I was a sceptic; I thought it could not be done. I did not believe that London could host such an important global event, let alone pull it off with such grandiose confidence. But now the Olympics are over and to be honest, I don’t want it to end. Particularly considering my last images may be that of Jessie J ruining Queen, or Liam Gallagher proving he needs Noel. But with Britain standing 3rd in the medal rankings, we can be proud of our athletes’ efforts. Whether it was handball, hockey or dressage, my eyes were opened to the magic of the Olympics and I’m sad to see them go. So why not cling on for a little bit longer and join me as I attempt to blur the realms of Film and the Summer Olympics.
Every country has its stars, its athletes who we can look up to and be proud to see represent our country. Team GB has Ennis, Daley and Farah for example; Jamaica has Bolt and Blake; and China has Ye Shiwen.
What if we had a film Olympics, where 3 films were chosen to represent each country? What films would make their respective countries proud to gather the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals that every country covets? This is an idea that I have audaciously attempted to bring to reality, albeit in the form of a written feature.
Given that a lot of the nations have a rather limited cinematic back catalogue, I have had to make a 40 medal rule. Therefore only the nations which have achieved 40 medals in the history of the Olympic Games will be considered. So unfortunately I won’t be looking at Tajikistan or the Virgin Islands, sorry if any of you are fans of their cinema. With this in mind I will also have to leave out certain nations. I want to do justice to the national cinemas I discuss so it would be wrong of me to attempt a piece without the required knowledge. I have left out 5 nations: Belarus, Ukraine, Switzerland, Kenya and Bulgaria. I just don’t feel I would do their national cinemas justice and therefore, rather than offend those in the know, I have left them out for now. Well, at least until the 2016 Games.
With the term ‘national cinema’ constantly being debated, I will be picking films that I believe show a window into the countries culture. This may mean that the film is directed by someone of a different nationality, same goes for the cast even. But the film will always be chosen because I believe it represents that particular country, expressive of its society and cinematic history. In many cases this may mean that these are the best three productions the country has made whilst also being important representations of their cinema. Hopefully you will agree with my reasoning if not my picks. The three films will take the Gold, Silver and Bronze for each respective country. I’m expecting that my choices will cause much debate and I hope that they do, film taste is subjective and I am not naïve enough to believe I will please everyone.
North Korea – 41 Medals
Oh North Korea, the most secretive country in the world. Not much is known about life in North Korea, any visit there by a foreign agent and you must be accompanied around the country by aides, your visit dictated by a strict agenda. Luckily for me, I have a friend who is obsessed with Asian culture and in particular the divide of the Korean empire. So when I sat down to plan this article, my first thought was, ‘Do I even know any North Korean films?’ One phone call and a brief liaison later, and my friend had managed to find two North Korean films. Pulgarasi, North Korea’s response to Godzilla and The Flower Girl, which is known as the Korean ‘Gone With The Wind.’ I would discover that neither would live up their counterparts.
Bronze – Comrade Kim Goes Flying (Nicholas Bonner, 2012)
I have to admit this is slightly cheating, mainly because this isn’t actually out yet. However, it gets the Bronze because it appears to be a shining light at the end of a rather limited North Korean cinematic tunnel. You see, Comrade Kim Goes Flying is a first for the country. Any film co-produced with Westerners and shot in North Korea is a big step forward for their film industry and perhaps will ensure the film does not remain in the confines of the communist state. As the English co-director said, the film is about “a girl-power fairy tale about dreaming to fly.” Will it be a North Korean film that will lack any propagandist agenda? Perhaps that is wishful thinking; however, it takes the Bronze for the effort and hope on show. Fingers crossed, it will merit it.
Silver – The Flower Girl (Choe Ik-kyu, 1972)
Set during the Japanese occupation of North Korea (a theme which resonates throughout North Korean cinema), The Flower Girl is an adaptation of an opera written by Kim II-Sung (supposedly anyway). Set around a young girl whose mother is ill and sister is blind (tough life), The Flower girl isn’t exactly a happy-go-lucky kind of film. With her mother owing debt to the landlord things begin to go a bit pear shaped, until her brother, who had been away with the revolutionary army, returns to save the day. The film is not an easy watch; its agenda is full of propaganda that is not hidden by the plot but instead embraced by it. But unfortunately due to the country’s secrecy, it picks up the silver. After all, it doesn’t have a metal eating monster in the plot.
Gold – Pulgasari (Chong Gon Jo & Sang-Ok Shin, 1985)
What makes this film particularly interesting is that the director Sang-Ok Shin is actually South Korean but was kidnapped on the orders of Kim Jong-il to help improve North Korean cinema. Quite drastic you might think, and you would be right particularly considering, from a ‘suggestion’ made by Jong-il, Shin re-marry his ex-wife, who was also kidnapped. Luckily, he escaped in 1986, fleeing from North Korea while in Vienna for a film festival. However, this was after he made what is considered his North Korean masterpiece, Pulgasari.
A monster film in the vein of Godzilla, it tells the story of a villager who creates a doll made out of rice (Brilliant, absolutely brilliant premise) which when mixed with the blood of his daughter grows to monstrous size with the ability to eat metal. Yes, metal. The doll then takes part in a working class vs. the ruling class battle, joining a rebellious group of peasants to help overthrow an evil king. It is hard not to think that Shin didn’t see the irony in making this film. The film does have some famous connections to the west. When the remake for Godzilla was released, one of the actors who portrayed Godzilla during the late 80s and Pulgasari said he preferred the Korean film over the West’s attempt at Godzilla.
Click “next” below for Part 2 – “Iran”…