CAAMFest 2013: Comrade Kim Goes Flying

After catching the fantastic LINSANITY documentary film during the kickoff of CAAMFest 2013, I caught the two films Comrade Kim Goes Flying on Saturday night.

Comrade Kim Goes Flying

What attracted me to this film was that Comrade Kim Goes Flying is the “first fiction feature in over thirty years to be filmed inside North Korea and co-produced by Western filmmakers.” I’ve always had a fascination with North Korea and hope to visit one day. I’ve seen the documentary, State of Mind, which was also produced (to my surprise during the intro) by Nicholas Bonner, who was present at the screening.

The lead character, Kim Yong Mi , plays a North Korean coal miner 30 Rock-like-Kenneth who has an infectious enthusiasm and almost always cheerful demeanor who has always had dreams since she was a child to go to the big city, Pyongyang (the capital of North Korea), and become an acrobat in the circus. Through a series of circumstances, she is sent off to Pyongyang to work in the construction brigade and eventually achieves her dreams, overcoming some initial humiliation and naive optimism through hard work and support by her work comrades and also finds love.

I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised at how entertained I was with Comrade Kim Goes Flying. I enjoyed seeing various scenes of actual North Korea and wondered what these North Korean actors and actresses were thinking while making this film. Beyond the usual stereotypes of North Korean poverty and famine, one saw healthy, happy and relatively modern buildings and facilities. The film was often funny and played to common themes pursuing one’s dreams, being a fish out of water and an underdog, and fated lovers.

In the Q&A with one the producers of the film, Nicholas Bonner answered a lot of questions as to how this film was similar or different from most North Korean films, and what was and was not propaganda, etc. Not surprising given the influence of the Communist mindset, North Korean films usually portrays the hero or heroine overcoming obstacles with the help of and for the state. However, in Comrade Kim Goes Flying, Kim Yong Mi is pursuing her dreams – for her own self. The common references to Kim Yong Mi’s coal miners back in her hometown or her Pyongyang construction brigade were more a play off of rural versus city folks (in the spirit of Billy Elliott).

This film is being simultaneously released also in North Korea. Bonner had mentioned that in one screening in South Korea, an audience member was glad to see potential future mother-in-law’s in both Koreas are universally the same. Bonner had explained some of the different audience reactions inside and outside of North Korea – giving context to some North Korean norms.

Unfortunately, like the challenges of many independent films, the distribution of Comrade Kim Goes Flying is still in the works and one wonders if this will get a wider audience. I hope this film does get some distribution and simply doesn’t go directly to DVD.

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About John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)
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