Lonely Planet Writer

You can now stream North Korea’s first international rom com

North Korea’s first rom com has been released to the world for online streaming. Comrade Kim Goes Flying is the first internationally-financed feature film to be shot entirely in North Korea.

Han Jong Sim (who plays Yong Mi) in the first North Korean rom com available for streaming.
Han Jong Sim (who plays Yong Mi) in the first North Korean rom com available for streaming. Image by Screengrab from YouTube

The film follows a young female coal miner who leaves her rural mining job to pursue her dream of becoming an acrobat in Pyongyang. The film launched on Vimeo’s pay-per-view On Demand service on 1 June. Billed as the first western-financed movie starring an all-North Korean cast, Comrade Kim Goes Flying was jointly produced by Belgian, British and North Korean filmmakers. Though it had a limited release, largely to festivals, in 2012, the Vimeo release is the first time it has been made widely available for international viewing, and also the first time it has been available through an online streaming service.

The film centres on Comrade Yong Mi, a 28-year-old coal miner who dreams of becoming a famous acrobat. With the help of her manager and support of her father and grandmother, she moves to Pyongyang and eventually earns a place on the acrobatics team for the Pyongyang Circus. The two lead actors, Han Jong Sim (who plays Yong Mi) and Pak Chung Guk (who plays Yong Mi’s nemesis, the arrogant acrobat Pak Jang Phil) were in fact professional acrobats for the Pyongyang Circus, and went through extensive acting classes before filming.

Pyongyang is a pleasant backdrop for the film in this screenshot.
Pyongyang is a pleasant backdrop for the film in this screenshot. Image by Screengrab from YouTube

British co-director Nicholas Bonner, who also founded North Korean tour operator Koryo Tours, called the film a ‘girl power movie’ because it stars a strong female lead and avoids several of the usual North Korean film tropes, including military or state/party themes. In a statement, the producers said, “We challenged the North Korean writers to create a script with a strong heroine, a girl with an attitude, self-confident, individualistic and cheeky. The essence of ‘girl power’ drives this implausible story of a young coal miner who with the support of her friends achieves her dream to fly. With elements of mischief, humour and romance, this film required a new approach from the North Korean writers, cast and crew.”

The film was shot entirely on location in Pyongyang and the city provides a surprisingly pleasing backdrop for the film, particularly with the filmmakers’ use of bright technicolour-style imagery. In many ways, the film mimics early Hollywood classics with its cheeky humour and optimistic storyline.