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Cinema of North Korea
Between 1945 and 1946, the Japanese ended their Korean occupation and a new regime
began, leading to the separation of North and South Korea in 1950, and the three-year-long
Korean War that ended in armistice (North Korea Profile). From the 1960s to the 1980s North
Korea experienced rapid industrial growth with little global involvement beyond attempts at
reunifying the two Koreas (North Korea Profile). In 1986, North Korea began research on
nuclear power and in 1991 joined the UN (North Korea Profile). Throughout the 1990s, North
Korea signs a series of treaties promising to limit its research and use of nuclear power and is
accused multiple times of breaking these treaties (North Korea Profile). From the early 2000s till
present day tensions have risen over repeated missile tests, production of nuclear plants and
weaponry, and continued political struggles between North Korea and the rest of the world
(North Korea Profile).


Area (size):
46,541 mi²

25,583,858 (2018 est.)

Irreligious – 63%
Korean Shamanism – 16%
Chondoism – 14%
Buddhism – 5%
Christianity, Islam, Other – 2%

Ethnic Groups:
North Korea’s large majority are Korean with a very small community of Chinese and Japanese

25.6% (2013 est.)

Poverty and Wealth:

North Korea has a very poor distribution of wealth; Their capital’s GDP per capita estimated to
be three times higher than any other region.

North Korea GDP per capita: $665 (2016 est.)

USA GDP per capita: $57,808 (2016 est.)

Military products
Machine building
Electric power

Film Industry/History/Impacts:
Only a year after North Korea became an official country did it produce its first film,
telling the story of Kim Il Sung and his soldiers liberating North Korea, with no involvement
from other nations (Schönherr 4). During the Korean War all their film studio facilities were
destroyed but they continued making movies showing the strength of the North Korean army and
telling a story of how they won the war, when really it had ended in an armistice (Schönherr 4).
North Korean film of the 1950s served as a way to reshape behaviors and ideas in accordance
with Kim Il Sung’s plans for a better, more pure country (Schönherr 5). In the 1960s, Kim Il
Sung’s son, Kim Jong Il, wanted to gain international recognition for North Korean films, but
their strict censorship and isolation of the country stifled creativity (Schönherr 5). In order to
battle this, Kim Jong Il had South Korean film director Shin Sang-ok and his wife kidnapped in
1978 and had him run his own film studio (Schönherr 5). He continued producing
groundbreaking North Korean films throughout the 1980s up until 1986, when he and his wife
escaped to Vienna, and North Korean films went back to the traditional, rigid propaganda style
as had previously been seen (Schönherr 6).
The late 1980s and early 1990s saw a huge shift in the global political landscape,
including the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 (Schönherr 6). This left Kim Il Sung feeling
paranoid over his future circumstance, and North Korean films began to force his agenda even
more so than previously (Schönherr 7). They painted a picture of North Korea being the best
country in the world and depicted all the greatness that could be experienced, as long as people
continue to do as they’re supposed to (Schönherr 7). It has also been a habitual practice to feature
strong female lead characters in their films (Cheung). Some see this as a tactic to assure that the
only men seen as powerful and heroic are the government and their army (Cheung). Also, while
these women are always brave and strong, in the end of every film they show that they know
their place and their lives are made complete by becoming wives (Cheung).
The mid-to late 1990s saw not only the death of Kim Il Sung, but the death of millions of
North Koreans due to widespread famine that was blamed on the hostility of the US (Schönherr
7). The past few decades have been marked by an influx of black market films flooding into
North Korea, showing their citizens a very different view of what film could offer (Schönherr 7).
In an attempt to portray North Korea as less isolated than it actually is, the Pyongyang Film
Festival was created and in 2004 showed the first ever Western Film, Bend it Like Beckham (The
Secret History of North Korean Cinema). Today, it has become commonplace for North Korean
citizens to own televisions and DVD players, despite the many theatres that have been built
throughout the country (Hajek). Communities are separated into ‘units’ which usually account
for about 300 families that man one farm to care for their community, and each of these units has
their own movie theatre where they don’t pay entrance fees (Burns). Many people to this day are
risking their lives to smuggle in and share DVDs and USB drives showing films from all around
the world (Hajek).

Notable Films

Kotpanum chonio - The Flower Girl - (1972)

Directed by Hak Pak & Choe Ik Kyu

The main character Koppun sells flowers to try and pay

for medicine for her sick mother. It is up to her to provide
for her family because her father is dead, her younger
sister is blind, and her brother is in jail. All the family’s
suffering happens because of the Japanese landlords that
mistreat the Korean citizens, and everything comes to a
happy end when Kim Il-sung and his army take over and
get rid of capitalism and the Japanese.

This film was adapted from an opera written by Kim Il-


Film Clip:

Hong Kil-dong (1986)

Directed by Shin Sang-ok & Kim Kil-in

The illegitimate son of a nobleman is almost killed by

the hired-hand of his evil step mother, but is saved by a
kung fu master monk who trains him in the art. He and a
group of bandits use their fighting skills to fight
oppression amongst the local villagers.

Huge hit in Bulgaria and the Soviet Bloc.

Pulgasari (1985)

Directed by Shin Sang-ok & Chon Gon Jo

The statue of a monster, Pulgarasi, comes

to life and terrorizes an oppressive
governor whom has left his village poor
and starving. Eventually, Pulgarasi starts
to also put a strain on the livelihood of the
villagers and must be convinced to stop his

Some believe the film serves as

propaganda against capitalism, and others
believe it is about self-sacrifice for the
good of one’s government.
Notable Film Directors
Ryu Ho Son

A Worker’s Family (1971)

Unkown Heroes (1979-81)
A Peasant Hero (1987)
The First Security Personnel
The First Step
The Plum Blossom is Fallen

Kim Yong Ho

When We Pick Apples (1971)

To the End of the Earth (1977)
The Fourteenth Winter (1980)
Rugrats in Paris: The Movie (2000) – Production Manager
MetaJets (2011) - TV Series
Notable Actors

Yong Hui-Hong

Played main character Koppun

in The Flower Girl.

Yong Ho Ri

Played main character Hong

Kil-Dong in the 1986 film of
the same name.

Popped back up in 2001 and

appeared in Our Lifeline, Parts
1 and 2.

Burns, Charlotte. “Lights, Kim-Ra, Action!” The Sun, 20 Dec. 2016,
Cheung, Helier. “Ten Things: North Korea's Film Industry.” BBC News, BBC, 2 Jan. 2014,
“The Flower Girl (1972) – The Swedish Film Database.” – The Swedish Film Database,
Fowler, Simon. “DPRK Film Database.” North Korean Films, 30 July 2011,
Fowler, Simon. “The Five Best North Korean Films.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media,
15 Aug. 2014,
Hajek, Danny. “Watching Foreign Movies Is Illegal In North Korea, But Some Do It
Anyway.”NPR, NPR, 5 July 2017,
“North Korean Cinema - Hong Kil-Dong.” Five Flavours Film Festival - Achive - Hong Kil-
“North Korea Experiencing Income Inequality, High Unemployment, Analyst Says.” UPI, UPI,
22 Dec. 2016,
“North Korea Population 2018.” North Korea Population 2018 (Demographics, Maps, Graphs),
“North Korea Profile - Timeline.” BBC News, BBC, 9 Jan. 2018,
“The Secret History Of North Korean Cinema.” ShortList,
Schönherr, Johannes. North Korean Cinema: a History. McFarland & Co., 2012.
“United Nations Statistics Division - National Accounts.” United Nations, United Nations,
“The World Factbook.”, Central Intelligence Agency,
Plagiarism Checklist:
1) ( x ) I have not handed in this assignment for any other class.

2) ( x ) If I reused any information from other papers I have written for other classes, I clearly
explain that in the paper.

3) ( x ) If I used any passages word for word, I put quotations around those words, or used
indentation and citation within the text.

4) ( x ) I have not padded the bibliography. I have used all sources cited in the bibliography in
the text of the paper.

5) ( x ) I have cited in the bibliography only the pages I personally read.

6) ( x ) I have used direct quotations only in cases where it could not be stated in another way. I
cited the source within the paper and in the bibliography.

7) ( x ) I did not so over-use direct quotations that the paper lacks interpretation or originality.

8) ( x ) I checked yes on steps 1-7 and therefore have been fully transparent about the research
and ideas used in my paper.

Name: _______Celena Storck-Martinez____________ Date: ________4/13/18____________