A self-absorbed teen learns to respect her parents’ hard work and devotion in “The Schoolgirl’s Diary,” a well-lensed and largely underplayed North Korean dramedy whose curiosity value could be turned into specialty Western sales by devoted distribs. Pic won’t come close to replicating the massive local success it had in it’s August release (a reported 8 million admissions, roughly a third of the population), but it reps a slick snapshot of contempo life in the hermit state.
“Diary” has already made a star of elfin-faced 18-year-old Pak Mi-hyang, in her first leading role after a couple of movies and TV dramas, and is cleanly directed by 56-year-old Jang In-hak (“My Future”). A French distribution deal is in the works, and a European fest showcase could be in the cards for next year.
Pak plays Su-ryeon, the younger daughter of researcher San-myeong (vet Kim Cheol), who’s always away at his institute, and Jeong Ran (Kim Yeong-suk), who’s a science academy librarian and also works evenings translating documents for hubby.
Su-ryeon’s tomboyish elder sister, Su-ok (real-life player Kim Jin-mi), is carving out a career in soccer.
The family lives in a small house in the countryside, but Su-ryeon pines to live in a new apartment in the city. She’s embarrassed by the simplicity of her school lunch box compared with her fellow high schoolers’ — in short, she’s an average teen dealing with peer pressure.
Only after mom falls ill and a research breakthrough by dad lightens up the family’s life, does Su-ryeon realize how selfish she’s been.
Though its politics are different, pic has the feel of a South Korean or Taiwanese pic of the ’70s, with vivid colors (well captured by the sharp processing), students having musical parties during the winter and an overall atmosphere of pulling through together. Pak is OK in the lead role, with solid support from veterans Kim Cheol and Kim Yeong-suk as her parents. But the spunkiest playing comes from Kim Jin-mi as the lead’s athletic sis.
A catchy emotional melody (also heard as a song) helps bind the episodic story together.