Comrade Kim Goes Flying (3 stars)

Comrade Kim Goes Flying

An enjoyable, family-friendly drama from North Korean

When talking about North Korea, we tend to think of nuclear tests and one of the last Communist autocracies in the world. So when this North Korean/western co-production was billed in the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2013 programme as a family-friendly film, no-one knew quite what to expect. For its part, Comrade Kim Goes Flying disregards the larger political picture and simply aims to entertain.

Dutiful, twenty-something miner Kim Yong Mi dreams fervently of being able to fly. Her burning desire leads her to the capital, Pyongyang, where she must overcome class barriers and her fear of heights to join the National Circus.

British documentary filmmaker Nicholas Bonner, who collaborated on Comrade Kim with Belgium’s Anja Daelemans and North Korea’s Kim Gwang Hun, has stressed that the film was initially only made for North Korean consumption, which goes some way to explaining certain aspects that might jar with western audiences. The characters feel overplayed by a cast who concentrate on smiling throughout the film rather than on being perceived as realistic, and the backdrop of continual class struggle can grow wearisome - although this leads to some of the funniest scenes in the film, including one in which Kim challenges some steelworkers to an arm wrestling contest in order prepare for the proletarian Worker’s Festival.

Screening at Cineworld Fountainpark, Thu 27 Jun as part of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2013.

Rich in colours and comic scenes, this high-flying fairy tale never pretends to present an honest portrayal of contemporary North Korea. However, it should be commended for its creation of a strong female character (played by trapeze artist Han Jong-sim) who doesn't require support from a male counterpart (even the ‘George Clooney of the DPRK’ Ri Yong-Ho). Kim’s endeavours as a construction worker and aspiring acrobat are engaging, while her continuous optimism, together with the burgeoning relationship with trapeze star Pak Jang-Phil (Pak Chung-guk), immediately invites the viewer to cheer her on.

Comrade Kim Goes Flying succeeds in entertaining us for 80 minutes and provides an enjoyable, family-friendly experience of North Korean cinema.

Comrade Kim Goes Flying - Trailer

Comrade Kim Goes Flying

  • 3 stars
  • 2012
  • Belgium / UK / North Korea
  • 1h 21min
  • Directed by: Kim Gwang Hun, Nicholas Bonner, Anja Daelemans
  • Cast: Han Jong Sim, Pak Chung Guk

The first Western-financed feature to be made entirely in North Korea tells the story of a young miner who trains to become a trapeze artist in pursuit of her childhood dreams of flying.