Sydney 2013 Review: COMRADE KIM GOES FLYING Doesn't Soar But Still Reaches Pretty High

Co-directed by Nicholas Bonner (UK), Anja Daelemans (Belgium) and Kim Gwang-hun (North Korea), Comrade Kim Goes Flying is the first North Korean feature made with Western production partners in over 30 years. It was the first ever North Korean movie screened at the Sydney Film Festival, and also the first North Korean film that I have ever seen. Besides what is reported in the Western media, I really have little knowledge about this country, and so I jumped at the opportunity to check out this film.

The story could not have been simpler. A young female coalminer Kim Yong-mi dreams of being an acrobat but fails an audition and gets humiliated by an experienced trapeze performer Pak Jang-phil, who said to her, "You think you can crawl out of the ground and fly like us?" What follows is some intense training by the strong-willed girl, and the film's title reveals what happens in the end. Do not expect any complex plot twists or amazing final revelations in this film.

The film's main character Comrade Kim is played by Han Jong-sim, a professional acrobat and amateur actress. While her performance tends to lean slightly towards overacting, her incredible charm and disarmingly cheeky smile more than make up for it. Audiences should have no trouble falling in love with her from early on in the film. The rest of the cast is also likeable, and Pak Chung-guk as the male lead handles some of the embarrassing moments faced by his character rather well.

The film is all about pursuing one's dreams, and the message that "wherever we are, we all have dreams" comes through loud and clear. The working class is portrayed as a group of good people who work hard, help each other and have a lot of pride in what they do. It is a wonderful fictional world where everyone is happy and no one ever complains (except perhaps Jang Phil's mother who nags because she wants her son to be "successful" rather than being distracted by girls).

I heard some criticisms that Comrade Kim Goes Flying does not reflect what really happens in today's North Korea, which in my opinion is not fair because the film is a work of fiction after all. To criticize this aspect of the film is like complaining that Hong Kong gangster flicks, South Korean crime thrillers and Thai horror films do not give accurate portrayals of their countries. The film seems to have been generally been well received at films festivals around the world, and it's hardly a surprise because it is a genuine crowd-pleaser. It is a most pleasant way to spend 80 minutes, and chances are that you will finish watching it with a smile on your face.

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