In Korea there is a saying ‘over mountains…are mountains’ and as film plots go this is one that takes the protagonist from a bad situation to a worse one. Most of the film depicts a series of utterly demoralizing events, but the heroine still perseveres with her attempts to find a better way for herself and her family. If you think you have been having a tough time recently, take a look at the plot for poor Kkoppun and you might start skipping!
The film is based on the ‘immortal classic’ The Flower Girl, reportedly a play created by North Korean President Kim Il Sung during the anti-Japanese revolutionary struggle (the period of Japanese occupation from 1910-45). The film was shot ‘under the guidance’ of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and the Koreans are happy to point out that it not only won the ‘special prize’ it also won the ‘special medal’ in the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival of former Czech-Slovakia in 1972. It is actually very watchable, providing you have a large box of tissues to hand and a local florist to be kind to after the screening.
The Flower Girl is the only DPRK movie that can be considered to be at all well-known outside of the country as it was screeded throgout China in cinemas and on television in the 1970s as well as performed on many occasions by visiting revolutionary opera troupes from North Korea. A great many older people and those who grew up during the Cultural Revolution in the PRC remember the film fondly, both for it’s high production values and theme tune but also as the representations of the miserable life of those living under oppressive and craven landlords in the 1930s during the period of Japanese occupation was a common theme in revolutionary China at the same time.
Kkoppun sells flowers to earn money for medicine for her mother who has fallen sick from overwork as a slave of evil landlord Pae. In spite of her devotion, her mother dies, lamenting the deplorable world and leaving behind Kkoppun and her little sister Sun Hui who was blinded by the cruelty of the landlady. Kkoppun sets out on a long journey to see her brother who was unjustly thrown into prison years before. She arrives only to hear that her brother is dead. In a bit of a state she returns home only to find her little blind sister Sun Hui, has gone missing, lured away by the landlord Pae. She tries to get her back but is severely beaten and locked up. We now have a slice of good news, her brother Chol Ryong is not dead!! In fact he is well and truly alive and escaped from prison to joinn the Korean Revolutionary Army. He stops over at a mountain hut near the village where he finds Sun Hui who was rescued from death by the owner of the hut. He encourages the villagers to finish off the landlord (and his minions) and in doing so saves her sister Kkoppun. All is well, and she follows her brother in joining the anti-Japanese revolutionary struggle led by none other than Kim Il Sung.
POSTER OF THE FLOWER GIRL Note the reference to the ‘immortal classical masterpiece’. The poster was to promote the film to a non- aligned/international socialist audience. (Koryo Studio Collection)
In 2005, Mo Yan, who in 2012 won the Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote a remarkable brief memoir for Le Monde in which he described what he calls “an event that I’ve never forgotten and that remains tied to today’s political and social life”—and it was a movie that he saw in 1973, “The Flower Girl,”, The following is taken from the New Yorker:
All adult North Koreans will have seen this movie and a large group statue exists at the entrance to the Pyongyang Film Studios depicting the DPRK’s Great Leader with the cast and crew of this very film, clearly establishing it as the most important movie ever made in North Korea.
Hong Yong Hui, the lead actress who played Kkoppun, after appearing on stage at the 2008 Pyongyang International Film Festival – Nicholas Bonner starstruck whilst Hong plays it cool. In addition to being frequently screened, this story is also the most popular of the five Revolutionary Operas in DPRK, and is performed frequently in Pyongyang and other cities around the country.
Postcard sets of the revolutionary opera Flower Girl
The book ‘Adapted from the Revolutionary Opera The Flower Girl. A Full score of “The Flower Girl”. We purchased the book and DVD in Pyongyang but have yet to turn any of the 574 pages of muscial notation. It would be a bit of a struggle, but as the saying goes, ‘over mountains are mountains’.
The charming soundtrack fits the pathos of the film completely and every North Korean will know the tune and most likely be willing to sing the chorus to you. If you want to conduct it yourself Koryo Studio has the oversized music score in book form.