Comrade Kim Goes Flying

Comrade Kim Goes Flying


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The first thing to say about Comrade Kim Goes Flying is that I've given it the most neutral star rating possible. This is because I feel uneasy grading a film made in a totalitarian state, despite the fact that it was co-produced by Belgium and the UK (by Nicholas Bonner who also produced excellent North Korean documentary Crossing The Line). It was also edited outside the country. Still, there is no knowing just how willing the cast were to take part in the film or what duress they might have felt as a result - given the regime's tendency to dispatch people to its burgeoning gulags, one shudders to think what might have happened to them and their families if Kim Jong-un's coterie had decided they portrayed the country in a dim light.

As it is, the dictatoriship is likely to be happy with what is shown here - Korea as a technicolor land filled with permanently smiling residents, tables always laden with food (despite the country's ongoing real-life food shortage) and a coal miner who dreams of becoming an acrobat. No prizes for guessing if she succeeds. In fact, the propaganda level is so high - quotes such as "the working class can do anything if we believe in ourselves" and "the strong spirit of our working class" abound - that if you didn't know this film was made in North Korea, you could be forgiven for thinking it is a South Korean parody of a propaganda movie.

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Comrade Kim Yong-mi (Hang Jong Sim) works all day at the coal face, as does her father and just about everyone in her village - although they are never seen with so much as a smut of dirt on them - even their train is garlanded with flowers at one point. There she, of course, is happy in her work and constantly overshooting her targets while, at night, she practices her gymnastics and often performs small shows for her colleagues. Still, she harbours a dream of becoming an acrobat and so, when the chance comes to work on a building site in the city for a few months, she sees it as an opportunity to spread her wings and get along to the circus in her off-hours.

After sneaking in, Kim manages to wangle an audition, only to fall from a great height. Mocked by trapeze high-flyer Comrade Pak Jang Phil (Pak Chung Guk), she draws strength from her fellow builders, particularly boss Commander Suk Gun (long-time actor Ri Yong Ho), and they set about trying to prove Pak wrong. The acrobat, meanwhile, finds himself taking a bit of a shine to this smiling girl from the countryside.

The film, despite being filmed through communist-coloured glasses, is not without humour and features some nice animated interludes. Hang and Pak are personable if a little pedestrian in the acting arena and this is probably because they have been cast for their acrobatic prowess - both are performers with Pyong Yang Circus. It's also important to note that a female protagonist is, in and of itself, pretty subversive for a Korean movie - especially one who is following her dream.

While there's no doubting the messages studding the film are not without political weight, this is first and foremost a fairytale and though it may seem tame by Western standards, it is worth remembering it is likely to feel much fresher to North Korean cinemagoers whose usual fare is steeped in references to the "great leader" and more likely to feature war than romance.

Worth seeing as an example of how North Korea would like themselves to be seen by the rest of the world, plus any sort of cultural exchange with the country has surely to be commended at least on some level. It would make for a very interesting double-bill with Crossing The Line - which includes some discussion of propaganda films and actors - or The Red Chapel. The sort of film that needs context - which is why its producers are attending as many audience Q&As as possible. Just in case you would like some more, here's Human Rights Watch's World Report on the regime.

Reviewed on: 25 Jun 2013
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A romantic, musical tale about a coal miner who dreams of becoming a trapeze artist.

Director: Anja Daelemans, Nicholas Bonner, Kim Gwang-hun

Starring: Han Jong-sim, Pak Chung-guk, Ri Yong-ho, Kim Son-nam, Han Kil-myong, An Chang-sun, Ri Ik-sung, Kim Un-yong

Year: 2012

Runtime: 81 minutes

Country: Belgium, UK, North Korea

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