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A State of Mind

4.6 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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(Feb 07, 2006)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

A fascinating mixture of cinema verite and essay filmmaking A State Of Mind connects culture, history and politics into a complex exploration of one of the world's most closed nations - North Korea. After extensive negotiations with Pyongyang government, filmmaker Daniel Gordon and producer Nicolas Bonner were granted unprecedented - and unrestricted - access to film a pair of gymnast instruction, 11-year-old Kim Song Yun and 13-year-old Pak Hyon Sun practiced through exhaustion - doing pirouettes and cartwheels on a cement floor - and proudly displayed their love for great General Kim Jong II. But more than a character expose, A State Of Mind unravels some of the political meaning behind this epic sports celebration while placing the country's current political status - as a "rogue nation" - in perspective with some of its most important and traumatic historical moments. While A State Of Mind brings never-before-seen images of state -regulated schools, pubs and artistic performances, it is its daring ability to illustrate "the hardships of their lives in a manner almost never permitted by the Pyongyang government" (Anthony Faiola, Washington Post) that makes this a "terrific" (Amy Taubin, Film Comment) documentary. Yet, when the film explores how the brutal 1950s U.S. bombings - which killed over 2 million North Koreans - still as a lingering trauma in this nation of 22 million, one is forced to re-think several assumptions about the nature of anti-American sentiment to glimpse into the real North Korea.

Billed as "a complex exploration of one of the world's most closed nations," A State of Mind purports to offer unprecedented insight into life in North Korea, a country infamously cited by George W. Bush as a member of "the axis of evil." British filmmaker Daniel Gordon's beautifully photographed 2003 documentary certainly takes us deeper into the culture of this isolated land that any Westerner has been in the past half century. In focusing on two female gymnasts, aged 11 and 13, and their preparations for the "socialist realism extravaganza" known as the Mass Games, Gordon shines a light on their daily existence; although the people are hardly prosperous, life in Pyongyang, the capital city, seems reasonably normal (except perhaps for the state radio broadcasts that are pumped into every resident's home and can be turned down, but not off). What's more, the discipline and dedication of young Kim Song Yun and Pak Hyon Sun, as well as the thousands of others who participate in the Mass Games, results in a performance of astonishing skill and splendor (captured in A State of Mind's final and most impressive sequence). Still, it's safe to say that a government as secretive as North Korea's wouldn't have granted "unrestricted access" to a foreign film crew if they anticipated that anything controversial might be revealed. Indeed, what Gordon refers to as "an all-encompassing belief structure imposed on the people"--based on an unquestioning devotion to dictator Kim Jong Il (known as "the General") and the sublimation of the individual for the good of the state--comes through loud and clear in every interview. Even the few problems mentioned, like food shortages or nightly power blackouts in Pyongyang, are attributed to various national disasters or, most often, the wickedness of American "imperialist aggressors." Of course, with Bush's foreign policy having aroused the enmity of most of the rest of the world, it's getting harder for Americans to be scornful of those whom we have alienated. If anything, especially considering their nascent nuclear capability, A State of Mind shows us that North Korea is not a country to be taken lightly. --Sam Graham

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Daniel Gordon, Hyon Sun Pak, Song Yun Kim, Kim Jong-il, Jong Ho Kim
  • Directors: Daniel Gordon
  • Writers: Daniel Gordon
  • Producers: Daniel Gordon, John Battsek, Nicholas Bonner, Richard Klein, Stephen Segaller
  • Format: Closed-captioned, Color, Letterboxed, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English, Korean
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Kino International
  • DVD Release Date: February 7, 2006
  • Run Time: 93 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000C8STLM
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #109,972 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "A State of Mind" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Junglies VINE VOICE on February 4, 2006
Format: DVD
I am not normally one for documentaries but so much has been said about the regime in North Korea that this movie was impossible to pass up. One cannot be anything else but sceptical when reading the jacket notes about the access of the documentary crew and the lack of interference by the minders but after watching the movie it is clear why this is the case.

The subject matter is relatively straightforward. North Korea operates under a collectivist regime where individuality is sacrificed to the needs of the state. The documentary examines a public manifestation of that overarching impetus in the Mass Games and counterposes the lives of two individuals aspiring to participate in the presentation before the current leader of the country. As a backdrop to that journey the documentary looks at the ordinary lives that these two people lead in their journey to the event.

What emerges is a picture of a society where the inhabitants see the outside world from a perspective which is radically different from that of secular westerners. The concept which continualy comes to mind is gestalt which means that the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts. What is fascinating to me is that there is no coming together of either view. The documentary presents a picture which is sumptuous in it's colours and organisational feats but which illustrates to our eyes the paucity of the collectivist ethos and the damage which is done to the individuals in that society. At the same time ina gestalt switch the viewer who holds such views sees the same film as one which illustrates the achievement of something for the common good despite the considerable adversity.
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"A State of Mind" is a documentary following two North Korean gymnast girls, aged 11 and 13, as they prepare to participate in the yearly national "Mass Games", which are similar in scope to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.

Though not a "political" documentary, it is clear that North Korea is "a state of mind-control". Nearly every public park, monument, mountain, etc is named after Kim Il Sung (dead founder of the country), or his son, the leader they call "The General", Kim Jong Il. Every person only had great things to say about him and only wanted to please him. Everyone is part of a group - there is never any individualism - you will not see a long-haired boy, and everyone wears the same clothes, etc. Anti-American/West viewpoints are hammered into the population daily through teachers at school, posters, museum exhibits (purporting the US dropped plague-virus bombs in the Korean War), etc. The Army marches with the Nazi goose-step. The state-provided radio can be turned down but not off, and only plays state propaganda. One family was fortunate enough to have a TV, given to them by the state for the girl's participation in the previous games. It, too, only broadcasts propaganda, and was on for only 5 hours a day. Just as well, because there are routine nightly power failures. You must have a permit to travel out of your city. There is no internet access or email. All this is not a good sign that the isolated nation is as enlightened as it would like us to think.

The girls are quite charming and the families seem fairly happy in their regimented life.

The DVD extras include a minimal interview with the director, a CNN segment about the movie, and a photo gallery. The optional English subtitles translate the spoken Korean words, but do not close-caption the English narration.

A bit pricey, but thumbs up.
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More than just a great film about the aspirations and success of two young athletes, "A State of Mind" is an amazing document of a country most of us know so little about. For the first time anywhere we get a peek inside a school, a train ride to Mt Paektu, a visit to a rural festival, and a glimpse inside the lives of the average North Korean, or at least the average resident of Pyongyang.

This is not the first movie on North Korea for filmmakers Daniel Gordon and Nick Bonner. Gordon, a former sports producer for Sky Sports and BBC, shot his first feature length project on the North Korean soccer team to the 1966 World Cup in England. That film, 2002's "The Game of Their Lives," went on to garner great critical acclaim and is one of the few films - if perhaps the only - to be shown near simultaneously in both North and South Korea.

Using the connections they had made in the production of "The Game of Their Lives," as well as the goodwill they had fostered with the North Korean government in making a nonpolitical film, Gordon and Bonner set out shortly thereafter to start work on "A State of Mind," for which they were given unlimited access, a rare privilege in North Korea.

The filmmakers spent the better part of 2003 in North Korea shooting two aspiring prepubescent female gymnasts and their families in Pyongyang.
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