In feudal Korea, the evil King becomes aware that there is a peasant rebellion being planned in the country. He steals all the iron farming tools and cooking pots from the people so that he... See full summary »
A moving road movie about two retired bus drivers, old Zhou and old Ge, who find themselves in the same retirement home and decide to escape for one final escapade with a gang of other senior citizens.
Ready for a Marxist-Leninist-musical documentary? The Busby Berkeley of propaganda, Jim Finn, follows a South Korean video artist in North Korea who hopes to revitalize Juche cinema, ... See full summary »
The story of the South Korean actor, Choi Eun-hee, and her ex-husband and film director, Shin Sang-ok, who were individually kidnapped and reunited by dictator and film fan Kim Jong-il to force them to develop North Korea's film industry.
Paul Courtenay Hyu,
For a nation with such hatred towards "Imperialist America", the opening shot of A Schoolgirl's Diary is particularly vivid. You see a young girl walking away from school with a Mickey Mouse backpack. This decision confused me, so reply if you have any idea what the meaning of it is. Now, to unemotionally explain the premise, the story is of a girl called Soo- Ryun who is ashamed of her father because he hasn't obtained a doctorate, but she is unaware of the hard work he does. An obsession with qualifications and being the best is very prominent, which is seen in Soo-OK - Soo-Ryun's sister - whose aim is to join the women's national football team. She is so keen on this that whenever she is on screen, we are made to think about football, for example when she's in bed doing headers with a balloon.
In a similar-but-not-really way to Vertigo, you get a constant repetition of certain colours in shots. In Vertigo it is rather vividly red and green, and it's infuriating the first time you watch it. With The Schoolgirl's Diary it is the colours of the North Korean flag: Red, white and slightly dark blue. Looking at the frequency at which you see these colours together in clothing and props, it is definitely no coincidence. This brings me to something it has in common with The Flower Girl (1972, also DPRK): it seems to be constructing an audience of people who have never or almost never seen a movie before. However, there is no point in introducing propaganda in subtle(ish) ways like colour palette or elisions to the Juche Idea, as the expected belief of North Korean citizens is mentioned explicitly, through joyous songs about the 'Dear General'. Other more subtle ideology includes representing the leader as a father figure and as a protective umbrella, for accidental humour.
There are a few things to learn from this film about the country's culture, though some of it seems unlikely. In particular I'm thinking of Soo-Ryun's desire to live in a small apartment rather than the lovely detached house they already live in. This seems an odd preference. Are the filmmakers just trying tell their audience that this is what they should like? It was great to hear some references that cross borders. The football lover Soo-OK is described by her uncle as a "female Pele". Esope's Fables is also quoted. A hilarious representation that any culture will recognise is the representation of Soo-Ryun the stock character, 'moody teenager' alongside the school's bitch. Both are hilarious versions of this very familiar representation. Said bitch's malice is directed at Soo-Ryun because of the whole doctorate thing. Something that surprised me was, out of nowhere, Soo-Ryun slapping Soo-OK for being rude to their mother. Perhaps this is more culturally normal, like it is in Bollywood. An unusual view of science is taken and I'm not sure if this reflects how people really feel or if it is just being pushed in this film. The dad thinks that the purpose of science should be to improve a nation and improve its people's lives, therefore there are some areas of science are pointless. No interest in the pursuit of knowledge is given. One more cultural thing I must know more about: what is this fixation North Korea has with piano accordions?
I noticed a few technical flaws that really spoil the smoothness of certain scenes. As it has a fairly classical, traditional score, it would benefit from 'sneaking'** some of the music in, rather than having a violin obtrusively enter a pivotal conversation. The music that BLARES out after the line "Mum has cancer" is also quite irritating. In places the voices have very obviously been recorded in a studio and seem detached from the actor. Often the juxtaposition of shots just doesn't work. The scene where the plug socket bursts into flames is a good example and has that low-angle shot that doesn't fit in anywhere. A broader point covering the whole narrative is that there is not a good sense of changing pace or intensity. It's difficult to know how this could be improved but the nature of the story makes narrative excitement pretty difficult. There is some attempt at narrative cohesion, with a good but unmemorable main theme that plays clearly in the opening scene and at the end to make their ugly apartment block look more aspirational. There is clever non-linear, circular bit of narrative involving a paper aeroplane. In any case, The Flower Girl is a much more polished and professional film.
There are some real gems of quotes in A Schoolgirl's Diary, some of which are amusing and some which are angering. It can be said of many countries that there is only an illusion of choice, summed up in this quote: "A bird can fly because it has wings. A train can move forward because it has rails." It is great to see some real humour, through banter and slapstick, and a football match between scientists and factory workers. Soo-OK joins in and scores of course. The line to end all lines though, is upon erecting a chimney: "Long live thermodynamics!"
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