The Flower of Kim Jong II
directed by NC Heikin
by Alex Jackson Kimjongilia takes its title from a hybrid red begonia created in honour of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il's 46th birthday. It is said to symbolize wisdom, love, justice, and peace. Director NC Heikin juxtaposes propaganda footage romanticizing Kim Jong Il and his father Kim Il Sung's North Korea against interviews with former oppressed North Koreans who now reside in South Korea. As political filmmaking, it's pretty crude. There really aren't two sides to this issue: Kim Jong Il is a bad guy and there doesn't seem to be any way to argue that he's not. Heikin does give us a timeline explaining how the Kim family came to power after ousting the occupying Japanese from Korea, but her scope isn't broad enough to explore the difficulties of establishing a new government from the ruins of war. Instead, Kimjongilia is more a simple revel in absurdity. The propaganda pieces are beyond satire--they come off as the bastard children of Leni Riefenstahl and Lawrence Welk. They feature musical numbers routinely centred around the abundance of food, a recurrent obsession in a country hobbled by famine. There's a good moment where a North Korean singer explains that she was forbidden to sing because her voice was judged as too commercial; entertainment in communist countries apparently has to be bad enough that nobody will want to pay money for it. We then hear the kinds of stories the propaganda is meant to cover up. Three generations of a family can be placed in a prison camp for something one member did. Heikin interviews a man born into a prison camp for an unnamed crime committed by his grandfather. People are routinely incarcerated for associating with those who have embarrassed or have the potential to embarrass the Great Leader. Later, we learn that part of the reason admission standards to the prison camps are so lax is because North Korea's economy relies on slave labour to manufacture products which are subsequently exported to European countries. The prison-camp stories themselves are so terrible they're darkly hilarious--no matter how bad you think things can get, they get worse. Still, I found that Kimjongilia only truly came alive during the propaganda sequences. Kim-Jong Il's bald-faced lies offer more to chew on than the secrets he keeps. I wonder how the film would work if the propaganda moved to the forefront and the point didn't lie so much in said juxtaposition. Kimjongilia isn't worthless, but it's ultimately not telling us much we don't already know.