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N. Korean Film Screened at S. Korean Festival

  • Jason Strother

South Korean audiences have had a rare chance to attend the screening of a North Korean romantic comedy. The movie Comrade Kim Goes Flying was shown twice this week at the Busan International Film Festival.

The festival is Asia's largest and features movies from across the continent and beyond. This year that included a film from North Korea.

Comrade Kim Goes Flying is a romantic comedy about a young coal miner who dreams of joining the circus as an acrobat. With her strong determination and support from her co-workers, Comrade Kim gets a spot on the trapeze team and wins over her love interest. Unlike many other North Korean films, there is very little political ideology in the screenplay.

That might have something to do with the influence of European co-directors Anja Daelemans of Belgium and Britain's Nicholas Bonner. They, along with North Korean filmmaker Kim Gwang Hun, directed the entirely North Korean cast of Comrade Kim.

"People can identify with these characters. Whether you are at the world premiere in Toronto, or here in the South or in the North, they all identify with these people, these individuals," Bonner explained. "You know them in real life".

Bonner says the humor in Comrade Kim was not lost on the audience who came to see the film in Busan. But it is not only South Koreans who are impressed with Comrade Kim Goes Flying.

Dong Myoung-sook is a North Korean defector who watched scenes from the film online. The 35-year old, who says she was a big movie buff back in the North, thinks films like Comrade Kim can change South Koreans' opinions of the North for the better.

"When I see my South Korean friends watch North Korean movies they learn that there is more than just propaganda," she said. "There is friendship, love and everyday life in North Korea too, and some movies show that."

Busan International Film Festival organizers say North Korean films have a place at this annual event.

"Even though we cannot communicate directly with people from the North, cultural exchanges like films can act in place of that," stated Lee Sang-yong, director of World Programming for the festival.

The producers of Comrade Kim Goes Flying hope the film will get picked up for more screenings on both sides of the Korean Peninsula.