BUSAN, South Korea — The British-Belgian-North Korean co-production Comrade Kim Goes Flying made its South Korean debut at the Busan International Film Festival, a rare showing of a North Korean film within its rival’s borders. The showing of the film in South Korea follows its North Korean debut at the Pyongyang International Film Festival last month.
The movie is a light-hearted romantic comedy about a young woman, Yong-mi, from rural North Korea, who dreams of giving up her job in a coal mine to become an acrobat in Pyongyang.
The movie's co-directors, Nicholas Bonner and Anja Daelemansm, came to Busan for a Q&A session to promote the movie.
Q: Was this a difficult movie to make?
A: Our main difficulty was finding a suitable studio in North Korea to make the movie. This took quite a while to organize at the beginning.
Q: This movie has already been shown at the Pyongyang International Film Festival last month. What kind of a reception did you get there?
A: We got a wonderful reaction that included everything from tears to smiles. One funny story from the premiere was that the main star of the movie, Kim Yong-mi, left half way through the showing and didn’t reappear until midnight during the after-show party. We were worried in case something had happened but actually she just had to go and do her spot at the Arirang Mass Games event where she is shot flying through the air across the stadium before coming back to the party.
A: We wrote the script for the movie six years ago and the aim was to make it as close as possible stylistically to North Korean movies. One thing the audience strongly reacted to was the sound design because the sound effects were added back in Belgium during post-production. These used a lot of technology and techniques that were not common in North Korea so the audience was quite surprised by this, and some of them even mentioned that it sounded almost life-like to them.
Q: Was the movie score made and recorded in North Korea or outside?
A: The vast majority of the score was played by North Korean professionals within the country. Our Gayageum player was male which is extremely unusual in the country and raised a few eyebrows. Some additional musical inserts were then recorded and added during post production in Belgium.
Q: The vistas of Pyongyang and the countryside are very visually impressive. Were special effects used to enhance the images?
A: No, we didn’t use any special effects in this movie except for one. There was no rain on one day when we needed it so we used a hose pipe.
Q: Was there any censorship or script rewrites from North Korean officials during the film production process?
A: No, we got a relatively free hand when making this movie. As we said, we made it with the North Korean audience in mind. There was a to-and-fro process between us and our very experienced North Korean co-director, where he was encouraging the prominence of the social themes while we tried to balance it with plenty of humor and fun.
A: We hope that people will watch the movie without prejudice. In the end it's just a simple and fun romantic comedy that happens to be set in North Korea, and we hope people view it that way.
Q: Is there a different edit of this movie being shown within North Korea compared to the one we are seeing here in Busan?
A: No, the exact same edit is being used in all showings. The version in BIFF is identical to the one shown last month at PIFF (Pyongyang International Film Festival).
Q: We know that Kim Jung-un, like his dad, is a big movie fan. Did he ever visit the set and provide his famous on the spot advice?
A: No, we did not not get a visit from the man himself.
Q: Has Kim Jung-un seen or offered feedback on the movie?
A: Not that we are aware of. He definitely did not attend the showing at the Pyongyang International Film Festival. We assume he will get to see the movie at some point and we hope he will enjoy it.
Q: Was there much bureaucracy involved in getting the movie included in the Busan International Film Festival?
A: Not at all. We had to apply for the film festival using the same process as any other movie. Once it was accepted, it needed a quick additional approval from the government in Seoul, which only took a few days.
Q: The North Korean co-director of the movie, Kim Gwang-hun, was invited to the Busan showing but was not able to attend. Is this because North Korea would not allow him to travel South?
A: Basically what happened is that we ran out of time. We were trying to organize it and it seemed like it would be possible but we just didn’t have enough days left to make it happen. We are hoping that this movie is shown again in South Korea, or it goes on general release, which is our dream. Kim Gwang-hun will come down and make an appearance.
Q: What was it like working with the North Korean actors?
A: It was a very nice and smooth experience overall. The main two stars (Han Jong-sim and Pak Chung-guk) are actually professional acrobats who learned to act and did a great job for the movie. The rest of the cast included some of the most famous actors in North Korea. One of the guys is like the North Korean George Clooney, and he even managed to make quite an impression on some of ladies in the European movie crew during filming. The great thing was that there were very humble about not being the stars of the movie and worked well to ease the acrobats into their new roles.