Finding the soul of Arirang

Source:Global Times Published: 2012-6-27 20:30:03

 Meet in Pyongyang poster Photo: courtesy of Kong Hui

Meet in Pyongyang poster Photo: courtesy of Kong Hui 

Meet in Pyongyang, a collaborative film between China and North Korea, screened at the 15th Shanghai International Film Festival this month, catching the attention of critics. This is the first film North Korea has worked on with another country in over 60 years, and the first film production between China and North Korea. 

Meet in Pyongyang tells the story of Chinese dancer Wang Xiaonan, a skilled performer who lacks "the soul of Korean dance." Wang ventures to North Korea to visit her grandmother's friend. She soon becomes captivated by North Korea's group dance Arirang and perfects her craft.

For the role of the heroine, both countries selected actresses who could perform and dance. Chinese actress Liu Dong previously starred in Heaven Eternal and Earth Everlasting. North Korea's pick, Kim Ok-lim, is a professional dancer making her film debut.

Many Chinese audiences are interested in the glimpse of contemporary North Korea the film provides. 

Twists and turns

China and North Korea agreed to work together on the film as early as 2009, with the film financially backed by Chinese non-governmental organizations. The Chinese team went to North Korea to begin filming in October, 2011.

The whole progress was "full of twists and turns," said the director Xirzat Yakup, a native of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Cultural communication between the two countries was difficult at times. In September 2011, the Chinese crew of 60 arrived at North Korea's border armed with three carts of shooting equipment, but were delayed by North Korea for almost half a month.

A North Korean senior officer was finally rumored to say, "Chinese comrades promoted us and broadcast our culture to the world, why not?"

"The film is financed entirely by the Chinese side, approximately at the cost of 15 million yuan ($2.36 million). The copyrights to screen the film in China and other countries belong to us; in North Korea the rights belong to them. The film will be screened in both countries," said Kong Hui, the producer of the film.

"In North Korea it will be screened as a kind of nonprofit film; tickets will cost several cents...In China, it will be a commercial film screened in cinemas," Kong told the Global Times.

Revisions and drafts

The premise of the film was changed three times, due to a lack of consensus. The first rejected premise centered on Chinese and North Koreans fighting together against the invasion of the Japanese army during the World War II.

The second idea featured Chinese youth going to North Korea to find an old comrade for a relative. This was vetoed by the Chinese producer, who thought the film focused too much on the past, making it unnecessary to go into North Korea to film.

The third proposal, about a lost Chinese child in North Korea, was also rejected. "They said that children in North Korea do not lost; someone will send them back. This is unlike China, [where a child could be kidnapped] or traded," said Li Shuihe, the general director of China Film Stellar Theater Chain.

A consensus was reached to film a story about the Korean dance Arirang, showing the landscape, people and culture of contemporary North Korea. The grand scene of 60,000 Korean performers dancing satisfied both sides.

Cultural differences

Culture differences appeared everywhere during the film making process. In one scene, a North Korean female delivers mail by bike. This scene was cut, because there is reportedly a rule banning women from riding bicycles in North Korea.

Another scene required 18,400 students to perform. The Chinese producer worried about how to purchase lunch for so many students. But he discovered that the students already prepared by bringing lunch from home.

"It seems impossible they would ask for lunch, as [for them] they [are just] contributing to the country," said producer Li Jun.

The Chinese director preferred a realistic way of acting, while the North Korean director asked actors to perform in an exaggerated manner. North Korean actors and actresses sometimes tense up upon filming. The Chinese director filmed secretly during rehearsals to capture natural moments.

"Digital camera hasn't been adopted in North Korea yet. They don't know that we just need to turn on the machine," said the Chinese director.   

Global Times


Posted in: Film

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