You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Comrade Kim Goes Flying’

Cheerfully smashing perceptions of North Korea as a shuttered nation, “Comrade Kim Goes Flying” proves that cooperation with the West really is possible, at least in cinema. A candy-hued throwback to a chirpy Technicolor time when pluck wins out and “postmodern” wasn’t yet invented, this “let’s put on a show!” tale of a young woman miner’s dream of becoming an acrobat has been winning hearts since preeming at Toronto. Helmed by the multinational trio of Kim Gwang-hun, Nicholas Bonner and Anja Daelemans, “Comrade Kim” has the makings of a cult heroine on college campuses and targeted arthouses.

The production’s backstory deserves its own docu; indeed, a “making of” would be a terrific bonus to any DVD package: U.K. national/North Korea maven Nicholas Bonner (producer of “The Game of Their Lives,” “A State of Mind”) and Belgian producer Anja Daelemans convinced North Korean Ryom Mi-hwa, well-connected in her country’s film industry, that a femme-centric story of working class determination could be popular at home and abroad. Ryom recruited director Kim Gwang-hun, known for military-themed pics, and their journey together lasted three years, costing approximately $1.8 million. The film was shot in North Korea (Bonner and Daelemans weren’t allowed on set for the coal mine and steelworks scenes), with editing done in China and Belgium.

Who knew that North Korean grass is so green, and its flowers so pink? Maybe it’s because everyone’s so happy, giving their all to exceed factory quotas. Kim Yong-mi (Han Jong-sim) follows in the mining footsteps of her father (Kim Son-nam), though Dad wonders if his daughter’s exuberant imagination and amateur acrobatics might interfere with her work. When she’s offered a post with a construction brigade in Pyongyang, she jumps at the opportunity, not least because it’ll allow her to see her heroine, gymnast Ri Su-yon (Kim Un-yong).

Through sheer force of personality, Yong-mi gets backstage at the circus, and meets Su-yon and the other acrobats, including snooty male star Pak Jang-phil (Pak Chung-guk). A chance to audition for them on the high wire is a dream come true, but the young miner’s trapeze skills fail her, and Jang-phil haughtily derides her attempt: “You think you can crawl out of the ground and fly like us?” Instead of being cowed, Yong-mi becomes determined, with the help of good-natured mining boss Sok Gun (Ri Yong-ho), to train hard and prove to all that just because she labors under the earth doesn’t mean she can’t soar like a bird.

Western charges of propaganda are dogging “Comrade Kim,” but when the propaganda is so blatant, is it really a problem? The strong, happy spirit of the working class positively bursts off the screen, constantly reminding viewers that the proletariat is invincible when it bands together for the common good. Where the pic diverges from the usual North Korean line is in championing a female protag with individual goals (Jane Powell was never this jaunty), though importantly, her ability to achieve them comes only through the collective. While the state is barely mentioned, its presence is inescapable.

Notwithstanding the input of three helmers, “Comrade Kim” is as slick and glossy as a medium-budget studio musical, and largely composed of short scenes with the texture of decorated Easter eggs. It may be unabashedly kitsch to Western eyes, but it’s also such fun that criticizing its shallowness is churlish. The response among North Korean auds is reportedly strong, undoubtedly boosted by the pic’s uplifting girl-power message. Of course North Koreans will know it’s propaganda, too, yet with such an affirmative spirit, it must feel a lot fresher than the nation’s noted 2008 docu “The Respected Comrade Supreme Commander Is Our Destiny.”

Comrade Kim Goes Flying

Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Spectrum), Jan. 30, 2013. (Also in Gothenburg Film Festival; 2012 Toronto, Busan, Tromso film festivals.) Running time: 81 MIN.

(Belgium-U.K.-North Korea)

An Another Dimension of an Idea, Kfeic, Koryo Group production. (International sales: Another Dimension of an Idea, Lubbeek, Belgium.) Produced by Anja Daelemans, Nicholas Bonner, Ryom Mi-hwa.

Directed by Kim Gwang-hun, Nicholas Bonner, Anja Daelemans. Screenplay, Sin Myong-sik, Kim Chol. Camera (color), Hwang Jin-sok, Tom Mulder, Stefan Rycken; editors, Alain Dessauvage, Kim Yun-sim, Gao Bing, Ren Jia; music, Ham Chol, Frederik Van de Moortel; production designer, Kim Won-song; costume designer, Pak Yu-jong; sound (5.1), Pedro Van der Eecken, Rim Yu-song, Rim Bong-chun; animation, AnneMarie Walsh, Mark Lowther.

With: Han Jong-sim, Pak Chung-guk, Ri Yong-ho, Kim Son-nam, An Chang-sun, Ri Ik-sung, Kim Un-yong, Han Kil-myong, Ryu Gyong-ok, Han Mi-ryong, Kim chol, Mun Dok-min, Sin Gwang-song, Kim Song-ran, Paek Yong-hui, Ham Ki-sob, Ri Yon-chol, Kim Ryon-ok, Pak Young, Kim Song-mi, Mun Chol-jun, Kang Il-sim, Ro Chi-myong.

(Korean dialogue)

Film Review: 'Comrade Kim Goes Flying'

More Film

  • Octavia Spencer Bryce Dallas Howard

    Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard to Reunite for Comedy 'Fairy Tale Ending'

    Octavia Spencer and Bryce Dallas Howard will reunite for the ensemble comedy “Fairy Tale Ending.” Jim Hecht (“Ice Age: The Meltdown) and Tracy McMillan (“Marvel’s Runaways”) are writing the screenplay. More Reviews TV Review: HBO's 'Brexit' TV Review: 'Deadly Class' on SyFy Howard will also produce the Universal movie through her Nine Muses Entertainment alongside [...]

  • Robert Smith, Longtime Executive at DuArt

    Robert Smith, Longtime Executive at New York's DuArt Film Labs, Dies at 88

    Robert Smith, a longtime executive with New York’s DuArt Film Labs, died Jan. 11 in Montvale, N.J. He was 88. Smith spent some 62 years with DuArt, the film processing and post-production facility founded in 1922 in the penthouse of an automobile garage in Midtown. Smith rose to president of DuArt before retiring in 2015. [...]

  • Bird Box

    Los Angeles On-Location Feature Filming Surges 12.2% in 2018

    On-location feature filming in Greater Los Angeles expanded impressively in 2018, gaining 12.2% to 4,377 shooting days, according to FilmL.A. Production activity for feature films rose 15.5% to 1,078 shooting days during the fourth quarter, with 146 days coming from projects receiving California tax credits — including Netflix’s “Bird Box,” Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a [...]

  • 'Ghostbusters': First Look at Jason Reitman's

    Watch the First Teaser for Jason Reitman's 'Ghostbusters' Sequel

    If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, it’s time to watch a teaser for Jason Reitman’s “Ghostbusters” forthcoming film. Sony Pictures released a first look at the upcoming movie, a sequel to the 1984 classic. The footage shows a glimpse of the memorable station wagon Ecto-1. The studio announced on Tuesday that the wheels are [...]

  • Anne Hathaway

    Anne Hathaway to Star in Robert Zemeckis' 'The Witches' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Anne Hathaway has closed a deal to star as the Grand High Witch in Robert Zemeckis and Warner Bros.’ “The Witches” adaptation. Variety first reported that Hathaway was holding the offer for both that and “Sesame Street,” and at the time, scheduling for both films were holding up dealmaking. With those issues settled, Hathaway is [...]

  • Film Ratings Overhauled in the U.K.,

    Film Ratings Overhauled in the U.K. With Tougher Restrictions on Sexual Content

    The body that oversees film ratings in the U.K. is tightening its age restrictions and giving movies with certain types of sexual content older age ratings. The British Board of Film Classification said the changes were in response to public demand after a consultation that took in the views of over 10,000 people in the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content