North Korea

Dennis Rodman

Years from now, our children and grandchildren will want to know about the early 21st century. Of its great moments. Nay, its greatest moment. They’ll gather in a circle, and ask, “Pop-pop? Will you tell us of Dennis Rodman‘s journeys to North Korea?” And we will show them Diplomats.

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North Korea Movies

This ain’t exactly breaking news, but North Korea is making headlines again for, amongst other things, threatening to re-ignite its ongoing conflict with South Korea as well as send missiles into a strange selection of American cities, including the home of Reject HQ. Just as the unpredictable, inscrutable, hermetically sealed-off dictatorship is characteristically vague in its threats, North Korea’s culture is something of an enigma writ large: very little of it is witnessed by persons outside the country, and even less culture moves into the country itself. In the age of the Internet, we’ve found out about North Korean life through journalists’ state-sanctioned tours, stories from those who were once held captive in the nation, or simply peripheral experiences like North Korea’s one-of-a-kind one-star airline. North Korean culture appears only in a piecemeal fashion to the outside eye – we receive esoteric details here and there, but little of it adds up to a cohesive picture of what North Korean life looks like from the inside. National cinemas have typically provided a shorthand for understanding a foreign culture. With what little we’ve been able to see of North Korean cinema, the nation’s cinematic history is as strange yet one-note as one might expect. But it also represents something of a former era. Whereas ideology permeates implicitly and heterogeneously within much of 21st century global cinema, North Korean cinema maintains a particularly 20th century sensibility in its decisive use of filmmaking for the benefit of the state apparatus.

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Pulgasari

We now live in a world where a 1985 monster movie is topical because of both nuclear sabre-rattling from North Korea and an upcoming Guillermo del Toro movie, and where you can see that movie thanks to the magic of the internet. Like almost anything related to North Korea, the Kim Jong-Il-produced Kaiju flick Pulgasari has a depressing beginning. In fact, it only exists because Kim had North Korean intelligence officers kidnap South Korean director Shin Sang-ok and his actress wife Choi Eun-hee. Held in captivity from 1978 to 1986, this was the last of seven movies that Shin was forced to make. In the film, a feudal King subjugates the lower classes to a life of misery, but a jailed peasant makes a doll out of rice that comes to life when it touches a drop of his daughter’s blood. As you’d expect (if you paid attention in middle school science class), this living doll hungers for metal. It also grows up big and strong and fights for the lower classes against the corrupt King.

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Boiling Point

News came last week that the troubled MGM remake of the classic, chest poundingly patriotic Red Dawn was getting a political face lift with the invading force being digitally swapped from Chinese to North Korean. But what’s the big deal, as Jack Giroux always drunkenly says: all Asians are the same. Kidding. He’s generally sober. But really, MGM is indeed going through about a million dollars worth of post production changes to get rid off as many China references as they can and replace them with North Korean ones. Why? Well China has the second largest economy in the world these days (second to the good ol’ US of A) and a lot of American companies do a lot of work in China. China also is notorious for throwing fits when anyone mentions things like death buses, oppression of freedom and religion, guacamole, spies, and basically anything that points a spotlight on how big a dick their government can be. So, obviously, big companies don’t want to piss off China and risk losing that sweet, sweet source of income. With MGM’s decision to make the change, plenty of outlets and writers like Vince over at FilmDrunk have taken aim at MGM and more or less called them pussies for bowing down to as of now imaginary Chinese anger over the film. But you know what? I support the switch to North Korea, and here’s why.

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In what seems clearly like a move to appease a massive movie market overseas, MGM will be changing their invading army in the Red Dawn remake to North Korea instead of China. In perhaps the first time, art and commerce are in agreement. Think about it. Did China ever make sense anyway? The reason the USSR was so effective in the 80s original was because of decades of Cold War hostility that seeped into the popular response. Do you really care about China? Are you honestly afraid of them? Of course not. Now how about North Korea? Exactly. The United States isn’t engaged in a Cold War right now, and using an enemy from a Hot War is far, far too realistically horrifying for a mainstream action film featuring teens. For example, Al Qaeda invading would be a different movie entirely. The LA Times gets into the nitty gritty on why the decision was made, but as far as the artistic side of the movie, this seems like a smart move that should have been made a long time ago. Sure, China is communistic just like the Soviets, but popular culture doesn’t particular care anymore. Kim Jong-il makes for a much better boogeyman, even if he did invent the apple and write every major work of fiction ever.

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A truly difficult pairing, the critically acclaimed City of God faces the importer’s dream film J.S.A. – which is standing in for North Korea considering the inability of that country to show its films to the rest of the world even when they are clamoring for The Respected Comrade Supreme Commander is Our Destiny. Thus, a film about North Korea will have to do. Besides, it’s technically listed as a country of origin. Semantics aside, this match proves to be the most anticipated of the day because it sees two strong contenders squaring off.

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