North Korea is today one of the last bastions of hard-line Communism.
Its leaders have kept a tight grasp on their one-party regime, quashing any nascent opposition movements and sending all suspected dissidents to its brutal concentration camps for "re-education." Kang Chol-hwan is the first survivor of one of these camps to escape and tell his story to the world, documenting the extreme conditions in these gulags and providing a personal insight into life in North Korea. Its citizens are told their home is the greatest nation in the world, and Big Brother is always watching. Huge factories with no staff or electricity, hospitals with no patients, uniformed child soldiers, and the world-famous and eerily empty DMZ - the Demilitarized Zone, where North Korea ends and South Korea begins - are all framed by a relentless flow of regime propaganda from omnipresent loudspeakers.
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Lee Byung-woo’s string-rich score, with an entrancing flute marking the beginning and end, verges on the saccharine but provides the overt passion that largely remains hidden away in the principals’ inner souls.
A notable exception being Gong-gil’s powerful, hugely expressive last rant, where his love for Jang-saeng moves even the murderous King.
Like most auteurs, there are certain familiar and cliched phrases used to discuss the work of Hong Sang-soo, the most common of these being a variation on the idea, "all his films are the same." For instance, critic Mike D'Angelo begins his review of In Another Country (2012) by declaring: "Hong Sang-soo tends to make the same movie over and over: a multi-part story in which heavily inebriated males--usually academics or filmmakers--awkwardly woo one or more bewildered females." Similarly, in his review of Oki's Movie (2010), Nick Schager states, "it features so many elements that have calcified into the director's trademarks (solipsistic student and/or director protagonists, boozy escapades, clumsy romantic entanglements, divergent points of view, and segmented narratives) that it feels trifling at best." These statements are at once understandable and even accurate on a certain level, given the large number of repetitions of narrative and character that occur in Hong's films, while also being demonstrably false, especially in terms of visual style.
While Hong's visual style is both recognizable and seemingly familiar from film to film, it is constantly evolving and rather difficult to define.
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