The Name Given By The Era - a film review

We had the chance recently, thanks to a DPRK film screening by Koryo Group, to see this awkwardly translated film that ironically illustrates the issues with imploring people to work when the only incentives are national, ideological ones. In this 2009 film Jin Ok receives a university affiliation letter after her service in the army. But instead of hitching a ride on the social-mobility train, she goes to the construction site of Hungbong Youth Power Station on Kumjin River. Why does she volunteer to work in a sector involving arduous jobs, giving up her long-cherished dream of studying in the university? Well, the short answer is ideological purity. The longer answer and central tale of the film is that she was inspired by the memory of a self-sacrificing, hard-working exemplar, who gave her life saving a drowning girl.

The film is interesting from a development standpoint for a couple reasons. On the surface it fits in with the Stakhavonite "everybody-work-harder-and-be-amazing!" line that North Korea still very much leans on. Last year's incarnation was, of course, that everything be done at "Masikryong Speed", referencing the ski resort that had to be completed by the time Dennis Rodman arrived, or some such.

A key moment in the film, however, is when the protagonist inspires everyone to work amazingly hard to provide dirt for concrete making for a key dam construction project that will bring glory to the nation and electricity to the people. These workers by hand outproduce the team with mechanical diggers. Oh yeah, you read that right - With just their hands, passion and patriotism they beat trucks.

The problem is that they messed up and dug out the wrong kind of soil. Soil that was unsuited to making clay for making concrete for making a dam. Or something. I'm not an engineer. I don't understand why it didn't work. Point is, neither did the work team. And all their efforts were in vain, the material was unusable.

Ultimately, her sacrificing spirit wins the day, but the huge setbacks caused by passion and fervor are a reminder that there might be better ways to get things done. Passion, purity and politics have their limitations. Indeed, when they are substituted for expertise and incentives, much waste occurs. For more on some of the problems that stem from looking for miracle solutions, check out this article on NKNews by Tatiana Gabroussenko.

Overall, the film suffers from the main problem of non-war era films from North Korea: there's no antagonist. The bad guy is essentially "not working hard enough" and when the protagonist has no real flaws to overcome, it makes for pretty dull viewing.