Hooray for Chollywood! On visiting the North Korea's civilian film studio.
Korean Film Studio (Pyongyang Film Studio, Korean Art Film Studio)
The Korean Art Film Studio (조선예술영화촬영소 | 朝鮮藝術攝影所）is the home of the North Korean film industry, commonly known as "Chollywood" (a combinaton of "Chollima" + "Hollywood), and located in Pyongyang, North Korea. The studio was founded in 1947 and covers an area of over 1 million m². It is located about 16km North of Pyongyang’s city centre and, as well functioning as a film studio to produce multiple Korean films, it is also open to tourists and North Koreans to visit.
Over the years that the North Korean Film Studio has been around, it has produced hundreds of films. Some of which have won awards and prizes at international film festivals. The wide area it covers numerous sets allows it to produce all kinds of films.
Popular films produced in these film studios include The Flower Girl (1972), popular not only in Korea but also neighboring China, and A Broad Bellflower (1987) and Hong Kil Dong (1986)
Leader Kim Jong Il, the former leader of North Korea, was a big fan of films. This is certainly no secret. He found films to be a great form of expression and a way to deliver propaganda messages to the people.
The cinema occupies an important place in the overall development of art and literature. As such it is a powerful ideological weapon for the revolution and construction.
You can download a translated copy of The Cinema and Directing (1987) by Kim Jong Il online.
Going to the movies is very cheap for Koreans and is a favourite past-time for many. Films are also shown on television each evening.
The Korean Art Film Studio Productions
The Studio has a backlot with permenant sets (streets, railway etc) ready made for films to be shot but also a post production house. (we have a couple of short videos showing the use of the backlot for the film Order 027:
and Hong Kil Dong :
My Native Home (1949), the first North Korean Film to be produced, was also produced and shot at the Korean Film Studios in Pyongyang. This film was produced shortly after the separation of North and South Korea, as both sides rushed to be the first to independently produce a film. South Korea ended up getting in there first. However, the North Korean film industry, like its counterpart in the south, continues on until today as a mainstay of North Korean culture.
It is not clear exactly how many films have been produced in the Pyongyang Films Studio over the years since there is no exact data available but at Koryo Tours we have the official Film Catalogue if you are interested please contact us. Not all films that are completed are released to the public, they only get permission to be shown to the public with the leaders approval.
Traditionally films produced here have focused on a number of genres: traditional Korean stories, the anti-Japanese struggle both in Korea and Manchuria, the Korean War, and contemporary socialist-style dramas. In recent years, the production of films has slown down, with shifts towards serial productons for television.
At Koryo Tours, we believe that film is one of the best ways of connecting across people and cultures. Since the mid 90’s Koryo Tours' founder Nicholas Bonner and our team have produced three full-length documentaries, a feature film, and numerous travel programs. Our feature film, Comrade Kim Goes Flying (2012), has been shown to both Western and Korean audiences — North and South. DVD copies of the film are sold in markets and DVD shops around North Korea.
In addition to this, we are also the official foreign co-ordinators of the biennial Pyongyang International Film Festival (PIFF). We’ve taken in films such as Bend It Like Beckham and Mr Bean to North Korea and run an annual PIFF Tour.
The Korean Art Film Studio Today
So what’s a visit to this North Korean Film Studio like? What can you expect to see?
Foreigners can pay a visit to many of the areas of the North Korean Film Studio. With such a large area, it is hard to cover it all. However, paying a visit to the film studios you will be taken around by a local guide who can help you see the best places the film studio has to offer.
Upon entering the film studios, you’ll walk up a large, open space that is lined with sculptures, including a prominent bronze statue of President Kim Il Sung, set amongst the cast and crew of 'The Flower Girl' as well as gigantic mosaics related to the North Korean film industry.
Inside the North Korean Film Studio grounds, there are various sets for you to explore. Who knew you could visit Korea, China, Japan, and Europe, all in one city? Once more, you’re taking a step back in time as you visit sets that are made to mimic streets of years ago. These sets are meant to approximate colonial-era Korea and South Korea, Manchuria in the 1930's, imperial Japan, and some generic western country.
Walk down the Chinese and Japanese streets and you can see typical sushi and ramen restaurants dotted around, and head to the Europe set and you’ll feel like you’re in a different country entirely. There are even replicas of old western film posters, such as the Seven Year Itch, and advertisements.
Above: 'The Seven Year Itch' comes to Pyongyang! Go to Koryo Studio to see more.
One of our favourites is a hand-painted ad of a blond-haired woman and an orange-haired man sharing drink that is uncannily a close likeness of young Hillary Clinton and the real Donald Trump. A post-2016 development? Wrong! This prophetic poster has been there for years.
With these film studios being the main film studios in North Korea, if you’re super lucky you may even catch a film being filmed!
*For an extra cost, you can try on various outfits used for film and have fun acting out your own scene. The cost is a few euros per person, and you will be charged afterwards.
Have a look at the FILM STUDIO POSTERS to see the incredible North Korean advertising posters for used to make the sets more realistic. This would be the first time artists more used to make propaganda posters had to make imperialist style advertising!
* Leader Kim Jong Il as a great film fanatic reportedly owned more than 20,000 videos and DVDs of his own.
Location and Access
The Korean Film Studio is located 16km North of Pyongyang city in the Hyongjesan district. It is easily accessible by car or bus and takes around 20-30 minutes from the city centre.
The best time to visit the Korean Art Film Studio is during our annual Pyongyang International Film Festival Tour each September.
Alternatively you can pay a visit on an independent tour with an itinerary designed just for you. What else can you see in North Korea? Download Koryo Tours' free 75-page guide to the country for a full list and follow the Koryo Tours Blog for in-depth descriptions.
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