North Korean Cinema

A History

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About the Book

Like many ideological dictatorships of the twentieth century, North Korea has always considered cinema an indispensible propaganda tool. No other medium penetrated the whole of the population so thoroughly, and no other medium remained so strictly and exclusively under state control. Through movies, the two successive leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il propagandized their policies and sought to rally the masses behind them, with great success. This volume chronicles the history of North Korean cinema from its beginnings to today, examining the obstacles the film industry faced as well as the many social problems the films themselves reveal. It provides detailed analyses of major and minor films and explores important developments in the industry within the context of the concurrent social and political atmosphere. Through the lens of cinema emerges a fresh perspective on the history of North Korean politics, culture, and ideology.

About the Author(s)

Johannes Schönherr is a freelance writer specializing in travel, film and food. He lives in Japan.

Bibliographic Details

Johannes Schönherr
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 224
Bibliographic Info: 118 photos, appendix, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2012
pISBN: 978-0-7864-6526-2
eISBN: 978-0-7864-9052-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments vi

Preface 1

Introduction 4

 1. At the Pyongyang Film Festival 9

 2. The Early Years 26

 3. The Korean War (1950–1953) 32

 4. The Establishment of Juche 35

 5. Kim Jong Il Enters the Scene 43

 6. Shin Sang-ok Active in North Korea (1983–1986) 72

 7. Shin Sang-ok’s Influence on Concurrent North Korean Cinema (1984–1986) 91

 8. The Post–Shin Sang-ok Years (1986–1993) 99

 9. Famine and the Death of Kim Il Sung (1994–1999) 124

10. The Sunshine Years (2000–2008) 143

11. Post-Sunshine: The Most Recent Films (2009–2011) 169

12. Ten Zan, an Italian Coproduction: Ferdinando Baldi’s Ultimate Mission 175

13. Audience Perspectives: Interviews with North Korean Defectors 189

Appendix: Original Korean Film Titles 201

Chapter Notes 205

Bibliography 210

Index 211


Book Reviews & Awards

“there is one man who stands above them all in terms of North Korea cinema: Johannes Schonherr. Schonherr has recorded for prosperity’s sake some marvellous adventures associated with North Korean cinema that those of us unable to read Korean may never have discovered…excellent…Schonherr [has] written the only ‘essential’ book on North Korean cinema that you could need”—North Korean Films.