Kotpanum chonio; drama / musical, North Korea, 1972; D: Ik Kyu Choe, Hak Pak, S: Yong Hui Hong, Ren Rin Kim, Pak Hwa Son, Hu Nam Ru
Korea during the Japanese occupation. Koppun is a young girl who sells flowers on the streets. Her circumstances are dire: her younger sister, Sun Hui, became blind after the selfish landowner, Mrs. Bae, threw boiling water at her; her brother was arrested by the Japanese army when he rebelled against the Bae's, who are collaborators with the Japanese; whereas her mother is sick and works day and night to repay her debt to Mr. Bae, and to shield Koppun from falling into the debt trap herself. After her mother dies, Sun Hui cries all the time, so Mr. Bae sends her into the forest during winter, blaming her for his wife's illness. Finally, Koppun rebels against the Bae's, but is arrested. Luckily, her brother, who joined the resistance movement, shows up and frees her, finds Sun Hui and calls for a communist revolution,
The film adaptation of one of five North Korean revolutionary operas, apparently written by Kim Il-sung himself, "The Flower Girl" is a film that was made with a lot of care, since no expenses were spared to conjure up Korean costumes, traditions and mentality during the Japanese occupation, whereas one must particularly praise the crystal clear cinematography which looks remarkably modern. As for its ultimate quality, the result is mixed: the characters seem real and their problems are palpable, while the storyline is remarkably conservative and neutral - save for the propaganda finale - yet at two hours, the running time of this simple story is overlong and exhaustive, several moments are too melodramatic (Koppun and her little sister crying after their mother died, just as they saved enough money to buy medicine for her, for instance); the songs, sang off screen, appear as intruders at times, whereas the story is too didactic, too stiff and too artificial at times. Directors Ik Kyu Choe and Hak Pak chose a very conservative directing style, since any unusual or inventive ideas would have probably been deemed as too risky considering the national subject, but since North Korea's cinematography is so sparse, even this film version of "The Little Match Girl" seems rather exotic in this edition. Overall, ideological aspects aside, this is a humble and emotional little tale, and thus manages to seem neutral and universal most of the time.