-With commentary from Suk-Young Kim, University of California at Santa Barbara
April 09, 2008 4:00 – 6:30pm
6th Floor Auditorium
Woodrow Wilson Center
One Woodrow Wilson Plaza
1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20004
Visit www.wilsoncenter.org/nkidp for more information, and to RSVP
The North Korea International Documentation Project invites you to attend a screening of the North Korean film “The Schoolgirl’s Diary” (Han Nyeohaksaengeui Ilgi) followed by commentary by Suk-Young Kim, assistant professor of theater and dance at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and an expert on North Korean propaganda.
The Schoolgirl’s Diary (2006, in Korean, no subtitles) is the story of a self-absorbed North Korean teenager, Soo-Ryeon, who yearns to move to an apartment from her home in the countryside and questions the values of her father and mother, a scientist and a librarian at the academy of sciences who put the good of the nation before that of their family. Soo-Ryeon realizes how selfish she is only after her mother falls ill and her father makes a major breakthrough in his research. The film’s screenwriters reportedly received guidance in drafting the script from North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
Suk-Young Kim is assistant professor of theater and dance at the University of California at Santa Barbara. She is currently completing a book project titled Illusive Utopia: Theater, Film, and Everyday Performance in North Korea, which explores how state produced propaganda performances intersect with everyday life practice in North Korea. Another book project, Long Road Home: A Testimony of a North Korean Camp Survivor (coauthored with Kim Yong) is forthcoming from Columbia University Press.
“The Schoolgirl’s Diary” (2006) is, indeed, the most interesting piece of work recently produced by Pyongyang filmmakers. It looks like an attempt to depict the growing conflict between selfishness and self-sacrifice in North Korea. Echoing the Russian film Courier [Kurier] (1986), which hit the records of popularity in the Perestroika-stricken Soviet Union, this film employs the convenient method of viewing the grim reality of life through the eyes of a teenager. If something in the film is politically unpalatable, it is the immaturity of the main character that has to be blamed – not the film director (Jang In-hak or Kim Jong-il himself?).
The main character, Suryeon, gets increasingly frustrated with her poor and naïve parents who “foolishly” devoted themselves to the country and the people. Her protest may look unsophisticated but small details reveal political overtones. In one scene, where Suryeon is arguing with her younger sister over the quality of food in their lunchboxes, her blouse and skirt also show aggressive colours – namely stars and stripes (just like on the US flag). Is this a new vogue in modern Pyongyang? Or maybe the director’s tongue-in-cheek? Some people still argue that it were blue jeans and rock music that destroyed socialism in the USSR.
It looks like this film is trying to address the issues vital to North Korea’s survival. In the DPRK it was viewed by some 8 million people just in the first six months. Pretty Pictures bought the screening rights to show it in Europe last year. Who knows, maybe this film will open a new dimension of the “Hallyu” phenomenon? It would be interesting to hear the opinion of those who have seen it already.