The Flower Girl (꽃파는 처녀) is a 1972 film from North Korea. Yes, North Korea.
The film is set in the 1930s during the Japanese occupation of Korea. The plot follows the story of Kotpun (Hong Yong-hee) a young woman who sells flowers in the streets of her village. Her mother, a widow, is effectively a slave, trapped into unending service to the evil Pae family. Mr. and Mrs. Pae are the local landowners, who exploit and oppress the villagers, and who are collaborators with the Japanese. If that's not a sad enough life for Kotpun, her mother is dying. And if that's not sad enough, her brother Chol-ryong has been rotting in a Japanese prison camp for years. And if that isn't sad enough, her little sister, Sun Hui, is blind.
The Flower Girl was based on an opera supposedly written by Kim Il-sung. That probably isn't true, but it is known that his son, cinephile Kim Jong-il, began his involvement in the North Korean film industry by producing this movie. It might be the best film ever made in North Korea, although that is likely an Overly Narrow Superlative given the limitations of cinema in a dirt-poor Stalinist dictatorship. It was iconic enough that a picture of Hong Yong-hee as Kotpun used to be on the North Korean one-won note◊.
- As You Know: Helpful exposition from a fortune teller that Kotpun visits in the first scene.Fortune teller: Father's dead, brother's in prison. What's more, mother's sick. What a pity. And got a blind sister?
- Blade-of-Grass Cut: Many closeups of flowers.
- Capitalism Is Bad: Most of the movie is a portrait of the Paes, the landowners, as being thoroughly evil capitalist oppressors. This becomes overt at the end, when Chol-ryong urges the villagers to rise up and fight the capitalists.
- Les Collaborateurs: The Paes are in bed with the Japanese occupiers.
- Deus ex Machina:
- Kotpun's brother Chol-ryong, though to be dead, turns up out of nowhere in the last 15 minutes. He's been fighting with the anti-Japanese resistance for the last two years.
- One might have expected that poor little Sun Hui might have frozen to death after a Mook dumps her in the snowy mountains, since she's a small child who is blind. Luckily a hermit who lives in a nearby cabin just happened to be in the immediate vicinity.
- Empathic Environment: A thunderstorm breaks out when Mom dies.
- Flashback: One reveals that little Sun Hui was blinded when Mrs. Pae threw a pot of hot water at her in a fit of rage.
- Good Hair, Evil Hair: The Japanese officer dining with the Paes has a Hitler mustache.
- Heroic BSoD: Kotpun shuts down for a while after being told her brother is dead.
- Indentured Servitude: "I'm a slave in debt", says Kotpun's mother, who is stuck slaving for the Paes because she can't pay off her debt.
- Innocent Flower Girl: Yep. Loves her mom and her sister. Walks 175 km one way to visit her brother's prison camp.
- Match Cut: Some match cuts in the ending montage compare Kotpun handing out flowers to activists handing out communist literature, as the song sings of "the red flower of revolution".
- Melodrama: Lots of tragedy, death, weeping.
- Narrator: One pops up from time to time to provide exposition, like when explaining that the dude who just appeared is Kotpun's brother.
- Opera: Songs from the original opera are heard throughout the film.
- La Résistance: Chol-ryong has been with the anti-Japanese guerillas. North Koreans who went to see this movie would obviously know that Kim Il-sung was an anti-Japanese guerilla leader.
- Rousing Speech: The propaganda becomes very overt at the end, when Chol-ryong delivers a speech urging the villagers to rise up and fight the power."Villagers!....we should restore our country and build a new society without landlords and capitalists. To clothe, feed, and educate those poor children, we should all unite and make revolution!"
- Say My Name: "OOOOOOOOOOOOPPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA" (oppa, "brother"), says Kotpun, upon being told by the prison guards that her brother died in jail. Hilariously intercut with scenes of ocean waves crashing against the shore.
- Scenery Porn: The acting is mostly wooden, and the plot is cliche-filled, but visually the film is just lovely. There are some stunning color shots of the North Korean countryside.
- Street Performer: A violinist occasionally plays in the village. He briefly forms an act with Sun Hui before a mortified Kotpun puts a stop to it.
- Tearjerker: Well, how about a movie where a blind little girl crawls to her dead mother on her hands and knees, crying "Mama, here's medicine!"? That's pretty sad, right?
- Torches and Pitchforks: A rare heroic example. The Paes go too far when they do something nefarious with Sun Hui and then kidnap poor Kotpun. The townspeople rise up, attack the Pae estate, and massacre them. The scene where the villagers are carrying torches through the darkness is one of several beautiful shots in the film.
- Trauma Conga Line: Goodness. In the backstory, Kotpun's father is dead, her mother is ill, her brother is in jail and her sister is blind. Over the course of the movie, her mother dies, she is informed that her brother died, and her sister disappears.
- Victorian Novel Disease: Mom is dying of, well, she's dying of something.
- Witch Doctor: The Paes hire one when Mrs. Pae is prostrated by migraines. The witch doctor tells them that they need to cleanse an evil spirit that's coming from the southwest. That happens to be the direction of the hill where Sun Hui has been going to cry for her lost sister.
- Working on the Chain Gang: When Kotpun finally completes her cross-country trek to the Japanese prison camp, she finds Korean men in chains, building a railroad.