admin On luglio - 4 - 2013

by Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

‘Comrade Kim Goes Flying’ is a trio-direction (Brit Nicholas Bonner, Belgian Anja Daelemans, North Korean Kim Gwang Hun) of a North Korean fairytale with a Flashdance allure. Kim Yong Mi is a coal miner, whose dream of becoming a trapeze artist is initially crushed by the arrogant trapeze star Pak Jang Phil, who believes miners belong underground and not in the air.  Needless to say Comrade Kim will prove him wrong.

This is the first fiction film with an entire all Korean cast (Han Jong Sim, Pak Chung Guk, Ri Yong Ho, Kim Son Nam, Ri Ik Sung, Kim Un Yong, Han Kil Myong, An Chang Sun), co-produced with Western partners and completely edited abroad. The modern fable has a strong heroine, a girl with an attitude, self-confident, individualistic and cheeky, that will conquer your heart.

The movie aims for a world audience, but also wants to provide something fresh and different for a North Korean public, delivering an entertaining heartwarming story of trying to make the impossible possible.

Q/A with Nicholas Bonner and Anja Daelemans

How did the project “take flight”?

UK producer and Co director Nicholas Bonner were based in Beijing and working in North Korean since 1993 and co-produced three documentaries in North Korea  with M/s Ryom Mi Hwa who is the film’s North Korean co-producer. Belgian Producer and Co-director Anja Daelemans visited the Pyongyang International Film Festival in 2002 out of curiosity and met Nicholas and Mi Hwa. Over the years they kept in contact and the three of them in 2006 decided to make a short film together. Anja was nominated an Oscar for the 2nd time in the category life action short with ‘Tanghi Argentini.’ The subject was romance, the arena was the circus, the main lead was a strong female woman and the story grew from there. They wrote the script together and in the third year Mi Hwa brought in a North Korean comedy script writer in the team. Once we had a story that we all liked we presented the script to a film studio but no one wanted to take the film.

How did you three directors meet and decide to work together?

Anja, Nick and Mi Hwa needed to find a North Korean director. Not one of the two North Korean Film Studios or even the television studio wanted to take the film because it did not fit the North Korea trope,  the film script had no politics and the universal story was a taboo breaker: it would be the first time a North Korean audience would watch a girl power movie and the first time the story focuses on an individual achieving her dreams. However, Ryom Mi Hwa watched local people, read the script (she left it in winter 2008 with the doorman and as her colleagues warmed themselves up in his heated room he told her they loved the script and wanted it to be made into a film!) and was persuaded to try again. So she was introduced to Kim Gwang Hun who agreed to direct the film (by another coincidence their fathers were both film makers who had worked together on previous films in the 1970’s).

How was it to share the direction of the movie?

As we wanted to create a fiction film for a North Korean audience in the first place, and neither Nick or Anja speak Korean, it was obvious that we needed a North Korean Director. We also wanted a movie that had a North Korean feel, otherwise the North Korean audiences would not recognise their own culture. We did not want to make a European movie shot in North Korea, or worse a mishmash of cultures. It needed to be a real collaboration. An exchange of ideas to create a universal story. But As Kim Gwang Hun had only directed military films before we were there to keep the film focused on girl power and entertainment. Nick and Anja let the story work for the international audience and did the most work of directing during post-production, such as creating the technicolor colours, creating the animations and a long process of sound design. Each of the three groups (Belgium/UK:North Korea) provided an equal input but the main responsibility of the shoot was with the North Korean team and the European team took on the post production. With ‘Comrade Kim goes Flying’ it was the first time North Koreans had a feature edited outside of their own country. The North Korean Director, Editor, Producer and sound man came to Beijing for 6 weeks to edit the film with us, then the project was taken to Belgium for completion.

How did you approach the theme of girl power?

Our co-director Anja Daelemans and  co-producer Ryom Mi Hwa are females and together with Nicholas Bonner they knew that North Korean needed a girl power movie. The question was whether we would be allowed to make such a film and to find a lead actress to pull it off. When we found trapeze artist Han Jong Sim who we auditioned as our lead actress we knew we could do it.

How did you cast Han Jong Sim and Pak Chung Guk and train them for the role?

After we all agreed to cast acrobats as the leads: we obviously needed to train them to act. 4 months before the shoot they went on a crash course in acting and throughout the shoot they were looked after by the other professional A-listed actors in the cast and given advice how to play the parts. On set it was a great atmosphere, professional but fun. We had the cast and crew come for the Pyongyang premier of ‘Comrade Kim goes Flying’ at the 2012 Pyongyang International Film Festival complete with an after party in a local restaurant. That night our lead character M/s Han Jong Sim (Comrade Kim Yong Mi) had to leave the screening part way through to fly across the May Day stadium over 150 metres in length and between 80 and 20 metres in the air on an elasticated bungee for the Arirang mass games (over 100,000 choreographed performers).

What was it to direct in a different language and culture, despite the story is a universal coming-of-age story?

‘Comrade Kim goes Flying’ is not directed by Europeans who went to North Korea to shoot their movie. It is a true collaboration together with the North Korean filmmakers. We needed to find a common way to tell the universal story and find humour that is universal. The movie was made primarily for the North Koran audience. The most challenging trial period was during the three years of script writing: we struggled with cultural differences to find a way to tell to a universal story that would work for both North Korean and Western audiences. It was obvious that a North Korean director would direct the shooting part of the movie, and Kim Gwang Hun did a great job. In post production we needed to fill in some gaps so to tell the story to a Western audience, which is why we animated the North Korean linocuts.

Can this be the Asian version of ‘Flashdance,’ with a miner instead of a welder wanting to become an acrobat instead of a dancer?

The audiences around the world love the film, it is incredible to think that as we are showing the film in the USA it is also been screened to a public in North Korea. Some people told us after a screening that they saw the North Korean version of ‘Flashdance’ in it, with a miner instead of a welder wanting to become an acrobat instead of a dancer, but without music songs. We took that as a big compliment.


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