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HONG KIL DONG is one of the few martial arts movies to come out of North Korea, and might well be the only one for all I know. It's certainly a colourful romp that brings to life a Korean storybook hero who comes across as something of a Korean Robin Hood. Hong Kil Dong is born a bastard, the illegitimate son of a high-ranking official, and he must overcome his humble origins by battling evil foreign ninjas that threaten to invade Korea.
This is a film that has much in common with the Hong Kong martial arts flicks of the 1970s. It's a period piece in which the forest landscape settings all look great. There are the requisite scenes of intrigue at the court, the training with the old master, and even some cool wirework. The martial arts scenes are fewer than I'd like, but those that do occur are efficient rather than breathtaking. The director doesn't skimp on the bloodshed, either, with this a surprisingly bloody film in places.
The acting is of a strong standard and the period setting of the film means that it's virtually indistinguishable from, say, a South Korean production exploring the same storyline; propaganda is kept to a minimum, except in the protagonist's heroic efforts to keep foreigners out of his country. HONG KIL DONG as a whole feels like PULGASARI except with a martial artist instead of a monster. It's just a shame that this film, like most North Korean movies, had very limited to no distribution in the West.
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