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Originally published Friday, September 23, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

Life inside North Korea

North Korea has conditionally promised to end its nuclear-weapons program, but one could be forgiven for maintaining a cautious posture...

North Korea has conditionally promised to end its nuclear-weapons program, but one could be forgiven for maintaining a cautious posture after watching "A State of Mind," a riveting BBC documentary that illuminates the character of that nation.

Directed with admirable objectivity and unprecedented access by British documentarian Daniel Gordon, the film chronicles eight months in the lives of two young girls as they rehearse for the Mass Games of 2003, an epic display of sociopolitical unity designed as a valentine to "eternal president" Kim Il Sung (who died in 1994) and his son and successor, the Communist dictator Kim Jong Il.

Movie review 3.5 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"A State of Mind,"a documentary directed by Daniel Gordon. 94 minutes. Not rated; suitable for all ages. In Korean with English subtitles. Grand Illusion (no showings Sept. 27).

In many ways, 13-year-old Pak Hyon Sun and 11-year-old Kim Song Yun are like any girls their age, and much of "A State of Mind" involves their typical schoolgirl activities as they perfect the rigorous gymnastics routines that will render them as mere pixels in the multicolored mosaic of Mass Games splendor. The choreography is flawless, and comparisons to Nazi rallies are unavoidable.

But in this lavish triumph of the will, they've been stripped of individuality and conditioned to hate Americans, and without passing judgment, "A State of Mind" reveals this brainwashing process along with intimate glimpses of the admirable, self-reliant society that outsiders rarely see. And yet, the overall impression is one of inevitable collapse and reform as the only viable future for a shut-off country where nightly power outages are blamed on "Imperialist America."

— Jeff Shannon, Special to The Seattle Times

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