A co-operation flying Over the mountains

The last few weeks I hear several things about a new Belgian film which made me curious about the project.

Flemish director Anja Daelemans and British director Nicholas Bonner had an idea which would have sounded if not ridiculous impossible. But borders are there to be crossed and bridges to be build to go over wild rivers.Comrade Kim goes flying

Over “a little too much whisky” at a film festival in 2006 Anja Daelemans listened to the project a feel-good story about a clever and headstrong young woman who dreams of abandoning her life as a miner to become a trapeze artist in the big city. Dreams come through with a smile on the face. And when we think of every smiling faces we see those North Korean faces with the white teeth.

Nicholas Bonner living in in Beijing, is well known to North Korean authorities as he has long organised tours of the country. For many foreigners it is nearly impossible to go to and for Belgians it is always like they are followed all the time by secret officers. It is very difficult to move freely in that country as a westerner.  but Bonner seems to have the right connections and managed to get permission to film in that isolated country. He has also produced a few interesting documentaries about North Korea, which were (some would say miraculously) approved by their government censors and widely released.

In close consultation with us, our North Korean colleagues wrote and rewrote the script for the film over a period of three years. At the early stages, the script was often rejected by the state run film and television studios. Our script was nothing like a standard North Korean script. We had a female lead character pursuing her own dream without regard for country or party, and she was a coal miner dreaming of a life outside the mine. In addition, she was also a young woman (too old according to North Korean standards) training to become a trapeze artist. For all these reasons the script was considered unrealistic. Our story just did not fit traditional North Korean film tropes. Suddenly, it seemed as if Comrade Kim would never fly.

But, all of this was without utilising the ingenuity of our North Korean producer Ryom Mi Hwa. Herself the daughter of a cinematographer, Mi Hwa knows a good story when she sees one. Although, she too, was very close to giving up.

It was lovely to here the producer tell about the six years it took to make the film. The interviews I heard were already so entertaining that I hope many people would go to see the film and get some of the spirit and enthusiasm that producer showed.

The film was finished in 2012, has screened at a handful of festivals and opens across Flanders and Brussels this week. And it is exactly the film that Daelemans wanted to make.

“I’m interested in politics, of course, but I’m not interested in making movies about political situations,” she says. “I want to entertain people. When I go to the movies, I want to be entertained; I do not want to come out depressed.”

“The main character is a woman, and there is no strong man next to her,” explains Daelemans. “She does her own thing and follows her own dream. And the men she works with support her in that. In North Korea, that kind of film doesn’t exist.”

When we see the newsreels from North Korea we always get some fanatic female journalist ‘shouting’ propaganda language. There we can see a soldier of a women, but when I did understand it rightly Daelemans her film shall show more a man of a woman making her drams come true without being afraid to show the love for that what she wants to become but also for those around her.

Comrade Kim is a “taboo breaker” in North Korea, says Daelemans. The country in fact has an active film industry, but all the scripts are subject to state censorship, which insists on propaganda messages of an ever-victorious and morally pure North Korea. Some of their films have been known to rewrite history. Aside from these movies, North Koreans see very little cinema. Once a week, a foreign film is shown on the state-run television channel, usually a Chinese or Russian drama. Foreign films are not shown in cinemas, with the exception of the annual Pyongyang International Film Festival, which screens movies from around the world. The films are carefully chosen, avoiding, for instance, any sex, but the locals still flock to the festival to get a glimpse of the outside world.

For westerners, it’s a different kind of film, too, a kind of throwback to 1960s Disney movies in which charmingly naive young people solve crimes or get mixed up in other adventures. It feels like a movie for children:

I have no doubt that if Comrade Kim was dubbed in Dutch, it would be a sure-fire hit in Flanders. And yet it’s a strangely fascinating movie for adults, too, intercut with creative animation sequences, carried out in Belgium, and oddly nationalistic lines like: “The working class can do anything if we believe in ourselves!” or “Everything can be achieved with a revolutionary spirit” or “You are the daughter of our coal mine and of Korea”.

In Comrade Kim, 20-something Kim Yong-Mi (played by real-life trapeze artist Han Jong Sim) works in a coal mine in rural North Korea. But she’s also a talented gymnast, entertaining the other mine workers with her handstands and backflips. Yong-Mi has always dreamed of flying like the birds in the sky, as we see from the opening scenes when she is still a child and her mother is still alive – a mother who encouraged her to follow her dreams.

So when Yong-Mi travels to the capital Pyongyang to expand her skills with other young workers on a construction site, she immediately heads to the state circus. One thing leads to another, and eventually the determined Yong-Mi gets her own shot at trapeze stardom.

According to Daelemans the film shall not be a propaganda film for the communist Korean system but shall also not hide some good but also some less good things in that system and the problems in the family life. They took care that the kind of ideology that we always find in North Korean films is taken away for a grate part but she agrees that she could not take away everything because then the North Koreans wouldn’t recognise it as their own.

“But we do not consider it a propaganda film at all.”

“Through the whole process, there was respect and trust, and we tried to find common ground to overcome cultural differences,” she says. “There were no hidden agendas. We did not go in there and play the leaders. If you respect and trust one another, you can get very far.”

Technical Infomation

director image

Running time
81 minutes
World Premiere
September 8th 2012
Original music composed by
Ham Chol & Frederik Van de Moortel
> A Belgium, UK and North Korea co-production: Comrade Kim goes Flying, a heartwarming story of trying to make the impossible possible.
"The Great Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung Amo...

“The Great Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung Among Workers” (Photo credit: John Pavelka)

  • Comrade Kim: North Korean film set to screen in LA (rare.us)
    Comrade Kim Goes Flying is one of the most unique and entertaining features at this year’s Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. The first fiction feature shot in North Korea and co-produced by both Western and North Korean companies, it sidesteps current political tensions to offer a spunky comedy about a female coal miner (Kim Yong Mi) who dreams of becoming a circus acrobat. The film screens Sunday, May 5 at 5:45 PM at CGV Cinemas.
  • Trapeze artist performs with paraglider: Spectacular images show tricks performed at 2,000dt (thisismoney.co.uk)
    The professional circus performer and paragliding pilot performed gravity-busting acrobatics over the Lake Annecy in Geneva.The astonishing act sees fearless trapeze entertainer Roxane Giliand take to the skies before dropping down 12ft below pilot Gill Schneider with no shoes or helmet on.
  • New North Korean Propaganda Film Shows The Capture Of 150,000 U.S. Soldiers (warnewsupdates.blogspot.com)
    A propaganda video showing North Korean soldiers invading South Korea and taking 150,000 American citizens hostage has been posted online.The four-minute film, entitled A Short, Three-Day War, has been put up on a website used by the secretive state to show off videos in which it imagines gaining supremacy over the United States and other foes.
  • Kim Tae Hee is the #1 most hated celebrity by North Koreans (allkpop.com)
    According to North Korean refugees, the most disliked celebrity in North Korea is not who you think it is. Actress Kim Tae Hee has been revealed to be the celebrity who is hated most by North Koreans.During a recent filming for Channel A‘s variety show ‘Meet Now‘, North Korean refugees revealed, “Kim Tae Hee is known as a bad woman among North Korean residents.” 

About Marcus Ampe

Retired dancer, choreographer, choreologist Founder of the Dance impresario office and archive: Danscontact-Dansarchief plus the Association for Bible scholars, the Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" and "From Guestwriters" and creator of the site "Messiah for all". - Gepensioneerd danser, choreograaf, choreoloog. Stichter van Danscontact-Dansarchief plus van de Vereniging voor Bijbelvorsers, de Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" en "From Guestwriters" en maker van de site "Messiah for all".
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