The cultural offerings of Mao’s China had no room for any human relationship other than revolutionary camaraderie. There was one glaring exception – “foreign culture” in the form of North Korean movies readily permitted to the weary Chinese. Pyongyang and Beijing were close at the time, and it was not unusual to spot North Koreans in China on some obscure official business. Long after the Chinese had been allowed to dispense with their Chairman Mao badges, the giveaway was the Great Leader Kim Il-sung’s porky face on every lapel.
In an unguarded moment, a colleague joked that amongst all the world’s peoples, only the Koreans found Mao’s China a good place for a relaxing holiday. Yet in the realm of the silver screen lay a paradox. Like their Chinese counterparts, the North Korean film studios were expected to churn out patriotic epics of revolutionary bravado. But in contrast to the Chinese fare, Korean movies were laced with tear-jerking story lines which not infrequently turned upon the love between a man and a woman.