Shooting Film Stars With Love

The first time a North Korea photographer has been commissioned on an art project, the first time a North Korean photographers work is for sale and the country’s first time to allow their film stars to be shown to the outside world.

Throughout 2021 and 2022, North Korea’s most famous actors headed out to the Korean film studio for a photographic shoot of the films they had starred in. Unpaid and in their own time they were doing it to support Koryo Tours & Studio, a western company that has worked with them for decades. The results of photographer Kim Gwang Hun’s most amazing shoot are below, available in limited edition.

 

"The ever resourceful Nick Bonner from Koryo Tours has pulled off a cultural coup from North Korea, which has been tightly shut to all visitors for two years. He has arranged that a series of portraits were taken of North Korea's most celebrated film stars, and these were shot by North Korean art photographer. The results are charming , the sense of melodrama, which is a North Korean trait, can be seen in these unique images.".

Martin Parr, Magnum photographer, April 2022

Photograph prints for Sale

10 Paired Sets:

Photographs are professionally ink jet printed on Hahnemühle Photo Rag 308 gsm, museum quality photographic paper Each print has a 2cm white margin embossed with the Koryo Studio seal.

PAIRED SETS:

22 x 32cm, limited edition of 100 prints: €260

30 x 44cm, limited edtion of 50 prints: €430

42 x 60cm limited edition of 10 prints available on request .

The pairs can be split and sold as singles. *Postage from €30

SET 1: Small House at the Forefront (2013). Actor Choe Yong Ho, age 43: “My wife knows that I am often in character for a period of time, even at home!”

SET 2: Insam Diggers in the Year of Imjin (2018). RI Hyang Suk, age 39: “I would like to act in quite a different role in a comedy or as a bad woman.”

SET 3: A Flower Girl (1972) Actor Hong Yong Hui, age 66: “For the first time in my life I became a heroine. The film became a big hit in Korea and in China, and made people cry with passion.”

SET 4: A Diploma of Graduation (2016). Actor Pak Su Hyang, age 34: “I would like to act in historical movies or in a movie which greatly changes the imagination of the audience.”

SET 5: Footprints of Military Service (2016). Actor Choe Yong Ho, age 43: “I would like to act as hero of a historical movie or detective film because I feel rather typecast.”

SET 6: My Family (2010). Actor Yun Hyang Chun, age 35: “Nowadays more lead roles like this are available, where women represent strong figures with strong moral compasses.”

SET 7: Mother’s Happiness (2003). Actor Ri Sol Hui, age 58: “I hope I can persuade others to follow a constructive path, with strong morals of putting others before oneself.”

SET 8: Bulletproof Wall (2015). Actor Ku Song Bok, age 33: “My size and face makes me perhaps stand out more than others so I get parts in which I can play the hero or even the enemy.”

SET 9: Kite Flying in the Sky (2008). Actor Kim Sun, age 55: My coat is not the original costume… I wanted to be in rather bright colours for the photograph as I have become old!”

SET 10: A Flower Girl (1972) At 16 years old actor Hong Yong Hui played the lead role of Ggot Bun, now aged 66 she remains the country’s most famous star.

6 Portraits:

Photographs are professionally ink jet printed on Hahnemühle Photo Rag 308 gsm, museum quality photographic paper. Each print has a 2cm white margin and is numbered and embossed with the Koryo Studio seal.

SINGLE PORTRAIT:

22 x 32cm, limited edtion of 100 prints: €130

30 x 44cm, limited edtion of 50 prints: €240

*Larger limited edition prints available on request. *Postage from €30

PORTRAIT 1:Punishment’ (2012) Actor Jo Gi Myong, age 40: “I love acting, sometimes I get lost in the role I am playing, if it is a spy I even act a little like it in life.”
PORTRAIT 2: Punishment” (2012). Director Jong Jin Yong, age 53: “As a director I can only smile twice: once when I get a good script, and once when we have finished the shoot.”
PORTRAIT 3: Punishment (2012). Actor Kim Hyok Sin, age 33: “I would like to have the opportunity to act in a comedy, to give pleasure to the people.”

PORTRAIT 4: Insam Diggers in the Year of Imjin (2018). Actor Ri Hyang Suk, age 39:“ Sometimes I had to act from dawn until late in the evening and that caused me to confuse the lines I had to say in the film.”

PORTRAIT 5: Footprints of Military Service (2016). Choe Yong Ho, age 43: “There is no greater honour for an actor than to be cast in the role of a member of the armed forces.”

PORTRAIT 6: My Family (2010). Actor Kim Ryon Hwa, age 53: “I have a long life in film already and have been fortunate not to get stuck playing one role over and over.”

10 Paired sets

Set 1

Photographs recreated from the film, Small House at the Forefront (2013) produced by the Korean April 25 Film Studio. Actor Choe Yong Ho (43), “I play the hero in Footprints of Military Service and am once again cast in a military story but this time in the role of military doctor Tae Ung. My wife knows thatI am often in character for a period of time, even at home!”.

The majority of films produced by the Korean April 25 Film Studio are military themed.

Set 2

Photographs recreated from the TV drama Insam Diggers in the Year of Imjin (2018) produced by the Korean TV Studio Actress Ri Hyang Suk (39), graduated from Pyongyang University of Dramatic and Cinematic Arts in 2003, now works as an actress at the TV studio. She has acted in more than 20 dramas in roles ranging from student to nurse. She plays the role of Dal Sil, wife of an insam (ginseng) digger.

“I practticed Taekwondo as a schoolgirl and still find I have the moves. I have played many roles, recently in the 10-part series Glow of the North (2017) where I play the part of an engineer named Jong A. In the near future I would like to act in quite a different role in a comedy or as a bad woman”

Set 3

Photographs recreated from the film A Flower Girl (1972) produced by the Korean Feature Film Studio
Actress Hong Yong Hi (66). Awarded the highly prestigious title of ‘People’s Artist’, Hong played the lead role of Kkoppun in the film A Flower Girl (the most important film in North Korea film history). Following this role, Hong remained as an actress at the Korean Feature Film Studio. She wants to act in parts which suit her age.

Director Chon Yong Min (72). Served as assistant director on A Flower Girl and has directed more than 40 films himself. He graduated from Pyongyang University of Dramatic and Cinematic Art in 1975 and is still working as a director.

“After graduating from university, I came to the film studio and I was given the chance to play the lead role in a film entitled A Flower Girl. For the first time in my life I became a heroine. The film became a big hit in Korea and in China, and made people cry with passion. At that time, I acted with a lot of help from my seniors and teachers from my university days. I was not skillful in acting because I was a beginner. Looking at new actors or actresses it reminds me of my young days as an actress. I’m old now, that’s why I’m not as energetic as young actors – but I do have experience. I learn creative passion from them and they learn acting skills from me.”

Set 4

Photographs recreated from the film A Diploma of Graduation (2016) produced by the Korean Feature Film Studio

Heroine Pak Su Hyang (34), graduated from Pyongyang University of Dramatic and Cinematic Art in 2013 and is now working as an actress at the Korea Feature Film Studio. In the film she plays military officer Rim Kum Pok.

“I would like to act in historical movies or in a movie which greatly changes the imagination of the audience. For example, the audience thinks of her as a bad woman but she proves to be good at the end.”

Director Kim Chon Ung (50).
Kim has directed five films and worked as assistant director for 18 more. He wants to direct historical movies.

Cinematographer Ri Gwang Il (45),
Ri graduated from Pyongyang University of Dramatic and Cinematic Arts in 2009 and is working as a cameraman at Korean Feature Film Studio. He would like to shoot a film which shows the beautiful lives of the people.

Set 5

Photographs recreated from the film Footprints of Military Service (2016) produced by the Korean April 25 Film Studio.
Choe Yong Ho (43), graduated from Pyongyang University of Dramatic and Cinematic Arts in 1996 and has been working as an actor at the April 25 Film Studio ever since.

“I have played the roles of a soldier, military officer, military doctor and captain in over 15 films. However, I would like to act as hero of a historical movie or detective film because I feel rather typecast.” In Footprints of Military Service he plays the part of soldier Choe Sang Min.

Director Kim Won Ha (57), has directed more than 10 films including parts of the long running drama Nation and Destiny. He graduated from Pyongyang University of Dramatic and Cinematic Art in 1991 and has been working as a director at Korean April 25

Feature film studio. “I would like to direct a film on self-reliance as this is the requirement of the current time.”

Set 6

Photographs recreated from My Family (2010) produced by Korean April 25 Film Studio
Heroine Yun Hyang Chun (35), graduated from the acting department at the Pyongyang University of Dramatic and Cinematic Arts in 2006 and has been working as an actress at the April 25 Film Studio since then. In the film My Family she plays Sun Hi, the wife of a soldier.

“I have acted in nine films in various roles, from the housewife of a soldier to a weaver. I prefer acting in historical films, but one role I would like is to play a policewoman. Nowadays more lead roles like this are available, where women represent strong figures with moral compasses.”

Set 7

Photographs recreated from the film Mother’s Happiness (2003) produced by the Korean April 25 Film Studio
Heroine Ri Sol Hi (58). Rewarded with the title of ‘People’s Artist’. Ri studied medicine at university in the early 1980s but soon after graduation she was selected to act in the film Song of Love, her first role and a story set in the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital. She changed professions to become an actress at the April 25 Film Studio, and then studied at the University of Dramatic and Cinematic Arts from 1994 for four years and returned to the studio to act again. She has appeared in over thirty films in various roles. In Mother’s Happiness she plays the role of the mother of solider sons. She wanted to play the role of a woman who is diligent and lives by her own effort.

“I had a useful life ahead of me in medicine, but also by acting I hope I can persuade others to follow a constructive path, with strong morals of putting others before oneself, and sacrificing for the common good.”

Set 8

Photographs recreated from the film Bulletproof Wall (2015) produced by the Korea TV Drama Studio

Actor Ku Song Pok (33), has appeared in more than ten dramas as a military veteran, spy, and recently in the TV drama Glow of North (2017, 10 parts).
“My size and face makes me perhaps stand out more than others so I get parts in which I can play the hero or even the enemy. In the future I would like to act as a public prosecutor in a dignified role”.

Director Om Chang Gol (58), graduated from Pyongyang University of Dramatic and Cinematic Arts in 1986 and has been working at the TV company since then. Om has directed six television dramas including the eight part series Frontier Gate and the very successful fourteen part Bulletproof Wall.

“I loved making these series because of the sensitivity of the characters I could develop over time. I still want to direct dramas which include themes of saving the lives of the whole country and its people which can be seen as Black sword vs Red sword” – symbolically this represents the confrontaLon against the enemy, the red sword is the one which protects.

Set 9

Photographs recreated from the film Kite Flying in the Sky (2008) produced by the Korean Feature Film Studio

Heroine Kim Sun (55), graduated from Pyongyang University of Dramatic and Cinematic Arts in 1988 and is currently working as actress at the feature film studio. She plays the role of housewife So Yon. She has acted in more than twenty films including Souls Protest and The Forest is Swaying. In a future role she wants to act as a businesswoman.

“My coat in this photo is not the original costume I used in the film. I wanted to be in rather bright colours for the photograph as I have become old!”

Set 10

Scan of the original film poster and photograph recreated from the film A Flower Girl (1972) produced by the Korean Feature Film Studio.

Actor Hong Yong Hui (66). At 16 years old she played the lead role in A Flower Girl. The poster is reproduced from a scan of the original 1972 offset lithograph print and is an iconic image, recognised by all North Koreans. The film was loved in North Korea & also China during the Cultural Revolution. The film influenced Mo Yan, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature:
“The film had filled the sentimental void of the Chinese and awakened in them the desire for normal sentiments. We weren’t crying over the tragic destiny of a young girl who sold flowers, but, rather, over ourselves and our country. The screening of this film in China was a considerable political event. It was the sign of the total failure of the Great Cultural Revolution that Mao Zedong had unleashed. The tears had washed the eyes of the people, had allowed them to draw the lessons from this tragedy, and they started to hope for a normal life.”

 6 portraits

 

Photographs are professionally ink jet printed on Hahnemühle Photo Rag 308 gsm, museum quality photographic paper. Each print has a 2cm white margin and is numbered and embossed with the Koryo Studio seal.

SINGLE PORTRAIT:

20 x 30cm limited edition of 100 prints: 150 euro

28 x 42cm limited edition of 50 prints: 240 euro

*42 x 60cm limited edition of 10 prints available on request

*Postage from 30 euro

Portrait 1

PORTRAIT 1: recreated from ‘Punishment’ (2012) produced by TV Drama Studio.

Actor Jo Gi Myong, (40) served in the army and has been working as an actor since 2010. She had roles in three dramas as a spy and military officer. In Punishment she plays both the spy Song Jin Yong and her alto ego Song Gum.

“I love acting, sometimes I get lost in the role I am playing, if it is a spy I even act a little like it in life. If I am shopping I find myself trying to remain observant and careful, not wanting to stand out.”

Portrait 2

PORTRAIT 2: recreated from Punishment (2012) produced by the Drama Studio.

Director Jong Jin Yong (53), graduated from university in 1991 and has directed seven dramas. His specialty is detective dramas, but now he wants to direct a visionary film which reflects the normal life of the people and their dreams of a bright future.

“As a director I can only smile twice: once when I get a good script, and once when we have finished the shoot.”

Portrait 3

PORTRAIT 3: recreated from Punishment (2012) produced by the TV Drama Studio.

Heroine Kim Hyok Sin (33), graduated from university in 2008 and has played roles including police officer, teacher, and journalist in more than ten TV dramas.

“I would like to have the opportunity to act in a comedy, to give pleasure to the people.”

Portrait 4

PORTRAIT 4: recreated from the TV drama Insam Diggers in the Year of Imjin (2018) produced by the Korean TV Studio.

Actor Ri Hyang Suk (39), graduated from Pyongyang University of Dramatic and Cinematic Arts in 2003, now working at the TV studio. She has acted in more than 20 dramas in roles ranging from student to nurse. In this drama she plays the role of Dal Sil, wife of an insam (ginseng) digger.

“Sometimes I had to act from dawn until late in the evening and that caused me to confuse the lines I had to say in the film. Many people don’t understand how hard filmmaking can be.”

Portrait 5

PORTRAIT 5: recreated from Footprints of Military Service (2016) produced by the Korean April 25 Film Studio.

Choe Yong Ho (43), graduated from Pyongyang University of Dramatic and Cinematic Arts in 1996 and has been working as an actor at the April 25 Film Studio ever since.

“Korean people hold our soldiers in the highest regard. So there is no greater honour for an actor than to be cast in the role of a member of the armed forces.”

Portrait 6

PORTRAIT 6: recreated from My Family (2010).

Actor Kim Ryon Hwa (53). A veteran performer who has appeared in more than fifty films in roles as diverse as chairwoman of a cooperative farm, shoe repair woman and police officer.

“I have a long life in film already and have been fortunate not to get stuck playing one role over and over. I wish to continue my career for many more years, and to appear in every different type of film.”

 The Photographer

 

Kim Gwang Song (age 42)
Kim graduated from the Pyongyang University of Fine Arts in 2002. He has since been working as photographer at Korfilm, North Korea’s main film production company. The cameras he used are a Canon 5D and Nikon D 810.

‘I have worked with Nicholas Bonner photographing his documentary films and ‘Comrade Kim goes Flying'. We know he wanted to photograph the actors and actresses in the films they featured in, but this has been difficult to arrange until now. We managed to mobilise actors and crew from all three film studios: Korean Film Studio, Korean April 25 Film Studio, and the Korea TV Drama Studio. This was a serious commitment for me; I would be photographing not only our country’s great actors who have been photographed many times, which made me nervous, but also young actors who had not been photographed, which made them nervous... ...Film is a very passionate art and one where I feel very humbled. I suppose I was the director this time and I wanted my photography to tell a personal story of the actors. I hope that by showing these images to the world that people will become more interested in our films and our film industry. Film is a great tool for us to understand other nations for peace, independence and friendship’.

Kim Gwang Song, November 2021

The Shoot Location:

 

Photographer Kim Gwang Song arranged the shoot at the Korean Art Film Studio (조선예술영화촬영소), commonly known as Pyongyang Film Studio. During 2021 the featured performers were taken to the film studio and reunited with cinematographers and directors who had worked on some of their most famous and well-regarded films.

The Korean Art Film Studio is the home of the North Korean film industry and is located in a northern suburb of Pyongyang and was founded in 1947, with over 750,00 square metres of space designated for film making. As well as functioning as a film studio to produce multiple Korean movies, it is also open as an attraction for local and international tourists.

There are indoor studios and sound stages, but the most interesting are the exterior permanent film lots consisting of a traditional Korean village, historic Korean buildings, a 1930’s Chinese ‘Manchuria’ street, a Japanese street, a Korean street from the period before liberation, a South Korean street (complete with advertising for morally dubious products and services), and also a European village. There is also a railway station and various sets in wooded areas to represent the anti-Japanese strugglethat took place in the north of the country.

Scenes from the 18-part film series which featured several US military defectors Nameless Heroes (1978-81), were shot at the studio, as were North Korean classics such as Hong Kil Dong (1986) and North Korea’s very first film My Native Home (1949).

It is not clear exactly how many films have been produced in North Korea but certainly there have been more than five hundred. Not all films that are completed are released as final approval has to come from the leader of the country. Additionally certain films fall out of favour and are withdrawn from screening and broadcast.

Typical North Korean genres are the anti-Japanese struggle, the Korean War, and contemporary socialist-style dramas and comedies but all with a good dose of propaganda. In recent years, the production of films has slowed down, with a shift towards the shooting of tv series. In the last five years directors and producers have been re-trained in more contemporary styles with the emphasis on films being shot for entertainment.

Nicholas Bonner – Director of Koryo Tours and Studio:

 

North Korean films are guaranteed an audience ready to turn up to see whatever movie is released at any time and, as the films are loaded with political content, it is in the interest of the government to make these films popular. All cities and towns have cinemas, and rural areas are visited by travelling projectionists who arrange screenings in cooperatives farms across the nation. I have watched films in several of Pyongyang’s cinemas and the atmosphere of ‘going to the movies’ is the same as can be experienced in any country; a chance for escapism from the monotony of day-to-day life and to be entertained. The difference being that North Koreans have to take part of the day off to watch a film, as the majority of screenings are during daytime, and the only movies available are domestically produced.

Korfilm (the state-run film production company) produces an annual wall calendar featuring their film stars in a range of kitsch set-up shots; from heroic warrior stances to 1980’s fashion catalogue style poses, During the 2005 shoot of our documentary Crossing the Line I asked if it would be possible to arrange a for a portraiture shoot of the actors. I was told by the director of Korfilm that “in our country film is not a commodity” and that they were not prepared to release their prized stars to the whims of a western photographer. I changed tactics and in 2019 suggested that Kim Gwang Song, a professional North Korean photographer who we had worked with for the still shots on our feature film Comrade Kim goes Flying  if he could conduct the shoot. Again the answer was no, the authorities’ concern was that they would have no control in how images would be exhibited outside of the country. I admitted defeat.

In Spring 2021, I received a phone call from our Korean producer who I have worked with on all of our films since 2001. She knew our company was in difficulty with the virus stopping all tourism which is how we raise funds for our various cultural exchange projects. She said she had “received permission to mobilise the actors for your photo project and we will send you the photographs digitally.” The actors were volunteering to to be a part of the project but because of covid restrictions the shoot would take place throughout 2021 and spring of 2022. The files arrived and included three of the most famous actors in the country: Hong Yong Hi (A Flower Girl), Kim Sun (Kite in the Sky), and Kim Ryon Hwa (We Live Here) as well as other performers and director from different studios.

It was remarkable for our partners to receive permission to send photographs out of the country, and even more so to be given these images for our own use. A gesture of friendship and trust between film makers from very different backgrounds and cultures.

The Following Prints Are Available:

PAIRED SETS

22 x 32cm, limited edition of 100 prints: €260

30 x 44cm, limited edtion of 50 prints: €430

SINGLE PORTRAIT

20 x 30cm limited edition of 100 prints: 130 euro

28 x 42cm limited edition of 50 prints: 240 euro

LARGE PRINTS

42 x 60cm limited edition of 10 prints available – please contact us for details

 

+++POSTAGE: Standard air mail (with China Post) 30 euro per order. However, due to the coronavirus, current service from China is very slow – normally 2 months but may take up to 8 months. The artwork is well packed so it will arrive beautifully, but slowly. We offer Shunfeng International courier option, which costs 65 euro with estimated delivery time of one month. We will start shipping in late June 2022.

If the delivery fails to arrive we will refund the full cost of the artwork but do not refund postage costs.

 

Further Commissioned Works

Changgwangwon Health Complex
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North Korean Photography
Photographer Werner Kranwetvogel looking at the core elements of the Mass Games