We’ve been made to believe that North Korea is one hell of a place where human rights are nearly unheard of, and Kim reigns supreme. But as we get to view this beautiful country, through the eyes of an 8-year-old girl, residing in “the land of the rising sun” is a lot more beautiful (ironically). Nobody struggles, poverty is a word in the dictionary, young North Koreans are taught to love their country and its leader, or so it seems.
Fact or fiction?
“Under the Sun” ideally is two films knitted together – one, a judiciously crafted lie, and the other, something close to what you would expect – truth. First, there’s no doubt Vitaly Mansky, the director’s film is stage-managed to portray how beautiful and prosperous Kim’s personal property (North Korea and its people) is. Also, it seems those who participated in it are comfortable about having a fake, fictitious side of their life shown to the world.
If the director needed any help, after two years of asking the North Korean government to do a movie, he inadvertently got excess of what he may have asked for, ironically though. It was to be a documentary of life in this secretive state, but the authorities chose to go the “My country, my rules” way. He filmed as they supervised, over the course of a year.
The documentary mocks the cheery version that we’re made to believe throughout the film. The fictional construct centers on an 8-year-old, humble and innocent Lee Zin-mi whose mind is corrupted by the authorities’ propaganda right at the eyes of the directors. She, along with her two parents, resides in Pyongyang and is evidently as profound to air-brushed ideals as everyone around. Her dad allegedly works as an engineer at a garment factory!
A film that is perfectly choreographed from start to finish
Zin-mi is a typical 8-year-old, cute and bubbly, yearning for knowledge, perhaps naïve to how her bleak future is. Her parents, perfect Communist laborers, only brought to the posh apartment for the sake of the shoot. As the cameras roll, Mansky does what he intended to do, and even gleefully stresses that the film is choreographed by including his minders’ off-camera directions to the cast, live.
The documentary’s first highlight is when the de facto directors urge the employees at where Zin-mi’s mom works to be “more joyfully!” Another scene is when an aging soldier visits Zin-mi’s class to lecture the young, innocent minds about his travails when Koreans were fighting Americans. We’d expect kids to feel shocked or fascinated, but the class isn’t shocked by his revelations of having hunted down and killed young kids, and we can interpret it to the rot they see or hear every day!
Each stage is choreographed to a tee, particularly at the pragmatic historical dogma a teacher stresses. Scenes at the cold grey cement city are perfectly staged too. One thing they, however, failed to script is Zin-Mi’s emotions. At some stage, she is visibly tired, stressed and fed up playing a demanding fictional lead role and she starts to cry.
But occasionally, we’re shown the unscripted life among citizens cycling back home from work or riding the subway, though each is invariably having the cast members near them. No government figures are interviewed from the start to the end of “Under the Sun” which vividly underscores the gap between the nation’s dominating cult and the hapless citizens.
A safe and homely North Korea
The movie is unrated, but it manages to wittily and skillfully show what North Korea wants us to see – save, homely country. It is in Korean with English subtitles and runs for 1 hour, 47 minutes.
To watch Under the Sun on iTunes, click here.
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