Film festival opens in movie-crazy North Korea

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And to play with the emotions of the audience, evidently.

“If you watch a lot of North Korean films, you’ll find yourself crying a lot,” he said. “If you don’t cry, you’re clearly a person without emotion.”

A visit to the film studio is a lot like going back in time, from the thatched cottages of a bygone rural Korea, to the ancient royal palaces of the Choson Dynasty, to a louche depiction of 1950s South Korea compete with brothels, pubs and pharmacies.

“American tourists who come here always tap the walls to see if the buildings are real,” Choe said. “They say the sets in Hollywood are just facades.”

For British filmmaker Nicholas Bonner and his Belgian co-producer Anja Daelemans, the upcoming North Korean premiere of “Comrade Kim Goes Flying” will be a moment nearly seven years in the making.

The film, a romantic comedy about a coal miner who dreams of becoming an acrobat, was shot in North Korea in 2010 with a local cast, directed by veteran North Korean filmmaker Kim Gwang Hun, and edited in Belgium.

“It’s not what you expect from North Korea, and it’s not something people have seen before,” Bonner said.

Writing the script took three years, as the North Korean and European members of the team worked to come up with a story line that was both entertaining and politically safe for showing in North Korea. Bonner credits the Koreans with contributing some of the film’s funniest moments.

“In the end, you’re dealing with professionals,” Bonner said. “They do their job. You’re in the film world, and we’re all making a film.”

But for sheer scale, “Comrade Kim” can’t possibly compete with the heavyweight of North Korean cinema, the 63-part epic “Nation and Destiny,” which began in the 1990s. Filming is already under way on part 64.

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Follow AP’s Korea bureau chief for Pyongyang and Seoul at twitter.com/newsjean.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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