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Film Review on Kimjongilia Essay (Movie Review)

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Updated: Apr 1st, 2019

Kimjongilia is a documentary film directed by Heikin which features the stories of escapees and survivors of prison camps in North Korean during the dictatorship regime led by Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-iI.

It is based on various interviews taken from residents of North Korea, people of all ages and status, who had survived the Kim’s leadership era in North Korea and was forced to leave their country due to difficult, repressive conditions there and settle in nearby states, such as China and South Korea.

The escapees included prostitutes, a North Korean military, a piano performer, and a woman dancer. The film is mainly a story generated from interviews of residents who escaped dictatorship regime in North Korea between 1992 and 2006.

Actually, the term ‘Kimjongilia’ is a flower which was created by a botanist in Japan and named after the former ruler, Kim Jong-iI, to commemorate Japanese-Korean comradeship. The flower that is frequently referred to in the film symbolizes peace, justice, love, and wisdom.

The documentary film focuses on the cruelty of the North Korean despotism and the hopeless status which the residents of North Korea, the people who experienced oppression and starvation every day, had.

The movie also interviewed a victim and defector of the Kim era, Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in camp 14 and narrates the tales of his unfavorable experiences at this maximum security camp established by Kim government.

Most people who existed in this regime, like Shin’s parents, were killed in the camp, but Shin was lucky to survive long enough to break away eventually from this camp and settled in the neighboring country.

One exciting story which is encountered in the movie was the way a former North Korean Army commander waited for around 10 years planning to run away from Kim regime due to the manner in which Kim regime was doing to his country.

The commander eventually ran away through sailing a small boat 300 miles to Incheon as he avoids the government’s patrol which was guarding the sea. He was accompanied by his family members because he was worried that they may become separated if they attempt to defect through China.

His effort to escape was successful and he is an honest detractor of the Kim government. He stated that when the Kim system ends, he would be prepared to return to North Korea immediately to support restructure his country.

Through the information, assistance, interviews, and informative dance of North Korean outlandish representatives, which are provided by the film, the viewers are informed about the facts which they are already aware of.

They are told that Kim Jong-iI, the dictator with black bouffant, was among the world cruelest dictators who were on the loose. He seemed to be insane and acquired a reputation of being a ruthless tyrant which will be passed on to the next generations.

The director, Heikin, reflects her vision of the ‘Dear Leader’ in a creative and passionate way that changes unhappy facts into an entirely important realm. The film narrates about a woman who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in China and tells also about a boy who was taken to a camp at the age of nine since his grandfather had been found guilty for political crime.

A woman who died due to fever was taken into China by her brother who was afterward murdered attempting to return to North Korea to provide food for his parents due to severe hunger which most people were experiencing in Kim regime.

The film also tells about a pianist who stated that he was forced to perform common tasks and surrender his music. The film exposed how Kim regime would target the whole family of defectors and penalize at least one member of that family at a time, including brothers, sisters, and at times more distant relatives.

The film also talks about the way Kim Il-sung acquired the leadership in North Korea and inheritance of the power by his son Kim Jong-iI. The movie narrates an appealing story of human’s heartbreaking and the way the entire country started suffering from almost every event and activities taken by the dictator.

North Korea requested for international support because its citizens were experiencing severe hunger due to poor leadership.

As North Koreans are experiencing unthinkably great sufferings, China barely obtains a status of state abiding human rights because of the way it handles escapees entering into the country. The movie shows that North Korean women are sold regularly into white slavery and all the refugees face brutal torture. For example, Kim Cheol-woong talks about hours of torments to which Chinese officers subjected him.

Some scenes are actually more frightening than some horror films’ ones. It is unbearable to watch huge population participating on a parade, raising the flags, singing and glorifying the leader whom nobody likes and everybody fears, but still keeps on praising. These scenes portray fear and horror which North Koreans are experiencing, and this is really scary to appear in such a situation.

The shocking story from the documentary film does not only portray the expected horror of sufferings, killings, malnutrition and torture, but also shows the regular brainwashing which formed a superhuman personality cult of the country’s rulers and keeps the whole country ignorant of the situation in the outside world.

This is the situation which Heikin strengthens through the addition of alternative archival material, mainly the films of propaganda and recordings of the citizenship pageantry in the country.

The moviemaker provides several recordings of the interviews, but very little archival data of the North Korea itself. The viewers are left to figure out the conditions of the country, apart from the interviews which are represented in the film. Performance art reveals the emotions and reactions on the things narrated by the escapees and survivors in their stories.

It was a very imaginative solution to this issue, and I admire the manner in which Heikin covers the identities of the victims of the North Korean regime. Some interviewees are frightened that the government may recognize them when talking about the conditions in the country and testifying against its leaders. The director uses effective methods to cover their identities.

The extreme close-ups are applied throughout the film, thus tearful eyes, gasping mouth, and moving hands appear on the screen during their interviews. This approach is very effective in protecting identities of the subjects.

The movie depicts a clear case of how people of the same nation and culture can have different views and behaviors and these bring about overwhelming outcomes. Some interviewees comment that if these conditions carry on for another ten years, the entire nation might collapse.

I agree with their opinion because the situation in North Korea is really disastrous. Emphasized by Heikin’s devices, the horrors of life of both the survivors of the North Korean prison camps and the escapees prove this statement.

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1. IvyPanda. "Film Review on Kimjongilia." April 1, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/film-review-on-kimjongilia/.


IvyPanda. "Film Review on Kimjongilia." April 1, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/film-review-on-kimjongilia/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Film Review on Kimjongilia." April 1, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/film-review-on-kimjongilia/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Film Review on Kimjongilia'. 1 April.

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