The Five Best North Korean Movies: Watch Them Free Online

Accord­ing to offi­cial pro­pa­gan­da, Kim Jong-Il was a remark­ably impres­sive indi­vid­ual. He learned to walk when he was just three weeks old; he wrote 1,500 books while at uni­ver­si­ty; and, dur­ing his first and only game of golf, he scored 11 holes in one. Yet for some rea­son becom­ing the world’s first North Kore­an pro­fes­sion­al golf play­er didn’t seem to inter­est Kim. He want­ed to make movies. So, in 1978, while his father Kim Il-Sung was still the country’s supreme leader, Kim set out to mod­ern­ize the film indus­try of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic People’s Repub­lic of Korea.

“The North’s film­mak­ers are just doing per­func­to­ry work,” Kim said to South Kore­an film direc­tor Shin Sang-ok. “They don’t have any new ideas…their works have the same expres­sions, redun­dan­cies, the same old plots. All our movies are filled with cry­ing and sob­bing. I did­n’t order them to por­tray that kind of thing.”


Of course, Kim’s bold plan to jump­start the indus­try was to kid­nap Shin and his wife, both celebri­ties in South Korea. He was abduct­ed in Hong Kong and, when he had the temer­i­ty to try to escape, he end­ed up spend­ing four years toil­ing in prison, sub­sist­ing on lit­tle more than grass and a lit­tle rice. Even­tu­al­ly, Shin was approached by Kim and giv­en an offer he dare not refuse: make movies in North Korea.

Like the films cranked out in Chi­na dur­ing the height of the Cul­tur­al Rev­o­lu­tion, North Kore­an movies are large­ly pro­pa­gan­da deliv­ery sys­tems designed exclu­sive­ly for a domes­tic audi­ence. After Shin’s kid­nap­ping, DPRK movies start­ed to get just a bit less didac­tic. Simon Fowler, who writes prob­a­bly the only Eng­lish-lan­guage blog on North Kore­an cin­e­ma, just wrote an arti­cle for The Guardian where he select­ed the best films to come out of the Her­mit king­dom. You can watch a few of these movies here and find the oth­ers at The Guardian. They might be goofy, maudlin and ham-fist­ed, but for movie mavens and afi­ciona­dos of Com­mu­nist kitsch, they are fas­ci­nat­ing.

Per­haps the most impor­tant North Kore­an movie ever is The Flower Girl (1972). Watch it above. Set dur­ing Japan’s colo­nial occu­pa­tion of Korea, the film fol­lows a young woman who endures one injus­tice after anoth­er at the hands of the Japan­ese before Kim Il-Sung’s army march­es into her vil­lage and saves the day. The movie set the tem­plate for many of the movies to come after­wards. As Fowler writes, “the impor­tance of The Flower Girl with­in the DPRK can­not be over­es­ti­mat­ed. The star, Hong Yong-hee, adorns the one won bank note in North Korea, and is revered as a nation­al hero. Although not always an easy watch, those want­i­ng to learn more about the aver­age North Kore­ans’ sen­si­bil­i­ties could do far worse than to watch this pic­turesque but trag­ic film.”

Hong Kil Dong (1986) is clear­ly one of the movies Shin Sang-ok influ­enced; it fore­ground­ed enter­tain­ment over ide­ol­o­gy, a rar­i­ty at that point in the coun­try’s film his­to­ry. The movie is about a char­ac­ter from Kore­an lit­er­a­ture who, like Robin Hood, not only robs from the rich and gives to the poor but knows how to deliv­er a beat­down. Hong plays out like a par­tic­u­lar­ly low-bud­get Shaw Broth­ers kung fu spec­ta­cle with plen­ty of fly­ing kicks, sword play and wire work.

And final­ly, there’s Pul­gasari (1985), North Korea’s attempt at mak­ing a kai­ju movie. Set in feu­dal times, the film is about a stat­ue that comes to life, grows to mon­strous pro­por­tions and, unable to sate its unquench­able thirst for met­al, starts to smash things. Shin man­aged to get tech­ni­cal help for the movie from Toho, the same Japan­ese stu­dio that cranked all those Godzil­la movies. In fact, they even got vet­er­an kai­ju actor, Ken­pachi­ro Sat­suma, to don a rub­ber suit for this movie. Years lat­er, Pul­gasari was released in Japan about the same time as Roland Emmerich’s god awful Hol­ly­wood remake of Godzil­la (not to be con­fused with Gareth Edward’s god awful Hol­ly­wood remake from ear­li­er this year). Sat­suma pub­li­cal­ly stat­ed what a lot of Japan­ese pri­vate­ly thought – Pul­gasari is bet­ter than Emmerich’s big-bud­get dud.

Not long after Shin com­plet­ed Pul­gasari, he and his wife man­aged to escape in Vien­na thanks to the help of the CIA and a host of oth­er unlike­ly par­ties.  Kim Jong-Il might have had super human abil­i­ties, but tal­ent reten­tion did not seem to be one of them.

You can watch the three films list­ed above, plus Marathon Run­ner and Cen­tre For­ward over at  The Guardian.

More free films can be found in our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

via Coudal

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Kim Jong-il’s Godzil­la Movie & His Free Writ­ings on Film The­o­ry

North Korea’s Cin­e­ma of Dreams

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrowAnd check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing one new draw­ing of a vice pres­i­dent with an octo­pus on his head dai­ly. 

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