An ingenious method of penetrating the most isolated country in the world allows an Australian filmmaker access to what proves to be a surprisingly sympathetic North Korean soul.
In 2012, Sydney-based Broinowski was invited to make a short film with Kim Jong II’s top filmmakers by wildly convoluted means. She came upon a book that the North Korean dictator (who died in 2011) had written about cinema and directing and learned how this son of Kim Il Sung had revolutionized the country’s film industry by shifting the propaganda focus “from dry, Soviet-style epics extolling the virtues of communism to full-blown celebrations of the heavenly supremacy” of his father. Kim managed to do this by kidnapping the famous South Korean filmmaker Shin Sang-ok and his movie star wife, Choi Eun-hee, in the late 1970s and turning out such classics as Pulgasari. The author was faced with a David-and-Goliath theme, much extolled by Kim, in her own backyard, as it were, in trying to save the neighborhood Sydney Park from coal seam gas drilling by the dark-sounding company Dart Energy. By harnessing the filmmaking ideas of Kim to the “ideologically pure” theme of saving the children’s playground from the capitalists, she hit on a perfect way of winning over the North Koreans. Her way of entree, however, takes up half the book, including time and numerous handlers and lots of cash, while the severely censored tours in Pyongyang are fairly well-documented elsewhere. What is startling in this book is Broinowski’s exploration inside the massively powerful propaganda factory of the Pyongyang Film Studio, where the author met the famous, now aging actors, composers, and cineastes of Kim’s reign—e.g., the exacting director Mr. Pak (the “North Korean Scorsese—known for searing political thrillers”), who became her mentor.
Experiencing North Korean “method acting” in the most visceral way.