North Korea opens up through film

Meet In Pyongyang shows a cultural exchange.

by Jennie Kermode

Though possessed of a thriving film industry of its own, North Korea hasn't collaborated on a film project at any point in its 64 year history. Now a film co-produced with China has changed all that. Could Meet In Pyongyang signify a thaw in the only country still fighting the Cold War?

Appropriately enough, Meet In Pyongyang is a story about cultural exchange. It's also a story about something with which China and North Korea share a cultural obsession - dance. Liu Dong plays the know-it-all young star sent to the titular city to brush up her act. Jin Yulin is the modest, devoted but equally skillful dancer she meets there, and - passionate, doomed love being something of a genre staple - Paio Zhengze is the man she falls for, making it hard to face going home again.

As you might expect, this initial collaboration is very careful to present North Korea at its best, showing only the most beautiful bits of a city which the majority of its people don't even have permission to enter. Although Kim Jong-Il, who died last year, was a famously devoted film fan, this work has more to do with his successor, Kim Jong-Un, and his longstanding connections with the Chinese authorities. It may mark a deliberate repositioning of the regime aimed at securing his position and opening up potentially lucrative markets for North Korean films, which have already enjoyed some popularity in China. As cultural connections were an early sign of change in places like East Germany and Russia, many will be hoping that Meet In Pyongyang heralds a meeting of minds that may lead the Hermit Kingdom to open up more generally.

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