Manse for Chollywood!
'Hong Kil Dong'

Synopsis, analysis and video link to a North Korean Feature Film about a martial arts prodigy.

Hong Kil Dong, the eponymous hero of this period film personifies the idea of the lowly born achieving greatness through personal endeavors as he rises to become a martial arts expert, fearsome warrior, and crusader for what is right. A real lower-class hero and avenger battling against crooks and scoundrels, in particular foreign ones (showing how Korea was repeatedly invaded and plundered by more powerful neighbouring nations in the past). In many ways something of Korean Robin Hood, although lacking the advantages of noble birth, the real tragedy of this story is how entrenched social structures and an inflexible class/caste system prohibit him from marrying who he chooses.

Kil Dong can be seen as encapsulating all of the ideal qualities of the modern Korean man; honesty, a willingness to stand up against foreign aggression, a well-formed sense of right and wrong, and finally selflessness in protecting loved ones. The message here is that despite all this heroism on his part the rules of society still keep him unfairly lowly in social standing and unable to rightfully get what he deserves and has worked for. It is implicitly understood by the Korean viewer that since the time represented in the film the country is fortunate enough to have had a revolution which has removed social bonds such as those suffered by Kil Dong and that the 20th century Hong Kil Dongs; warriors who can defeat foreign aggressors in the name of righteousness, have finally risen to control of the country.

Period films are very popular and common in the DPRK, despite taking place in a pre-revolutionary era where Marxism and Socialist revolution had not even been conceived of yet they still act as tools to pass along contemporary ideology through the medium of films set deep in the past.

Kil Dong, who is born as a son of a concubine of low origin in a powerful aristocrat’s family, goes deep into the mountains to avoid scorns and sinister plot of the legal wife of his father, and learns martial arts. When a gang of thieves from overseas plunders people of their properties and the national treasure of the royal palace has even stolen, he wipes out the thieves with his miraculous martial arts and renders great service to the country. But when he realizes that he can’t even marry a girl he loves due to difference in social standing, he goes on an aimless voyage cursing the unequal society. No one knows if there is any country across the ocean where they can accomplish their wish.

From the book, Korea Film published in 2008 by Korea Film Export & Corporation

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