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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 is imprisoned, her father dead and her sister blind. Written by
Initially somewhat touching but degenerates into communist propaganda later on.
The movie starts in a small, nameless village somewhere in Korea during the Japanese colonial era. Wicked capitalist farmers backed by the "Jap" Imperial Army oppress the Korean people, but none more so than the titular character. Her father is dead from overwork, her mother is indebted to his former employers and has to do their laundry, and grind rice into flour for their constant banquets, despite her own life threatening illness. These vile capitalists beat and abuse their workers, and give out "charity" to the peasants in the form of rice rations that have to be paid back at a 2:1 ratio. As if there were not enough suffering in Koppun's life, her little sister was blinded by the farmer's wife for daring to touch a roasting nut when she was hungry. The evil woman threw a pot of boiling wild ginseng into Sun Hi's face, blinding her for life. Koppun's older brother is arrested by the Japanese at the behest of the farmers after he sets fire to their store rooms to avenge his sister's injury, and is promptly shipped off to prison without trial.
Koppun's life goes from bad to worse after this point, and she is forced to sell flowers to get medicine for her mom, who can't earn any money for herself, as she is basically a slave to the Korean version of Kulaks. Her efforts are hampered even though she has "enough hope to cover the whole village". Japanese collaborators spit on her, call her dirty and generally treat her very poorly. With help from a kindly old woman from the market, she manages to eventually scrape together enough money to buy the medicine, but on the very day that she reaches her goal, her mother reaches a turning point in her terminal illness and spills some rice flour because she is too weak to lift the bowl. She is then beaten to within an inch of her life by the farmer, and the sickness takes care of the rest. Koppun and Sun Hi are blissfully unaware of this, and are skipping towards home with the cure laughing and playing. This fleeting happiness is cut short when they meet the funeral procession coming down the road. A heart wrenching, exploitative scene follows with much wailing and beating of chests. It goes on too long. An authoritative voice comes out of nowhere, asking who is to blame for this tragedy. The question is left unanswered, as the audience obviously know the answer. (Psst. It's the Capitalist farmers and their Japanese organ grinders.)
Because her mom is now dead, the farmer wants to sell Koppun into slavery to get his money back. She knows that the only way to survive is to find her older brother. She flees in the dead of night and has to travel many weeks to the prison. Upon arrival she is told that her brother has perished. Filled with despair, she contemplates throwing herself into the sea. The movie goes all "Carnival of Souls" at this point, with a kaleidoscopic montage of the various oppressions meted out to the Korean people at the hands of the Japanese and their lackeys swirling around her head. Then she thinks of Sun Hi, and is determined to return home. Meanwhile back on the farm Sun Hi is sobbing uncontrollably because she misses her sister. The farmer's wife takes ill, and it's time for the movie to strike out at religion as another source of needless suffering. The priest believes that the spirit of the little girl's mother has come back and possessed her because the farmer's wife fell ill at around the same time as the sobbing started. The woman also has feverish hallucinations about all the evil she has done in her life, compounded by hearing the sobs of the girl that she has blinded. The farmer sends out one of his henchmen to "take care of the demon". He tricks the blind girl into going with him on the promise that he will take her to Koppun. He leads her off to the mountain, just as Koppun nears the village.
The final fifteen minutes of the movie all collapse in on themselves as the themes explored up to this point take a back seat to North Korean propaganda. Koppun learns of her sister's fate and is the first person to "revolt". She has just had too much, she bursts into the farmer's house and demands the return of her family. She throws a pot of boiling water at the farmer's wife, but is eventually overpowered by a goon and thrown into a granary to be killed later or sold off as a slave.
All seems lost until her older brother is shown walking in the mountains with his Korean Revolutionary Army buddy. He did not die in prison, but escaped and joined Kim Il Sung's brave revolution. The two men find an old hermit who is friendly to the revolution and by some miracle Sun Hi has been saved by this old guy. The farmer's lackey was apparently too much of a coward to kill her outright, opting instead to leave her on the mountain to die. After this reunion, they go back to the farm and discover Koppun's fate. Under the leadership of the KRA, the peasants overrun the farmer and his entourage of comically stereotypical capitalist characters. Hammers flash, sickles sparkle in the moonlight as the farmer is paid back for is oppression in what I estimate is a 2:1 ratio.
The movie ends with Koppun saved and reunited with her remaining family members, the peasants liberated, the Japanese vanquished and the farmer, his wife and his gang of hoodlums dead. "Long live the KRA. Long live (United) Korea. Long Live Kim Il Sung".
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