Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


September 7, 2012

Romantic comedy gets twist with NKorean acrobats


The idea for "Comrade Kim" was dreamed up one winter's night more than six years ago over glasses of whiskey. They tinkered with the script for three years before a North Korean studio was willing to take it on. Finally, Kim Gwang Hun, a director who once collaborated with Ryom's cinematographer father, took interest.

"Actually, I was concerned that the process of approving the script together with our foreign partner would take a lot of time and we would face many difficulties because of the difference in languages, customs and living environments," Kim said.

Indeed, the film's cast and crew have had little interaction with the outside world. North Korea, one of the world's last Cold War outposts, remains mostly isolated from the rest of the world, a country more famous for its nuclear defiance than its potential for romantic comedies.

Yet movies are hugely popular. Late leader Kim Jong Il famously championed filmmaking as an essential propaganda tool in his 1973 treatise, "On the Art of Cinema."

North Korea has collaborated in the past with production companies from countries such as Russia, China and Italy. "Promise in Pyongyang," released this year, is a Chinese-North Korean production. Bonner and his Koryo Group colleagues have made three documentaries on North Korea.

But "Comrade Kim" is the first European collaboration since the action film "Ten Zan, the Ultimate Mission," a North Korean-Italian production from the 1980s.

For Kim, shooting a romantic comedy was a departure from his usual military-themed work. But he said he relished the idea of offering audiences lighter entertainment.

Then there was the issue of casting. Going with acrobatic skill over acting chops, they chose Han Jong Sim and Pak Chung Guk, acrobats with the Pyongyang Circus, and enrolled them in four months of intensive acting training. She and Pak were backed up by some of North Korea's most famous actors.

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