Movie Review: When We Pick Apples

Country: North Korea | Director: Yong-ho Kim | Year of Release: 1971 | Movie Review by: Ngawang Gamtso Hardy
Keywords: Movie, Direction, Propaganda, North Korea, Japan, AMerica, South Korea, Apple, Film
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The movie titled ‘When we pick an apple”  is a North Korean feature film presented on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Pukchong plenum. It was released in 1971 and starred Yong-hui Chong, Byung-ok Son, Min Hwang, and Se-Yong Kim with a run time of 102 minutes. This movie was directed by Yong-ho Kim who has directed several other North Korean movies such as, “A flourishing village”, “The fourteenth winter”, and the famous propaganda movie “Minjok Kwa unmyong 1-4 Ch’oe Hyon-dok”. This movie was produced and distributed by the Mokran video company in North Korea. It was initially released in the Korean language with the title, “Sagwa ttal ttae” and only in the year 2015 was the English subtitled version released in a DVD format. 

The film is about a woman who is back after completing her studies in a city and begins to work in Pukchong apple village which is also her hometown, to produce best quality, encouraging the villagers to join her efforts. She also works with them to develop the best techniques to preserve them and make jams out of the fallen apples. This film is in line with North Korea’s policy of no wastage of resources at the time. 

Rest assured that if one is entering the theatre expecting pure propaganda, then this movie will serve you exactly that. The film begins with a propaganda song about the leader Kim il-sung and his fatherly love along with visuals of an apple orchard and for no good reason fighter planes, and interestingly enough it ends in the same manner. It is in line with the concept of apple picking illustrated in Robert Frost’s poem, “After apple-picking” but it has a completely different feeling. The poem has a human aspect to it when the author expresses his tiredness with the day-long work whereas the lead in the film Jong Ok seems to be never tired of her hard work and overly passionate. 30 minutes into the film, it doesn’t fail to proclaim, “let’s carry through the great leader Kim Il-sung’s teachings given in the Pukchong enlarged meeting of the Presidium of the central committee of the workers’ party of Korea”. This banger not only serves as propaganda but also reminds people of the Party’s ideology and of the sacrifices of their great leader. 

Throughout the movie, Kim il-Sung is praised for his futuristic vision. Apples in this movie are used literally and metaphorically as the symbol of loyalty and the fruit of prosperity. The director’s choice of including an anecdote from a survivor of the Japanese colonial period and his suffering moves its audience. His tragic story adds pathos to the story. The apples in the movie are also used as symbols in such a way that the lead actor relates the task of growing, picking and processing the apples with the need to defeat the American and Japanese attempts to invade North Korea. Somehow taking good care of apples and focusing on community work will support the Dear Leader and ultimately help in keeping the Americans away for good is the not-so-subliminal message. 

The film also touches on the subject of poverty and suffering in South Korea and the main lead feels that she has to save them which can be done yet again by taking care of apples. The main message of the movie is to make its people feel the importance of not wasting even a single apple. The plot of the movie is simple with no suspense or twist. The camera techniques were rather advanced for the period, and the chromatic atmosphere of the film is warm and soothing. 

The director of the film has been successful in his work of propaganda and from a known North Korean point of view the use of a brief anecdote by the director was an excellent idea. Indeed the director should have continued a little longer on that story to keep the audience’s attention. The film can be summarised in a few lines as there is basically no story. If the movie is to be compared with a modern-day filming style then it may be regarded as a form of vlogging. It helps viewers to gain a deeper understanding of the extent of propaganda and gives a vision of the situation of North Korea as a whole. To be precise it helps to understand North Korean ideology and the people’s grievances against Japan.

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Ngawang Gamtso Hardy

Ngawang Gamtso Hardy is Research Fellow at India Foundation

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