A State of Mind

A State of Mind (2004)

Daniel Gordon writes and directs a very rare look inside North Korea, with a film that focuses on two young girls, Hyon Sun Pak and Song Yun Kim, and their arduous gymnastic training for the Mass Games. Set in the grimy and grim North Korean capital of Pyongyang, where housing is cramped and food is meagre, the girls train outdoors in freezing conditions for months on end. The games, which comprise of didactic epics of synchronized gymnastics set to music, and backed by a gigantic human mosaic showing highly politicized and propagandistic images, are apparently a centerpiece of North Korean identity. Performed on national holidays, such as the birthdays of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il, by casts of thousands, to be viewed by millions at home, the games are the very epitome of North Korean communism's submission of the self to will of the group.

Gordon's subjects, the Pak and Kim families, were obviously hand picked by the filmmaker's local liaison under instructions of some shadowy government figure. They are loyal to the core in their adherence to North Korean communist ideology, which their familial rhetoric reflects. Complaining about a mid-evening power cut in their apartment block, Hyon Sun's mother casually explains it away as being caused by the US. Enjoying a day's vacation, Hyon Sun and her grandfather visit the Victorious Father Land War Musuem (aka The Korean War) where good old granddad explains the Americans dropped bombs full of insects carrying plague viruses during the war. It would be easy to dismiss these actually quite lovely people as dupes, but the very close and caring relationships within the families, both in poverty by first world standards, paint another dimension to the story.

In such a state where there is no freedom of information, how long does it take to stamp out the rebellious upstarts? How long could you or I cope in those physical and intellectual circumstances? And on some level, the granddad's arguments about US imperialism ring true...

The full film is below, via YouTube!

Conversation starters

  • Did you check out that guy's green rotary dial phones? Cool!
  • The gymnastic choreography is pretty amazing... I could never bend like that.
  • Oh, great, rice porridge for dinner again.

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