Flower Girl, The (1972)


Director:  Choe Ik Kyu & Pak Hak
Cast:  Han Chon Sob, Hong Yong Hui, Kim Ren Rin
Plot:  The country is occupied by the Japanese imperialists.  Koppun is selling flowers at the market to get some money to buy medicine for her sick mother.

Genre:  Drama / Musical
Awards:  -
Runtime:  127min
Rating:  PG

Screened as part of the World Cinema Series in Digital Beta format at the National Museum of Singapore.

I have never seen a film from North Korea before; I don't think many people have.  So it was the rarest of opportunities that The Flower Girl, a classic revolutionary film, got screened here with members of the North Korean embassy in attendance. 

Described by Zhang Wenjie, who curates the World Cinema Series film programme with his colleagues at the National Museum of Singapore, as "the Titanic of its time in North Korea," The Flower Girl received immense support from the communist regime, and it is hardly surprising that the themes of revolution against the militaristic Japanese in the 1930s also struck a resonant chord with the public then.

However, to think of The Flower Girl as a revolutionary film might be misleading, as it is primarily a melodrama, accompanied by long stretches of melancholic song-singing.  Revolutionary thought and propagandic intent only comes into play in the final fifth of the film, as villagers rise up to their oppressors. 

This thematic thread comes too late though, and feels rather disjointed with the main narrative about the poor girl and her family.  Its development also feels too sudden, and not given enough time to develop in a more meaningful way.  Nonetheless, The Flower Girl is as pure a melodrama as it can get, situated in the most tragic of contexts.

Koppun (Hong Yong Hui) sells flowers to earn money to get medicine for her ill and overworked mother.  She has a blind younger sister, and a brother who was arrested by the Japanese army and had not seen in years.  They are all slaves, struggling to survive and see no sign of hope for a better future. 

Their toiling is accompanied by songs, giving The Flower Girl some semblance of a musical.  The opening scene instantly reminds us of The Sound of Music (1965), a girl in the grassy plains picking flowers to a song.  Instead of the free-spirited and inspiring notes of Robert Wise's film, The Flower Girl remains somber and sad throughout.

It is excessively so.  Too excessive to the point of emotional manipulation, especially with the constant crying and lamenting, both literal and metaphorical in dialogue and song respectively. 

I must admit though that the performances are excellent – genuine and affecting in themselves, but when taken as a whole with the context and song-and-music in mind, the film turns into something way too overwhelming, at least for me, to sustain its intended dramatic effect for two hours.

Verdict:  Fine acting cannot mask the film's excessive and blatant manipulation of our emotions, however tragic the context of this melodrama.


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