March 30, 2018

The Story of a Blooming Flower: Juche in Japan

Sang Gyu's The Story of a Blooming Flower may be the first North Korean movie I've seen that isn't primarily set in the country in which it was made. Based in Japan, the story concerns a "flower breeder" who, under the pressures of capitalism, sells the patent to an iris, that his mother — a botanist as well — was developing shortly before she died, to the highest bidder only to see that flower become the trademark plant of street prostitutes. Shame ensues. As a form of restitution, this guilt-ridden son devotes his life to cultivating a new begonia (sourced from the Andes!) then finds himself once again in financial straits when his daughter gets outclassed by an arranged marriage for her boyfriend. Will he sell the new flower to provide her with an enticing dowry? Or will he travel to North Korea and find his life changed after meeting the adult version of a young teenager whom he ragefully and wrongfully pushed into the street because he mistook her for a commonplace hooker?

Here's a hint: His best buddy, a philosophy professor whom he's known since childhood, has recently succumbed to a mysterious illness and has left behind him some writings extolling the virtues of Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung. The Juche Idea is the future! Principles take precedence over profits. And while his recently acquired dignity coupled with a red hybrid in full bloom may garner the attention of the press, you often sense that his wife, who stands sulkily to the side, is less enthusiastic about this new religion. Weird bits of realism creep into The Story of a Blooming Flower again and again. Oddly, despite his passion for all things Pyongyang, there is no subsequent talk of his moving his entire family there so they can take over a national arboretum or a municipal greenhouse. It could be that those snatches of dialogue ended up on the cutting room floor. Or perhaps a sequel is in order: The Story of a Blooming Magnolia.

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