Starring: Pak Mi-hyan, Kim Jin-mi, Kim Yeong-suk
Director: Jang In-hak
Running Time: 94 mins
The Schoolgirl’s Diary is a North Korean film about a high school girl who encounters several personal and family crises as she works her way to becoming a great scientist, but suffers as a result her father’s lack of time at home.
If you’ve seen any North Korean movies before, you’ll know that pretty much all of them tell stories that embody almost complete perfection, with the only struggle that characters face being that of working to become better people, and doing whatever they can for the good of their nation.
The Schoolgirl’s Diary, however, is in stark contrast to that typically stale perfection, something that proves rather refreshing when looked at against other North Korean films. Inevitably, it’s still full of typical nationalistic messages, and as a drama in and of itself on an international stage, it’s not all that impressive, but the fact that there’s actual dramatic conflict in the film is really surprising to see, and makes for an interesting, albeit not quite enthralling watch.
The story of this film focuses on the life of a high school girl and her various struggles, most of which are due to her father never being at home. As you’d expect, it’s because of his work that he’s never at home, but unlike many films that give a critical perspective on fathers being away from their families for so long, this film flips that entire concept in a way that you’ll only see in North Korea.
That’s where the most stereotypically North Korean elements of the film come in, as it suggests that our young lead must stop being so selfish and learn that her father’s work (as a scientist in a government programme) is for the betterment of the nation, and he’s as such not entirely at fault for the fact that he’s not at home.
However, the really weird thing about this story is that as a result of his actions, his family is pretty much miserable. The film does admit he’s not entirely blameless, but its perspective on switching the fault away from him is really strange to see, as it firmly places country above family happiness and stability in every way, to the point where we see a young girl go through a multitude of personal crises and a mother end up bed-ridden with illness in exchange for loyalty to the country.
So, it’s fair to say that this film doesn’t really have its morals quite in check, and that’s possibly why it was ultimately banned in North Korea itself, simply because it shows that working hard for the country comes at the cost of a happy family.
However, it’s that very element that made me so interested in this film, simply because there is a lot of dramatic conflict on display, where we see some negative things actually happening.
In comparison to the best dramas in cinematic history, this still doesn’t look all that great, but The Schoolgirl’s Diary does actually have quite a lot of emotion and dramatic depth on display, and that makes it a far, far more interesting watch than the typically robotic propaganda pieces that most North Korean movies are, as we see really character growth and development alongside a story with ups and downs and even some proper unpredictability.
If this weren’t a North Korean film, then it wouldn’t have that same strange appeal, given the fact that it’s generally a fairly unenthralling drama, largely due to poor pacing and its dodgy morals, but it’s the fact that it’s so different to what 99% of the country’s movies are all about that makes it so striking, and that’s why I’m giving The Schoolgirl’s Diary a 6.9 overall.