October 21, 2017

Pyongyang Nalpharam: A Book With Punch and Kick

You have to take everything you learn about North Korea with a grain of salt but supposedly the country has had years when it produced as many as 80 films and other years when it's made as few as two. Whether that's true or not, I don't know but I can say with some assurance that they've definitely got a film to represent just about every genre: there's a monster movie (Pulgasari), a period drama (The Story of Chun Hyang), a coming-of-age story (The Schoolgirl's Diary), a romantic comedy (O Youth), and a martial arts flick (Hong Kil Dong) amid all those other movies you'd expect that are strictly propaganda. Diversity of entertainment isn't an issue here if you're willing to suffer through a speech with an extremely nationalist bent.

That said, the proselytizing is kept to a minimum in Pyongyang Nalpharam, a historic martial arts flick set during the Japanese occupation of Chosun and understandably trumpeting patriotism in the shadow of Japanese rule. Co-directed by Phyo Kwang and Maeng Chil-min, the movie's heroes are the supreme masters of a traditional form of fighting as well as the keepers of the last remaining book which explains it. They seem to be siblings sometimes and lovers other times, and jointly responsible for the book which causes all sorts of trouble. Do they ever kiss? No. I'm not even sure if they ever hug. But their intimacy is expressed through meaningful glances cast from watery eyes and via a scar he gave her as a child while biting her hand and a jade ring he passes to her as an adult after all the battles are done and (largely) won. And while the brother/fiance (Ri Ryeong-hun) is clearly the leader and elder; the sister/fiancee (Kim Hye-gyeong) takes over when he's not around and clearly knows how to engage in hand-to-hand, foot-to-face contact. This is a couple of equals, a marriage of mutual respect. The couple that slays together, stays together, am I right?

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