July 5, 2018

The Kites Flying in the Sky: Run, Baby, Run

The unexpected death of bus operator 337 leads a medal-winning marathon runner — who was for a time singularly obsessed with competing and winning — to abandon her sport and succumb to a rarely seen addiction: compulsive adopting. I don't know what else to call her insatiable desire to take in any child left behind who happens to cross her path. And so what begins as a gesture of respect for a nationalistic acquaintance who works in public transit transforms into a veritable obsession as the current long-distance runner becomes mother to the biggest brood in the neighborhood. You definitely know she is not your typical do-gooder since her charitable acts include marrying the widower of her secret hero and then indoctrinating every child who comes into their care to the point that all of them — and there are many, well over a dozen — become members of the North Korean military. I kept thinking about how some churches discourage birth control because they recognize newborns as the easiest way to build the flock. But our protagonist here one-ups those bible-thumpers. She's providing a home for the homeless thereby creating an immediate debt among her adoptees. Serving their country — in uniform, no less — is what's she exacting from each and every one of them. And frankly, it feels a bit creepy.

Is she happy? Well, who is happy. Is she respected? It sure seems so by the way everyone at the local department store is so eager to donate some article of clothing to one of her sons when she comes there looking for an out-of-stock belt. Is she exhausted? Yes. Viewed from one angle, North Korean films of self-sacrifice such as co-directors Kim Hyon-chol's and Phyo Kwang's The Kites Flying in the Sky feel like clunky admonishments towards our narcissistic society. But viewed from another angle, they can feel like the ultimate form of narcissism too since everything is done to please the Great Leader. If an entire industry devoted to hossanahing a single human being is the epitome of self-centeredness then I don't know what is. So what's worse: A culture of narcissists or the ultimate narcissist? Right now our culture appears to be heading towards a combo pack.