October 26, 2017

Order No. 027: Bones Break But She Won't

Maybe I've been setting the bar too thoughtlessly low with these North Korean movies. I mean, did I really enjoy that martial arts flick Pyongyang Nalpharam last week? Or was I seduced by the novelty? the strangeness of it all? And even if I did really like it, would I be able to enjoy it as much again now after seeing the infinitely better Order No. 027? The latter film, made about 30 years prior, has a stronger storyline, less corny acting, and most importantly finer and longer fights. It's still odd with its outdated shooting techniques, indicative performances, and lapses into propaganda but how easily I seem to have forgotten that, with action movies, Foley sound effects should not just be used to indicate the damaging contact of kicks and punches but also the more severe crunch and crackle of breaking bones. The directorial choice — made by co-directors Jung Ki Mo and Kim Eung Suk — to loop footage so that a knee to the face happens mercilessly more than once makes for some painfully effective combat sequences. This is a war pic after all.

Order No. 027 also got me thinking about the word "demure" which according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary means "reserved, modest." In an American film, a demure ingenue would be virginal, naive, easily shocked, uninformed, and weak... oh basically helpless. But in a North Korean flick, a woman can be demure and still be a well-trained spy eager to go into enemy territory alone to complete a suicide mission, a fearless warrior capable of out-fighting three soldiers in tip top shape, and a true patriot who will walk miles after being shot to deliver an important message. Sure, she's modest and unassuming but she's neither simple-minded nor a scaredy-cat. Korean cinema, be it North or South, favors women with nerves of steel and physical prowess over the dim-witted damsel in distress. Hollywood would do well to take a page from these screenplays.

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