June 5, 2018

Let's Go to Mt. Kumgang: Border Disorder

To call a North Korean movie odd is odd itself in that it's always oddness all the time. So many zooms! So many gleeful tunes! So how do you describe one of the odder films, an oddity among oddities, when it isn't really outrageously weird? Specifically, how do you detail the singular oddball that is Let Us Go to Mt. Kumgang. We could start with the leading lady who, per usual, is prone to strong opinions and blushing, determined and deferential, smart and simpering. But this heroine takes all those qualities to an extreme; not only is she working on a groundbreaking scientific paper about some kind of tonic that will increase the longevity of the lives of all North Koreans but she's also incapable of reconciling patriotism and botany. It appears that if she can't find the plant to complete her formula in her homeland then her efforts will have been for naught. The handsome young male scientist, who simply advocates a healthy diet for a long life, recognizes her genius and is determined to find her the root ingredient. Literally, a root. But is he to be trusted?

Constructed like a farce in which people keep misinterpreting the actions of each other, Let Us Go to Mt. Kumgang is especially preposterous because the screenwriters clearly haven't done any substantial research into scientific matters, local geography, or the politics of academia. Because of that, the dialogue around the tonic and the diet sounds like blather and the song about the wonders of the landscape like something written by an elementary school class. A subplot involving a potential romance between the two scientists is so cloaked in political claptrap that not only do the two should-be lovers never get anywhere near kissing but they seem to be fated, at best, to the intimacy that results when two hands touch while holding the same flagpole. No, not that kind of flagpole. A real flagpole.

There's an unrelenting, unforgiving idealism that runs through many North Korean movies that always feels anti-human because it requires that feelings must be subjugated to the party line as dictated by The General, a god-like force who's always watching, always judging, always expecting but never seen.

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