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North Korean Cinema: Film as a Window into the Hermit Kingdom

Authors: Elisabeth Guardino*,
Topics: Asia
Keywords: Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Cinema
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Though it owes much of its creation to Soviet involvement, in the decades following the division of the Korean peninsula the North Korean film industry developed its own culture and language of propaganda – one that was distinct from its Soviet counterpart. This paper suggests that the development of North Korean film can be divided into four phases, distinguishable from one another in their prevailing narrative themes and cinematic techniques. The first phase, (1949-1971), was characterized by themes of militarism and family separation. The second phase (1971-1985), was largely influenced by Kim Jong-il’s 1971 dissertation on cinema and was characterized by themes of communal and national development frequently revolving around the socialist worker hero. The third phase (1985-2000), was influenced by the work of South Korean director Shin Sang-ok. This period carried some of the economic themes of the previous era but was distinct in its move away from classic socialist narrative tropes, as well as the introduction of new cinematic techniques. The fourth and current era (2000 - present), has thus far been characterized by an increased involvement with extranational production companies, and themes of nuclear and economic development. As a form of additional analysis, four movies considered emblematic of their respective phase were subjected to close scrutiny in the form of a scene by scene study. Overall the close ties between the ideology of the Kim dynasty and the emphases of its movies are an unsurprising feature of such a totalitarian society.

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