CONELRAD READ ALERT: Selected Books and Miscellenous Tracts
On the Art of Cinema by Kim Jong Il


Because On the Art of the Cinema is allegedly based on one very long 1973 speech by future Dear Leader Kim Jung Il, the brevity of the author's biography for the 2001 edition of the book is more than a little incongruous: "Kim Jong Il (1942- ) is leader of North Korea (1994- ). Kim Jong Il succeeded his father, Kim Il Sung, who had ruled North Korea since 1948." Doesn't a world class dictator like Jong Il deserve a lengthier bio or at least an accompanying photo? But then perhaps the original North Korean edition is more elaborate. Or maybe the boring design of the book is intended to reinforce the book's no nonsense spirit of "Juche," North Korea's national ideology of grim self-reliance.

Despite the no frills book design, what impulse buyer could resist this dynamic back-cover tease:

In his preface the author states: "The cinema is now one of the main objects on which efforts should be concentrated in order to conduct the revolution in art and literature. The cinema occupies an important place in the overall development of art and literature. As such it is a powerful ideological weapon for the revolution and construction. Therefore, concentrating efforts on the cinema, making breakthroughs and following up successes in all areas of art and literature is the basic principle that we must adhere to in revolutionizing art and literature."

On the Art of the Cinema doesn’t really have a unifying thread, it is more or less just an endless series of non-negotiable and frequently convoluted pronouncements. Here are a few random selections:
Kim Jong Il behinds the lens

"The task set before the cinema today is one of contributing to people’s development into true Communists... This historic task requires, above all, a revolutionary transformation of the practice of directing."

"Only when fine art in the cinema is based on Korean life and culture and has a socialist content can it develop into a revolutionary fine art oriented towards our people and suited to their feelings and thereby make a substantial contribution to the ideological and artistic quality of the film."

"No revolutionary actor has ever actually been a Japanese policeman or capitalist... To effectively embody the hateful enemy, the actor requires an ardent love of his class and a burning hostility towards the enemy."

"Actors should pursue their political study and skills training intensively, in order to raise their ideological level and steadily improve their artistic ability, so that they will not be tempted to envy or imitate others when acting."

"In selecting an actor, one must pay close attention to every aspect of his personality and also accurately assess his political and ideological life and his level of artistry. Since his political and ideological preparedness and his artistry are reflected in his daily life and creative activities, the director should study all of the actor’s creative work and subject the social, political, cultural and moral aspects of his life to close and regular examination."

"Our films must contain militant and revolutionary music, the beautiful and noble music of the people, which is congenial to the tastes and the aspirations of the people of our times..."

"Creative work is not a mere job, but an honourable revolutionary task. An artist who derives a sense of proud dignity from serving the Party and the people in his creative work should ponder whether or not he is prepared, politically and ideologically, technically and practically, to describe the revolutionary character he is going to deal with, whether or not he has qualities as noble as those of the hero who ventures through fire and water to fulfill the demands of the Party and the revolution, whether or not he has attained the height of the hero's personality."

"Make-up is a noble art... Inadequate make-up hinders the accurate portrayal of a character’s personality even if his inner thoughts and feelings are admirably expressed through refined acting."

Robert Jenkins as Dr. Kelton in State TV production NAMELESS HEROES This last quote can't quite be reconciled with the make-up applied to American defector Charles Robert Jenkins (as Dr. Kelton) in the North Korean production of the multi-part state television film NAMELESS HEROES. The make-up on Mr. Jenkins may be described as many things, but "noble" does not exactly spring to mind.

Moreover, any reader of On the Art of the Cinema unfortunate enough to have also seen NAMELESS HEROES will be painfully aware that the 'Heroes' filmmakers ignored just about every rule set forth in Jong Il's book. The film is a spectacular mess with its only redeeming quality being the curiosity factor of seeing U.S. Army defectors "acting." Contrary to erroneous citations found on the Internet, Kim Jong Il was not the director of NAMELESS HEROES.

Kim Jong Il and kidnap victims actress Choi Eun Hee and director Shin Sang OkNowhere is it mentioned in the Dear Leader's cinema arts manifesto that if one does not have the necessary talent for filmmaking, kidnapping is an acceptable solution. But this is exactly what Jong Il did in 1978 when he had the first couple of South Korean film abducted to the hermit kingdom. First he lured the beautiful actress Choi Eun Hee to Hong Kong where she was kidnapped and placed on a ship headed to a North Korean port. Then the tyrant/movie buff had Ms. Hee's ex-husband (the couple had recently divorced), the most respected film director in South Korea, kidnapped when he followed his ex-wife's trail to Hong Kong.

The director, Shin Sang Ok (who, at this point, did not know his wife was in captivity in North Korea), attempted to escape the country by sneaking onto a freight train, but he was soon captured and sent to a prison camp. He won release after four years by apologizing in writing to Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung (Jong Il's father) and was reunited with his ex-wife. Playing cupid in a Mao jacket, Jong Il recommended that the pair re-marry and they wisely obliged the Dear Leader's whim.

Jong Il gave Shin Sang Ok a nice office, artistic freedom and lavish budgets for a number of film projects that were produced, but none stands out more than PULGASARI (1985). Shin Sang Ok produced this North Korean version of Godzilla and it must be seen to be believed. Pulgasari is a metal-eating Communist monster (with a heart of gold) who helps his 14th Century peasant friends defeat their cruel feudal masters. Clips from this extraordinarily odd epic can be seen on the io9 website.
Communist Godzilla Pulgasari eats iron
In 1986, after giving their North Korean minders the slip while on a business trip in Vienna, Shin Sang Ok and Choi Eun Hee escaped to the American embassy. They were granted asylum and eventually returned to South Korea. Ok died in 2006 and Hee is still living. Both Ok and Hee wrote books that detail their Kafkaesque time in the hermit kingdom, but neither memoir has been translated into English.

An added bonus to On the Art of the Cinema is a "Notes" section wherein various events and terms used in the book are defined from a uniquely North Korean perspective. For instance, the Korean War is dubbed "The Fatherland Liberation War." It should not surprise anyone that the war is described as one in which the "(North) Korean people inflicted an ignominious defeat upon the U.S. imperialists and their stooges."

As of this posting Kim Jong Il's bizarre film tome rates three stars on Amazon (only half a star less than Syd Field's 'Screenplay'). The Dear Leader's equally insane take on opera, On the Art of the Opera, fares better with five stars.
Communist Godzilla Pulgasari snacks
By Kim Jong Il
Copyright 2001; Published by University Press of the Pacific, Honolulu, Hawaii
From an April 11, 1973 speech
329 Pages

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CATEGORY: Film Studies

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