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The country is occupied by the Japanese imperialists. Koppun is selling flowers at the market to get some money to buy medicine for her sick mother. Her brother has joined the resistance movement and Koppun joins him under the leadership of the Great Leader, Comrade Kim Il Sung, to throw out the foreign occupants. Written by
It's messed up I know, but I enjoyed this movie. The Flower Girl is perhaps North Korea's most successful film, both abroad and in the homeland. It is something I think everyone should watch - not because it is an especially brilliant movie in terms of plot or acting but I think it gives a rare insight into this sort of propaganda cinema. It is set in the 1930s which is of course during the Korean Independence Movement. Supposedly it is based on one of Kim il-Sung's six operas. There are a few songs that are part of the plot, which I imagine are arias taken from the opera.
At times I thought that this film was made with people in mind who have never watched a feature-length film before, as this is the only audience who would be subliminally affected by the anti-Japanese sentiment or the love of the Juche Idea. Anyone else would surely find the propaganda obvious. Toward the end it becomes more honest in its ideology, by calling the Japanese 'Japs', at least in the English subtitles. One of the main characters claims, almost in direct address, "We've lost our country" and "This is the tragedy of a stateless nation."
The story itself is of Kotpun, the subject of the film's title, who is trying to sell flowers to support her sick mother and blind sister, Sun-Hui. Amongst other hardships, they manage to raise enough money for the medicine, but shortly after buying it, the mother is found dead. The soundtrack generally reflects the awful pop music of North Korea. It must be diatonic! Major tonality! Uplifting! So when it becomes melancholy or violent to add the vilification of certain characters, is it fairly effective and shocking, probably more so for an audience who has never heard such music. The best part of the score for me was a scene early on where the sick mother is fatigued and struggling to clean clothes for a landlord. There is a devastating, longing solo cello piece playing that almost compensates for the hilarious acting. When you see Kotpun and Sun-Hui reunited after being apart, you even get some John Williams-esque 'going home' music (think E.T., Jurassic Park). Maybe this moment was symbolically pushing reunification?
As stupid as it sounds, the change of Kotpun's face is a way of keeping track of the narrative. She is consistently beautiful but after every problem she faces, her make-up becomes more patchy and her hair more erratic. Hilariously after listening to and agreeing with a motivational speech by a villager who is probably representing Kim il-Sung, there is a cut to a completely different scene and location and she looks even happier than at the start. To me this looked like a humorous polar opposite of Thelma & Louise, two characters that you enjoy more once they start to look messy.
Overall I did enjoy The Flower Girl but only because I imagined it wasn't from North Korean filmmakers and took a completely different reading. Sometimes you will hear the people of North Korea being called blind, hopeless cases, brainwashed idiots etc. but that view shows a total lack of empathy. I think this movie shows - though not deliberately - that under particularly desperate circumstances, it's possible to think that the weirdest of ideologies might be helpful to you. Go watch it.
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