Starring: Hong Yong-hee, Kim Ren-rin, Ru Hu-nam
Director: Choe Ik-kyu
Running Time: 122 mins
The Flower Girl is a North Korean film about a young woman living in Japanese-occupied Korea struggling to provide for her ailing mother, as she is left alone after the death of her brother and the arrest of her father.
You may not have heard of this film before, but The Flower Girl is one of the most famous and legendary movies in North Korean culture, so much so that the lead actress used to feature on one of the country’s banknotes in the guise of her role here. However, being legendary in North Korea doesn’t automatically mean something’s good, and that’s unfortunately the case with The Flower Girl, an exceedingly dull, slow and melodramatic film that drags heavily from beginning to end.
The biggest problem that I had with this film was the fact that it just doesn’t have the necessary energy or passion to really grab you. Of course, its central theme is one that’s more passionate about propaganda, rather than something that’s more relatable on a global scale, but there’s not all that much else to really wrap you up in a story that did actually have the potential to bring some good drama to light.
The plot takes place during the notoriously brutal Japanese occupation of Korea, a story that clearly has ample opportunity to show the horrors and injustices committed by the occupiers against innocent Koreans over so many years. With the exception of one rather strong scene, the majority of this film doesn’t have anywhere near the depth or darkness to grab you with that theme, striking me as a real missed opportunity for the film to be a little more all-encompassing.
As well as lacking a relatable passion, the film is also really lacking in energy throughout. Of course, a film doesn’t have to be lightning quick to keep my attention, but right from the beginning, The Flower Girl ambles about as it slowly moves between personal drama and grandiose musical, never managing to establish a strong pace or consistency in the structure of the film at any point throughout.
The musical element of the film proves even more frustrating, since the songs are largely indistinguishable – and often exactly the same – and interrupt any flow of interesting storytelling by attempting to heighten the drama through song.
If there are positives to be found from The Flower Girl, it can be said that the film is a fairly pretty one, with vibrant colours, costumes and settings emphasising the character of the Korean people in comparison to the dark and rigid Japanese occupiers, while there is a small sense of elegance that comes about in the musical breaks, even though they do prove jarring and frustrating in the wider context of the film’s flow.
Overall, I found this film too dull to really find any intrigue in. Yes, it’s a movie that’s clearly aimed at North Korean viewers, and its central themes feel far too much like propaganda than anything simpler and more relatable, while it also misses the opportunity to prove a powerful and sobering depiction of the brutality of the Japanese occupation, making its incredibly slow two-hour runtime feel like it drags on for an absolute eternity, and that’s why I’m giving The Flower Girl a 5.2.