The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or commonly known as North Korea has been in the spotlight for quite some time. The establishment of North Korea can be traced back almost 75 years. When the second World War ended, Japan surrendered Korea which was then divided into two parts; North Korea which was occupied by the Soviet Union and South Korea which was occupied by the US. After negotiations for a Korean reunification failed, the Korean War commenced, which resulted to hundreds of thousands of casualties and the current Korean state as we know it.
When it comes to the film industry in North Korea it was firstly used as a means to spread propagandistic messages in the 50s. However, what many people don’t know is that it actually “thrived” in the 80s and by thrived we mean that a great amount of flops were made. Kim Jong-il was a big fan of Hollywood movies so he decided to make his own productions of his favourite blockbuster films such as a spectacularly bad version of Rambo made by the famous Italian director Ferdinando Baldi. In an attempt to succeed, the North Korean Supreme Leader kidnapped a famous South Korean director and a South Korean actress to which many of the older North Korean productions can be accredited to.
Fast forwarding 60 years, the tensions between an unstable North Korea and the west have never been higher, with threats of war reaching the news on a continuous basis. Being bombarded with news about North Korea, we decided to investigate and find movies that were actually filmed in North Korea. Find out which are the movies filmed in North Korea below.
1. The Flower Girl – 1972
Undoubtedly one of the most famous movies filmed in North Korea if not the most famous, The Flower Girl was actually written by Kim Il-Sung himself. This North Korean musical is set during the Japanese occupation and tells the story of a young woman named Koppun who sells flowers in order to buy medicine for her mother. On top of that, Koppun’s father is dead, her brother is in prison and her sister is blind (we guess something happened to her dog too). Moreover, The Flower Girl was entirely filmed in North Korea in several locations in and around Pyongyang. Finally, what many people don’t know is that this North Korean musical was based on Supreme Leader’s Kim Il-Sung opera of the same name.
2. Pulgasari – 1985
There’s nothing better than this North Korean Godzilla rip-off. Pulgasari was the creation of Kim Jong-il himself and the allegedly kidnapped South Korean director Sang-oh Shin. This North Korean film is basically a Godzilla that eats iron. Pulgasari is set in medieval times and tells the story of an opressed village and its imprisoned blacksmiths who forges Pulgasari, an iron craving monster. One of the few movies filmed in North Korea, Pulgasari was also partially filmed in Beijing. Finally, this North Korean movie was the last one made by Sang-oh Shin, who in 1986 managed to escape in the US. For those interested to see what the North Korean Godzilla looks like, the full movie is available on YouTube.
3. Ten Zan: Ultimate Mission – 1988
The poster says it all. The premise: An Italian Rambo is killing Nazis in North Korea. Ten Zan: Ultimate Mission is one of the few known movies filmed in North Korea. This North Korean Rambo knock-off “directed” by Ferdinando Baldi hides many interesting stories. To begin with, although the Italian director had already written a script Kim Jong-il decided he should have creative control over the film and the script was rewritten by a North Korean team. Although the battle of Ten Zan took place in the jungle in Japan, most of filming took place in the Koryo Hotel in Pyongyang as well as other locations around Pyongyang that were chosen by a pair of North Koreans that were assigned to Baldi. Surprisingly, this failed attempt of a Rambo rip-off was a hit in several European countries including Greece and Italy.
4. The Other Side of the Mountain – 2012
One of the few movies shot North Korea known in the West, The Other Side of the Mountain is a love drama directed by North Korean In Hak Jang. This North Korean movie is set during the Korean War and tells the story of a North Korean nurse who falls in love with a South Korean soldier. The Other Side of the Mountain is a North Korean production that was entirely filmed in North Korea. An interesting fact about this North Korean film is that it doesn’t use any special effects, thus, all the blasts and explosions are one hundred percent real.
5. Comrade Kim Goes Flying – 2012
Comrade Kim Goes Flying, directed by Nicholas Bonner and Anja Daelemans, is one of the latest movies filmed in North Korea. This North Korean comedy tells the story of a female coal miner named Kim (played by Han Jong-sim) who has a lifelong dream of becoming an acrobat in the circus. Although at times this North Korean movie can feel a tad preachy or propagandistic it is actually quite charming. Furthermore, the film was entirely shot in several locations in and around Pyongyang. Finally, it is estimated that this North Korean film had a budget a little bit over one million dollars.
Special Mention – Movies Shot in North Korea
Although we couldn’t get much information about most of the movies filmed in North Korea (thus, we believe there should be much more) we decided to also mention some documentaries or movies that were either filmed or are set in North Korea.
Samsara – 2011
This visually captivating documentary features scenes from 25 countries including North Korea. Samsara, directed by Ron Fricke, cost $4 million to make and grossed over $2.5 million in the US alone.
The Interview – 2014
One of the best comedies of 2014, The Interview was a cause of controversy between the US and North Korea. The film follows Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer (Seth Rogen) who travel to North Korea for an interview with Kim Jong-Un (Randall Park) but are secretly sent on an assassination mission. Although the film is mostly set in Pyongyang, it was filmed in British Columbia in Canada.
Under the Sun – 2015
Under the Sun is a documentary that was filmed in North Korea that follows a simple family in Pyongyang whose daughter was selected to participate in the Spartakiad (International Soviet Union event). Although the documentary was scripted, Vitaliy Manskiy managed to reveal some hidden aspects of life thanks to his ability to film between the scripted scenes.
Enjoyed this article? Why not take a look at our list of 5 famous movies filmed in Seoul?
Note: Due to our limited access in the North Korean film industry please feel free to contact us if any of the information provided is inaccurate.