May 6, 2018

Flower in Snow: She Works Hard for the North Korean Won

Although it's not a sci-fi movie in any intentional sense, Kim Hyon-chol's Flower in Snow really does give you the impression of portraying an alternate, parallel universe. And it's not simply a matter of the "crazy" politics of North Korea. It's more than that. For Flower in Snow depicts a gynocentric society, a town run by women, predominantly populated by women, a place where men are few and serve mainly as damp blankets or in rarer exceptions as self-sacrificing helpmeets. The self-deprecating protagonist is a young woman who's just been promoted to run the wool factory. What does she propose? Tear the old building down, scrap the old machinery and build a new one to house new equipment? (Subtext: Down with the partriarchy!) Who knocks down the old factory? Who harvests the wood for the new one? Who works the machines? Women, of course. Who builds the lime kiln that makes so much possible? Mainly our heroine, In Sun (Sin Yong-ni), of course.

In a way, Flower in Snow feels like a rebuttal to the notion that women couldn't run the world better than men, a celebration of a culture in which women are allowed to destroy and rebuild for a better future. The hero's mother (Kim Yong Suk), although she argues for marriage, is likewise committed to the cause. The hero's fiance, after being rejected, does not become a bitter suitor. Instead he returns as an apostle who recognizes the grander vision of his love. (The only good man is a martyr!) Throughout Flower in Snow reverses many a sexist cliche while retaining one: In Sun blushes easily! And while the gushy praise for the saintly qualities of The Leader and The General — men as they are — may be interpreted as subversive to my premise, I like to think of the two leaders as substitutes for the Virgin Mary. Their deeds are outside the realm of human scope. They're saints, and as such, sexless.

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