Friday, 16 October 2015

The Schoolgirl's Diary

Han nyeohaksaengeui ilgi; drama, North Korea, 2007; D: Jang In Hak, S: Mi-hyang Pak, Jin-mi Kim, Cheol Kim, Yeong-suk Kim

Soo-ryeon is a teenage girl who lives with her younger sister, Soo-ok, mother and grandmother in a village near Pyongyang. She is annoyed that her father is never at home, working in the city to obtain a PhD. During an argument, she slaps Soo-ok, who runs away and tries to drown herself, until Soo-ryeon appologizes for hitting her. They get a permission to move to the city, but grandmother wants to stay in the countryside. When the mother gets sick and undergoes an operation, Soo-ryeon is even more angry at her father for neglecting the family for research. However, when he completes his work - a computer controlled assembly line - he explains to Soo-ryeon that he has done so for the benefit of the society, and she accepts that, finding parallels with their president.

"The Schoolgirl's Diary" is a refreshing attempt at a modern and relaxed depiction of a life of a North Korean teenage girl, until it falls in the typical didactic policy in the disappointing last third. Director Jang In Hak shows a fine sense for slowly developing his story, even inserting humor (very untypical for North Korean cinema) in the opening act, mostly revolving around the tomboyish sister Soo-ok (her uncle gives her sport's clothes as a present, and she clumsily drops her pants in front of him to change; when she hears the father returned home at night, she jumps and causes the paper wall to fall with her...) as well as giving a neat and relaxed view on the life of the teenage heroine, Soo-ryeon, whereas he even applies a few elementary, but here seldomly used movie techniques (slow motion, unusual camera angles here and there). Unfortunately, the story collapeses in the last third when it turns the relaxed, innocent 'slice-of-life' story, which is inherently non-political, into the typical North Korean political message, which is extremely imposing and contrived. The major theme of the story was that Soon-ryeon could not understand that her father is neglecting her family for research, while the final message is, predcitably, that individuals should yield their lives for the greater good of the society, mirroring the perceived parallels with the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il who is doing the same, which is painfully unnecessary. As such, the movie leaves yet again a mixed feel, since almost every North Korean film, no matter the topic, in the end turns into something like a promotional campaign for the party - which is uncalled for.

Grade;++

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