FILMMAKER: NC Heikin
REVIEWER: Katy Jones
Films like this are so hard to review. The interview subjects are heart-wrenching, but I didn’t much care for the movie. Kimjongilia is a string of interviews from escapees from North Korea – a dozen or so former North Koreans tell a successive and never-ending wall of horror stories about what pains leader Kim Jong-Il inflicts on his people and how much these people fear for their families left inside the wall of repression that is North Korea. These stories are horrible.
We drove four hours round trip to Easton, Maryland to see this movie at the Chesapeake Bay Film Festival because it had one of the most impressive trailers I had ever seen. I left the viewing of the feature film with sense that I could have just stuck with the trailer and gotten everything that was meaningful out of this movie. The trailer had strong visuals, short and “straight to the heart” sound bites with a clear visual direction.
The feature length Kimjongilia presents the assorted soundbites and visuals with very little direction. There’s a jumble of a narrative structure. One minute someone’s losing her son, the next minute someone’s in a coma, the next someone’s sold into sexual slavery, there’s dancing, there’s a cello, you can’t figure out what’s going on. It goes on for hours. In the trailer when it was like a bullet to your heart – as a feature length film it becomes a wall of sound. And I don’t like to say it, but it becomes…boring.
So what I like about the trailer, the visual elements, I still like about the movie. It’s really hard to get cameras into North Korea (I mean, ask Euna Lee and Laura Ling what happens when a journalist accidentally steps on North Korean soil). The filmmaker had interviews with escapees, but very little footage of North Korea itself other than news and propaganda films. So to provide footage – that important stuff that goes between sound bites and over places where you had to do some splicing – she had art. Performance art interpreted the feelings of what was being told in the stories. It was a very imaginative solution to her problem. I also liked the way she hid identities. Some participants were terrified that the regime might identify them for speaking and punish their families still in North Korea. To hide identities, the filmmaker used extreme close-ups – filming a tearful eye, a gesturing hand, or a gasping mouth to fill the screen during the story. This was also clever. Over the extended length though, even these imaginative visuals became repetitive.
My end opinion was that Kimjongilia really should have been a short – a thirty minute (maximum) short film with some really tight editing would have made the narrative more focused and give the sound bites an impact instead of getting lost in a jumble. In a shorter film, the artistic elements would have really stood out instead of seeming overused. It was just too long and too unstructured. I don’t recommend the movie, but I really do recommend the trailer.
On the whole, clever visuals, amazing concept, weak storytelling.
2 out of 5 cheers