Hong Kil Dong is a 1986 martial arts film from North Korea. (Yep.)
The story is based on a Korean novel written sometime in the late 16th or early 17th centuries. Hong Kil Dong is the son of Hong, the local lord, and his concubine. Lord Hong accepts Kil Dong as his son, and Lord Hong's legitimate son loves his brother, but Lord Hong's wife hates the hell out of both Kil Dong and his mother. Lord Hong's wife contrives to have young Kil Dong and his mother sent away, and then arranges for them to be waylaid by bandits while they are in transit. Kil Dong and his mother are saved by the fortuitous arrival of a local warrior monk, who fights off the bandits.
Hong Kil Dong and his mother spend years living with the old monk, who takes Kil Dong under his wing and teaches him how to be a warrior and martial arts expert. One day a grown-up Kil Dong encounters the same bandits, defeats them, and liberates their prisoner, the lovely Rim Yon Hwa. Yon Hwa's father is another lord in service of the king, so Kil Dong goes back home to claim her in marriage—but Lord Rim won't consent because Kil Dong is the son of a concubine.
Kil Dong's stepmother is still around, and she still wants him dead. And then the murderous Japanese ninjas show up.
Hong Kil Dong is the first North Korean martial arts movie. It is also unusual for its relative lack and hidden criticism of Communist/regime propaganda and policies (specifically the songbun policy), although the propaganda message is still there, and the Japanese are the bad guys as usual.
Compare Hong Gil Dong, a South Korean drama series that unsurprisingly has a very different take on the same source material.
- Arrow Catch: The monk does this when he saves young Kil Dong and his mother from the bandits. Justified, as the old monk specifically has magic powers along with being a badass martial artist.
- Audible Sharpness: There's the typical metallic sound as blades are drawn from scabbards, as well as a hilarious "clang" sound effect when swords are used in combat. Apparently even striking a wooden staff with a sword will produce a metallic "clang".
- Badass Preacher: Badass monk, in the case of the old kung fu master who teaches Kil Dong how to fight.
- The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In: Like when Kil Dong flings a knife across a yard to spear a snake on a tree.
- Blow Gun: One of the favorite weapons of the ninjas.
- But Now I Must Go: After Kil Dong and his men defeat the ninjas, the king offers him anything he wants. He asks for Yon Hwa's hand in marriage, but he still can't have her because she is highborn and he's a concubine's son. So Kil Dong leaves the kingdom, taking his mother and Yon Hwa with him, sailing away across the ocean in hopes of finding some place where they can live free of the rigid Korean class structure. This is one of the rare moments in which a North Korean film had criticized government policies. Audiences might be familiar with the songbun policy and the human rights situation in North Korea.
- Combat Parkour: Kil Dong does a lot of leaping around, especially when Japanese ninjas are flinging throwing stars at him.
- Corrupt Politician: The governor is pretty bad. Hoarding rice that he's supposed to be sending to the peasants, torturing said peasants, and oh yes, buying pretty girls to use as sex slaves. Kil Dong makes him clean up his act.
- Defeat Means Friendship: Thuk Jae swore vengeance on Kil Dong for killing his brother, but after Kil Dong defeats Thuk Jae and then spares his life, Thuk Jae decides to follow him instead. Thuk Jae becomes The Lancer. His bandit buddies then follow him, becoming Kil Dong's men.
- Distinguishing Mark: Kil Dong realizes the gang of thugs at the inn is the gang of bandits that tried to kill him years ago, after recognizing a scar on the head bandit's hand. It's where young Kil Dong bit him before he and his mother were saved by the old monk.
- Distracted by the Sexy: Yon Hwa is so pretty that Kil Dong is distracted and starts doing badly at his lessons. The old monk is not happy about this.
- Enemy Mine: Kil Dong's men, the bandits, and the government all come together to fight the ninjas.
- Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting: Kil Dong, Kil Dong's teacher, the bandits. It's a Martial Arts Movie, after all. Then the Japanese ninjas, who offer Kil Dong his stiffest opposition.
- Heroic Bastard: Kil Dong, who is a great warrior and defender of his people despite being the son of a concubine.
- High-Pressure Blood: One of the ninjas is trying to escape by crawling under some sand. One of the good guys skewers him with a spear. A jet of blood shoots up at least four feet.
- In a Single Bound: Kil Dong can leap around from tree to tree and onto roofs and such in classic kung-fu movie style.
- Just Like Robin Hood: His stepmother puts out a second contract on his life, which leads Kil Dong to leave Lord Hong's home and hit the road. When he sees how the bandits and the corrupt government both exploit and persecute the people, he starts to fight on their behalf, forcing the governor and the lords to start distributing rice to the masses. (This is where some of the propaganda seeps in.)
- Latex Perfection: A pretty surprising example. Thuk Jae is in pursuit of the ninjas. He traces them to a tavern being kept by a single old lady. Something doesn't seem right—there's a fine horse without an owner standing behind the tavern, and the old lady displays lightning-quick reflexes when she catches some falling plates. "She" then whips off a rubber mask and reveals herself to be one of the ninjas, who has laid an ambush.
- Leitmotif: In-universe. The old monk teaches Kil Dong to play the flute as well as be a martial artist. Later, when he's going around messing up all the corrupt nobles, Kil Dong has a habit of playing his own theme music before he jumps in and kicks ass. There's a pretty funny scene where the governor and his party freak out after hearing the flute, only to find that it's the governor's small son. Then they hear it again, this time from Kil Dong for real.
- A Minor Kidroduction: Starts with Kil Dong's birth, then shows his life with his mother in Lord Hong's court, then shows young Kil Dong training with the old monk.
- The Mistress: Kil Dong's mother is Lord Hong's concubine. Lord Hong's wife hates her.
- Neck Snap: Kil Dong snaps a mook's neck with his queue.
- Ninja: The "Black Group", the evil Japanese ninjas who are stealing money and kidnapping Korean women to take back home to Japan. Japanese men kidnapping Korean women to use as sex slaves was something the audience for this film was quite familiar with.
- Old Master: The old monk, who trains Kil Dong to become a martial arts master and takes out a squad of bandits single-handed. (The ability to magically freeze them helps.)
- Only a Flesh Wound: Kil Dong takes throwing stars in the arm and the leg when fighting the ninja chief, but doesn't let it slow him down. He does collapse into Yon Hwa's arms after the fight is over.
- Repeat Cut: Three quick zooms on Kil Dong's face as the bandit chief realizes who he is.
- Sex Slave: The corrupt governor bought two girls. Later, the Japanese ninjas kidnap a bunch of pretty ladies, and are preparing to put them aboard ship when Kil Dong and his men rescue them.
- Shout-Out: The scene where Kil Dong jumps up into a tree branch and hails the governor's goons is highly reminiscent of Errol Flynn greeting the Sheriff of Nottingham in The Adventures of Robin Hood.
- Training Montage: Among other things, the old monk makes Kil Dong wear weights on his legs when jumping, and has him chase after a chicken.
- Uptown Girl: Kil Dong is the son of a concubine, while Yon Hwa is the daughter of a lord. This is a problem.
- Wire Fu: Lots and lots and lots of this, in every fight scene. The final fight scene between Kil Dong and the ninja chief is the most dramatic example of leaping around via Wire Fu.
- You Killed My Father: A villainous example, as Thuk Jae the bandit swears vengeance on Kil Dong after Kil Dong kills his brother, the bandit leader, in a fight."I swore a vengeance when you killed my brother."