to non-Koreans as close to unthinkable for reasons of racial purity.
Hiding out in a spectacular landscape full of impressive waterfalls, Marsha and her Korean friend dodge the bullets of the Japanese and eventually learn what the secret base was really intended for: to unleash the plague onto the world.
Being anti-Japanese all the way through, at that point the film crosses into the territory of generic cute-girl-saves-the-world action movies. Marsha must survive and return to the Soviet Union to inform the Red Army of the secret camp … otherwise the world will be doomed.
After plenty of shootouts she makes her way back home. On August 9th, 1945, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. Marsha is in the forefront of the invading Red Army and dies blowing up the bio-warfare installations of the Japanese camp.
The plot of From Spring to Summer, the title of the film describing the period it took from Marsha’s scouting tour to the Soviet Union entering the Pacific War, very much stresses the close cooperation between North Korea and the Soviet Union in fighting against Japan.
The way the film was made, however, turned it into an entertainment-oriented war action adventure with barely hidden romantic / erotic undertones. It was thus more a commercial film than a purely political one.
The Shore of Rescue (1990) (Bereg spaseniya / Guwonui giseuk)
The third and final co-production between the Soviet Union and North Korea, also known under the English title Rescued on the Shore, was realized in 1990. By that time, Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms had radically liberalized Soviet life and artists, including film directors, had a large degree of freedom of expression. Films on Soviet war heroes went out of style as Soviet audiences were looking for new and more adventurous outlooks on the world.
The screenplay was written by Arya Dashiev and Alexei Timm. Dashiev also co-directed the movie. His co-director on the North Korean side was Ryu Ho Son, known as one of the directors of the spy series Unknown Heroes (1978 -1981).
Shore of Rescue is set in the year 1905, right after the Russo – Japanese War. Russia lost that war after its Baltic Fleet was destroyed by the Japanese Navy in the Tsushima Straight between Japan and Korea.
The movie opens with a Russian orthodox priest mourning the sinking of his navy cruiser and the loss of the crew. He cries out to god on the rugged Korean coast hoping the meet more survivors. They soon show up: the captain of the ship as well as three sailors.
They try to make their way back to Vladivostok on land. Soon, they are spotted by locals, however.
At the same time, a group of Japanese bandits is touring the area, trying to find an old royal tomb they want to rob. The bandits kill a local. The locals, unaware of the bandits, find the corpse and immediately blame the Russians.
The plot gets rather convoluted from then on. It involves a beautiful but tough martial arts training woman (Ri Sol Hui) whose family had been banned from the local village on false accusations. A young local (played by Ri Yong Ho, a superstar in North Korean cinema since his leading role in the martial arts film Hong Kil Dong, 1986) develops a forbidden love interest in her. The Russian sailors and their priest get entangled both in the complicated relations among the local Koreans as well as in the battles they eventually fight against the Japanese bandits.
The plot plays out in a beautiful landscape and it entails a mix of adventure story, martial arts flick and spaghetti western placed into unlikely territory.
The message of the previous Soviet – North Korean co-productions, namely that the Koreans and the Russians are best friends and have to act together against the evil Japanese invaders is present here as well. As the film is set in the pre-Soviet, pre-Kim Il Sung times, though, this message is here much less fraught with overtly political statements.
Ten Zan – The Ultimate Mission (1988) (Missione Finale / Majimak immu )
At the Cannes Film Festival in 1987, North Korean film business executives approached director Ferdinando Bald and his producer after seeing their war movie War Bus, shot in the Philippines, and invited them to shoot a movie in North Korea.
This was a first. While previously, North Korea had co-operated only with more or less ideologically like-minded partners, they now went out and proposed a co-production with strictly money-oriented Westerners.
Baldi had started out big in the Italian film world in the early 1960s, shooting Roman-era dramas starring Orson Wells. Later in the 1960s, he changed to spaghetti westerns and made some noteworthy entries into the genre, like Texas, Addio (1966), starring Franco Nero. In his Western Blindfish (1971), Baldi directed ex-Beatle Ringo Starr. In the 1970s, Baldi went into the giallo genre and shot horror shockers. By the 1980s, he was down to low-budget war movies. In a way, Baldi’s career reflected the development of Italian cinema of the time. Down from large Cinecitta productions to low-budget jungle exploitation flicks. The indomitable spirit of those latter films is however today highly appreciated by film fans.
Ferdinando Baldi wrote a screenplay based on an account of the battle of Ten Zan on Iwo Jima, at the end of World War II. In an interview, he said: “When I arrived in North Korea, the script was only a direction… like, where to go with the project and to see if the North Koreans were really interested in the picture. They started to discuss it in Korea again. […] For about one month I tried to save the basics of my script. At the same time, they totally rewrote it. Finally, we agreed on something.” (6)
The plot eventually filmed tells of an evil Western professor who runs an army of mercenaries who kidnap local girls and extract a potion containing their DNA from their throats. The girls die in the process.
This same professor (played by Charles Borromel), hires a two-men team of superheroes (played by Frank Zagarino and Mark Gregory) to destroy his own operation… which they do amidst a lot of action, shoot-outs and explosions.
Why did he hire them? Why did he want to destroy his own evil empire? Director Baldi himself was shocked when he saw a video of his own film provided by this writer. He claimed that he had no idea what went wrong but that some big mistakes were made during shooting. (see 6)
Unlike in all other North Korean co-productions, Korea is not mentioned in this film at all. The plot takes place in an anonymous, mysterious outlaw country. All hangul signs have been replaced by Chinese signs, even the license plates of cars have their hanguls taped over. All Korean actors are credited with English-sounding names.
Pyongyang landmarks such as Pyongyang Station, the Koryo Hotel and the Pyongyang subway are however clearly on display.
Asked about the impact his North Korean co-director Pak Jong Ju had on the film, Baldi told in an interview that Pak was actually his assistant and that “First of all, the North Koreans wanted to learn something.” (see 6)
The Italian production company and the North Koreans fell out after the making of the film. They didn’t agree on the financial terms of distribution. Thus, the film was not released in most major markets.
It was released in Japan, though, under the title Nasake-muyou no senshi (roughly translating to Merciless Fighters) both theatrically and on video. There, it was marketed solely as an Italian movie. No North Korean involvement was acknowledged. The mysterious Asian country depicted remained mysterious.
Ten Zan remained the only foray of North Korea into serving as location for Western exploitation cinema.
Co-productions with Japan
Bird (1992) (Ba-do / Sea)
Tokuma Daeie, the film production section of Japanese publishing house Tokuma Shoten, started at the beginning of the 1990s a new subsection named Cinema Beam. Headed by veteran producer Masao Kobayashi, Cinema Beam looked for promising screenplays all over the world. They contacted film schools and production outlets and received about 2000 applications. (7)
Out of them, six screenplays were chosen and produced in their own countries while Cinema Beam oversaw and financed the productions. They included American, French, Czechoslovakian films. The American movie Public Access, the first film by Bryan Singer, was among them. It started Singer’s career. Singer later became a very successful director with X-Men (2000).
One of the scripts submitted was a North Korean entry written by Kim Se Ryun, a North Korean screenplay writer who had worked with Shin Sang Ok and who had written Hong Kil Dong. The screenplay was said to be based on a real story.
Kobayashi and his team chose the film, Bird, as one to produce. North Korean Rim Chang Bom became the director. Rim had been the co-director of the Chongryon co-production Thaw, he also had made Mother’s Wish in Japan.
Bird tells a very Korean story of separation. Veteran North Korean birdwatcher Yon Hyong (Yu Won Jun) had lost his son during the Korean War. The son ended up in the South and the two have no contact with each other.
One day, Yon Hyong catches a rare migrating gray starling carrying a Japanese bird watching ring. He inquires at the Tokyo Ornithological society but they have not released any such bird. It turns out that Professor Yamanashi, the chief ornithologist in Tokyo, gave a bird ring to Yon Myon O, a researcher in Seoul. Myon O’s children attached that ring to a starling they had personally taken care of and let it fly. It was exactly that bird that Yon Hyong caught.
Eventually, Professor Yamanashi discovers that Seoul researcher Myon O is the missing son of Northern researcher Yon Hyong. He informs both parties.
Father and son eventually meet in a very dramatic scene at a bird watcher conference in Tokyo. This however, turns out to be a dream sequence… a dream Yon Hyong dreams the night before his departure to the conference. He then goes on the plane to attend the conference… will he really meet his son there? The end is left open. Presumably, he will meet him… though without the presence of the entire family which lent so much drama to the dream.
The film was shot entirely in North Korea, including the scenes taking place in Tokyo and Seoul. Much beautiful scenery and wildlife is on display, especially wild birds.
While Kobayashi oversaw the whole Cinema Beam project, as executive producer Lee Bong Woo was sent to North Korea. He was chosen because as a zainichi he was familiar with Korean culture. Lee has since become an influential producer in Japan (Pacchigi!, 2005).
Aside of Lee, all cast and crew was North Korean with one exception: Yang Yong Hi. Yang was the daughter of a Chongryon-affiliated zainichi family in Osaka and her father had sent all her three brothers to live in North Korea. Yang Yong Hi visited them often there, sometimes staying for an extended period.
Yang was active in an Osaka theater group, was tall and her face had rather Japanese-looking features. In addition, she spoke perfect Korean and Japanese. Tokuma casted her for the role of Yoshiko Tanaka, the assistant of Professor Yamanashi. As she writes in her book Brothers – Our Homeland, on the set she also had to take on the function as adviser on Japanese cultural customs. She told the crew what kind of clothes Japanese waitresses wear, what Japanese coffee shops look like, how Japanese would behave in the situations the screenplay demanded.
She also writes that the complete budget that Tokuma had sent for the film had gone straight to the Pyongyang leadership. The film was then made on a fraction of that amount. (8)
By now, Yang has become a film director in her own right with her documentaries including Dear Pyongyang (2005) and her feature film Our Homeland (2012). All of her films deal with North Korea and pro-North zainichi life in Japan in a very critical way.
Bird is not overly political but the politics come in through the desperation shown towards the Korean separation. No explicit mention is made who actually separates the two Koreas but North Korean audiences would of course blame the government of the South and the U.S. supporting it.
The film won a prize at the Pyongyang Film Festival. Outside of North Korea it was shown once at the Tokyo International Film Festival but then shelved by Tokuma.
Somi – the Taekwon-do Woman (1997) (Somi: Kourai nyonin kenshi / Goryonyeomusa)
Masao Kobayashi, the producer in chief of the Cinema Beam program of Tokuma quit his job at Tokuma after the burst of the economic bubble in Japan.
In 1995, however, he was approached by North Korea with the idea of making a new co-production. After a visit to North Korea and the Korean Film Studio, Kobayashi agreed to co-produce Somi – The Taekwon-do Woman with his own company Canario Entertainment Ltd.
The screenplay was written in close collaboration between Kim Se Il on the North Korean and by Kobayashi on the Japanese side. The film, also known as Woman Warrior of Koryo, was directed by Jang Yong Bok who had previously directed the 5-part rebel series Rim Kkok Jong (1986-1993).
The story told is set in the medieval Korean kingdom of Koryo. Ryu Bal, an evil decadent governor runs his own fiefdom, badly exploiting the local population while living in luxury himself. A rebel group forms but is squashed by Ryu Bal. The parents of the main character, Somi, are killed in that raid. Somi herself is at that time a little girl. She is saved by Dosa, a monk and martial arts master who runs his own martial arts school up in the mountains.
Somi grows up in Dosa’s school and, despite being the only girl at the school and often being ridiculed by her male co-students, eventually masters the high arts of Taekwon-do.
After various twists in the story including a tragic love triangle in which Somi mistakenly falls for a spy sent out by Ryu Bal to trap her, Somi manages at the end to kill Ryu Bal .. and thus to revenge her parents.
All cast and crew was North Korean – only the money came from Japan. Kobayashi was mostly present at the shooting but he was the only Japanese on the set.
The actress playing Somi, Ri Mi Yang, was chosen by Kobayashi for her Japanese looks. Kobayashi thought that she might appeal to a Japanese audience – the audience he had in mind when making the film. 7)
Ri Mi Yang was not an actress but an 18 year old student. She had to learn acting and taekwon-do for the movie. Still, she played a very convincing heroine in the movie.
The movie works well as a historical martial arts film set in old Korea and filmed in gorgeous landscape. Its style reminds very much of classic Hong Kong martial arts films of the 1960s and 70s.
However, reality crept in. Speaking in an interview about the impact of the North Korean famine on the shooting of the film, Masao Kobayashi said: “Do you remember the first scene in the movie? The scene in the town when the bad guy rides in and then parks his horse? You can see that the horse is extremely skinny. Although it’s a fiction movie, it is a good document of North Korea at the time.
It was such a hard time. After the completion of the film, people told me that the time when we shot the movie was the worst time in North Korea ever. Worse than during the American bombings in the Korean War, they said. (…)
In that situation, while I was comfortably staying at the Koryo Hotel, they never showed me how hard life was in Pyongyang. They always said: “Kobayashi-san, feel relaxed. Please make your movie””. (see 7)
Somi was shown as a special on New Year’s Eve 1997 / 98 on North Korean TV. After that, all rights returned to Kobayashi. He showed the Film once at the Yubari International Fantastic Film in Japan but otherwise, no Japanese release followed. In 2012, the film had its Western premiere at the Zipangu Film Festival in London, getting a very positive reception.
Co-productions with China
Oriental Gladiator (2005) (Dongfang jiaodoushi)
Considering that China saved North Korea in the Korean War, the close relationship between the countries and the great popularity of North Korean films in China in the 1970s, it seems strange that the first movie co-production between the countries dates from 2005. In fact, North Korea doesn’t even accept the film as real co-production. While Oriental Gladiator was made together by North Korea and China, the North Korean side didn’t approve of the final cut and disowned the film.
Since the film was however initially produced in close collaboration between the two countries, it shall be included here.
Directed by Li Qimin (China) and Ri Ju Ho (North Korea), Oriental Gladiator purports to be a biographical film based on the life of Japanese pro-wrestling champion Rikidozan. Born as Kim Sin Rak in 1924 in the South Hamgyong province of Japanese colonial Korea Rikidozan had his roots in an area which later became part of North Korea. Taking on the Japanese name Mitsuhiro Momota, he moved to Japan to start a sumo wrestling career. In the early 1950s, the switched to pro-wrestling and became famous under the name Rikidozan. In fact, he became the champion of Japanese pro-wrestling after beating several top American pro-wrestlers. In December 1963, Rikidozan was murdered by a yakuza gang member. Up to today, Rikidozan is held in high esteem in Japan.
Oriental Gladiator, shot completely in China, fictionalizes Rikidozan’s life to a large part. The movie starts out with scenes of Rikidozan and his wrestling teacher enjoying a barbecue at a river. They are best friends.
Soon after, Rikidozan enters the ring and fights against a masked opponent. The fight becomes bitter and brutal but Rikidozan wins in the end. It turns out that the masked opponent was his best friend and teacher. The teacher can’t take it that he has become weaker than his student and commits hara-kiri. On his deathbed, he asks Rikidozan to take care of his daughter.
Much of the film is spent on the slowly developing relationship between Rikidozan and the young girl. She rejects him at first, holding him responsible for her father’s death. But step by step, she accepts him as her new father.
Meanwhile, Rikidozan wins more and more championships. Unfortunately, very little of the fighting is shown in the movie.
One day, he watches scenes of Japanese Koreans leaving Niigata port for North Korea in the Homecoming Project (during which altogether about 90.000 Japanese Koreans moved to North Korea). Remembering his childhood village, Rikidozan begins to long for North Korea.
After finally winning the world champion title in a fight against a particularly vicious American, Rikidozan and his adopted daughter make it public that they intend to move to North Korea.
This is unacceptable to the right-wing Japanese group running the national pro-wrestling business. They need him as a popular hero for Japan. If Rikidozan were to move to North Korea, they would completely lose face. Thus, during the party celebrating his championship, they murder him.
What exactly prompted North Korea to disown the film is not known. In its general message, Oriental Gladiator was certainly ideologically correct by North Korean standards. The execution of the film was however rather poor, resulting in a movie that provides very little viewing pleasure. Perhaps North Korea really rejected the movie on quality grounds.
Meet In Pyongyang (2012) (Pingrang zhi yue / Pyongyangaesoui yaksok)
It took up until 2012 until the first Chinese – North Korean co-production approved by North Korea was released. Meet In Pyongyang, also known under the English title Promise in Pyongyang, was initiated by Chinese producer Li Shuihe. Li had been to the Pyongyang Film Festival several times and he had seen the spectacular Arirang Mass Games in Pyongyang three times.
“I found that not only do the North Korean people love movies, but also that Chinese television dramas are very popular there. So, apparently our two peoples enjoy the same type of entertainment, why not make a movie together?” Li asked himself according to the Hollywood Reporter. (9)
Li approached the North Korean Ministry of Culture and his first idea of co-producing a film received an approval.
The scriptwriting took two years. Both of them had very different ideas of what the film was going to be. Li explained later: “The North Korean representatives insisted on telling stories about the history of our countries’ friendship, and all they proposed were stories set during the war of resistance against Japan, and the Korean war, (…) but from the Chinese side, we don’t want to talk all about the past; we want to make a modern film to show to the world the present-time North Korea, a film with commercial value that would appeal to the young people in China. We have to consider the market value of the film.” (see 9)
Eventually, a compromise was found and shooting could start. The director on the Chinese side was Xierzhati Yahefu, an Uyghur director known for his 2008 film Maimaiti’s while on the North Korean side Kim Hyong Chol took on directing duties.
The main plot of the film concerns young female Chinese dancer Wang Xiaonan (Alice Liu) who aspires to master the art of Korean dance. She performs excellently but the main juror in the field (at the same time her grandmother) always gives her bad grades.
Wang is offered a study trip to Pyongyang and she reluctantly agrees to go. In Pyongyang she meets Korean dance choreographer Kim Un Sun (Kim Ok Rim) who is working on a segment of the Arirang Mass Games.
Numerous misunderstandings occur between the two women but in the end Wang learns what had been missing in her dance: her soul. Wang had concentrated only on the technical side of the dance and had sought only material gain through it. After a visit to Kim’s home village she finally understands the depth of real Korean dance.
A little subplot concerning the search for a war-time photo is thrown in to keep the North Korean side happy. It has barely anything to do with the rest of the story.
The camerawork is slick and both Beijing and Pyongyang look gorgeous in the film. Most spectacular however are the scenes of the Arirang Mass Games. For 15 days, sections of the original games, featuring about 100.000 performers, had been re-staged exclusively for the movie.
Director Xierzhati relates a telling anecdote: “We started filming from early in the morning till noon (…) then let the performers go home, and resume shooting the following day. We didn’t know how to organize a lunch break for a hundred thousand people day after day.” (see 9)
None of the Korean actors and extras were paid. North Korea provided them for free as well as the locations and the shooting permits. The Chinese side took care of the general budget of the film as well of the technical side of the shooting.
North Korea was happy with the final result and gave it a green light. Meet in Pyongyang had its Chinese premiere at the Shanghai Film Festival 2012 and played shortly after at the Pyongyang Film Festival. The film received a Chinese theatrical release, deals with international distributors are pending.
According to Film Business Asia, the shooting of a large-scale war movie co-production named If There Is No Love aka Necklace in the Time of War was set to start in December 2010. (10) No news have been reported about this film since and its status is unclear at the time of this writing.
Co-production with the UK and Belgium
Comrade Kim Goes Flying (2012) (Kim dongmu-neun haneul-reul nanda)
That’s the film currently making the rounds at the festivals. It grew out of a festival itself. While in the 1980s and 1990s the Pyongyang Film Festival was largely a gathering of film makers from the Third World, it became hip among Western film people to attend the festival in the 2000s.
In 2002, Belgian director Anja Daeleman’s visited the Pyongyang Film Festival to present her Academy Award – nominated short film Fait D’Hiver.
(Full disclosure: The present writer gave her the fax number of the (North) Korea Film Export & Import Corporation at a South Korean film festival party and she acted on it.)
In Pyongyang she met Briton Nicholas Bonner, another festival guest. Bonner has been living in Beijing since the early 1990s and operates from there a tourist tour agency specialized in North Korea. His tours are about the most easily accessible way for Westerners to visit North Korea.
Daelemans and Bonner hatched a plan to make a movie together in North Korea, after they had “a Whisky or two”, as they later told the press. (11)
Bonner had already expertise in the field. It was through his connections and with his support that British director Daniel Gordon could shoot his documentaries in North Korea: The Game of Their Lives (2002, about the amazing North Korean success in the 1966 Soccer World Cup held in Britain), A State of Mind (2004, documenting two young girls participating in the Arirang Games) and Crossing the Line (2006, about American defector James Joseph Dresnok and his life in Pyongyang).
While Daniel Gordon’s documentaries provided a lot of insight into North Korea, Comrade Kim had no such ambitions. It was supposed to tell a ”fairy tale”. (see 11)
The film is a romantic comedy and it presents North Korea as a paradise… a country in which everyone is happy and everyone has a good life. But the heroine of the film, small town coalminer Kim Yong Mi, (played by Han Jong Sim) has a very special dream: she wants to be an acrobat. Her being a small town coal miner and already 28 years old, it seems impossible.
But when she is sent to Pyongyang to work on a construction site as a member of a youth shock brigade, she finds out that the state circus is looking for a new star trapeze artist. Kim enters an open audition but fails terribly. She suffers from vertigo and can’t perform on the trapeze.
Male star trapeze artist Pak Jang Phil (Pak Chung Guk) witnesses her defeat and mocks her ambitions.
Back at the construction site, Kim overcomes her fear of heights and trains on the trapeze, supported by her colleagues. In the end she will succeed in realizing her dream and win the admiration of Pak Jang Phil who will finally become her trapeze –co-star and fiancée.
Co-directed by Daelemans, Bonner and North Korean Kim Gwang Hun, it took seven years to make the film. Seven years to achieve… what exactly? Telling a ridiculously implausible story even by the standards of romantic comedies, set in a slickly filmed picture postcard Pyongyang.
In fact, North Korea itself has produced plenty of romantic comedies and they are much more interesting to watch. They give some insights into what North Koreans think and how they handle romantic liaisons. Comrade Kim however is all surface and gives no insight at all.
So, does “Comrade Kim demonstrate a notable loosening of restrictions, however small”, as the press has claimed4? Not at all. It only demonstrates that North Korea is quite able to learn and to understand that there are people out there in the Western world who wish nothing more than getting access to shoot a film within the close confines of the Pyongyang movie world.
Encouraged by Kim Jong Il and starting with Shin Sang Ok’s involvement in North Korean cinema, a considerable number of international co-productions have been made.
Two periods can be clearly distinguished. During the first period, in the years from 1984 to 1987, North Korea actively went out to shoot films abroad. Shin Sang Ok’s films were the leading movies at the time and they led to politically charged co-productions with the Chongryon Film Studio in Japan as well as the highly politically motivated Soviet co-production Eternal Comrades-in-Arms.
From 1988 on, North Korea pursued a different policy. The Soviet co-production From Spring to Summer as well as the Italian co-production Ten Zan – Ultimate Mission clearly mark the new approach: North Korea offering itself up as international shooting location.
Further studies why that shift in the North Korean attitude took place exactly at that time will be needed. But it can be speculated here that because of the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and the new international standing that brought to South Korea, North Korea felt left behind and a need to catch up.
In fact, learning about new international film making techniques and new international technology was a central goal set by Kim Jong Il right from the beginning of international collaborations and co-productions.
This aspect of learning came now to the forefront. Along with a new consideration: the leadership needed money and international co-productions were a source of income.
From 1988 up to today, North Korea has engaged in co-productions with pretty much anyone who agrees to the basic rules briefly summed up here:
The foreign partner provides the finances and the movie making equipment. North Korea on the other hand is responsible for locations, local cast and crew and an unlimited amount of extras. The latter free of charge.
All screenplays have to be co-written and the North Korean side has the final say on the proceedings, though the editing might take place abroad. All films are to be co-directed by a foreigner and a North Korean, the crews work closely together.
Thus North Korea makes sure that the foreign production partners teach their North Korean counterparts the newest film making techniques and introduce them to their new technology while at the same time, North Korea has strict control of the content of the movies and how they are being made.
North Korea has both actively pursued international co-productions by contacting possible foreign partners as well it has affirmatively reacted when it was approached by international producers.
That the foreign partners are in the most cases motivated by making financial profits plays an important role too: it ensures that the movies get a wide international release and thus advertise North Korea. The example of Masao Kobayashi’s productions shows that the latter did not always work out, though. But other co-productions were more successful. The recent co-productions Meet in Pyongyang and especially Comrade Kim Goes Flying certainly delivered what they had promised: portraying North Korea as an advanced country in the most favorable terms to international audiences. Exactly the way the Pyongyang leadership likes to have advertised their country.
In fact, Comrade Kim introduced a new breed of international collaborators: Westerners who would agree to do anything to make a movie within the close confines of the Pyongyang film world – just for the sake of making a movie in that exotic location.
Kim Jong Il, the cineaste Dear Leader of North Korea died in December 2011. His son Kim Jong Un took over. According to the news coming from North Korea, Kim Jong Un is not as interested in the movies as his father was.
He might not go and supervise domestic productions as his father always did. But he will certainly welcome foreign co-productions that hail North Korea as a paradise.
In fact, international co-productions might be the future of North Korean cinema.
- Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee: Our Escape Has Not Yet Ended (Uri-ui Talchul-eun Kkeunnaji Anatda), Seoul: Wolgan Joseonsa, 2001) page 249; quoted in: Suk-Young Kim: Illusive Utopia, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2010, page 20
- Shin Sang-ok: I, Was Film, Seoul: Random House Korea, 2007, page 114; quoted in Yi Hyo-in: Shin Sang-ok, Seoul: Seoul Selection, 2008, page 52
- Kenpachiro Satsuma: Gojira ga mita kita chosen, Tokyo: NESCO, 1988
- Interview with defector “Miss B” in Johannes Schönherr: North Korean Cinema – A History, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2012, page 196
- This scene has been cut from the currently available North Korean DVD of the film. The video available from Chongryon however contains it.
- Interview with Ferdinando Baldi by Johannes Schönherr, Film International, April 13 2011 http://filmint.nu/?p=1601
- Johannes Schönherr: Interview with Masao Kobayashi, Midnight Eye, published September 3 2012; http://www.midnighteye.com/interviews/masao-kobayashi/
- Yang Yong Hi: Ani – Kazoku no kuni: Tokyo: Shougakukan, 2012
- Karen Chu: China-North Korea Co-production Offers Glimpse of Life in Present-day North Korea: The Hollywood Reporter, June 20 2012
- North Korea and China partner in lavish war epic: Film Business Asia, September 30 2010 http://www.filmbiz.asia/news/north-korea-and-china-partner-in-lavish-war-epic
- Director statement at http://www.comradekimgoesflying.com/statement_dir.php
Johannes Schönherr is the author of Trashfilm Roadshows – Off the Beaten Track with Subversive Movies (Headpress, 2002) and North Korean Cinema – A History (McFarland, 2012).