This arrogant American was merely mesmerized by the pageantry and scale, the elaborate human mosaic of armies marching in perfect squares, their movements precise as machines. The parades lead up to the Mass Games, a similar mosaic, no less precise, but far more fluid and colorful and downright surreal. Up to 20,000 gymnasts can be involved in one performance, each a mere speck in the pointillist metaphor for the communist ideal of one united will. I was reminded of Bert Holldobler and E.O. Wilson's The Superorganism, in which they argue that ants are not separate organisms but more akin to cells of a much larger creature. Like an ant, with its famous ability to lift fifty times its weight, the gymnasts are superhuman in their contortions and in the speed, precision, and beauty of their movements. The creature they create alternately undulates like a jellyfish and explodes like fireworks.
Gordon also fears the film may be used as communist propaganda. After seeing his footage--what brilliant spectacles can be attained when so many work in unison--I began to see his point. You may judge which of Gordon's fears is most justified when the U-M Center for Korean Studies shows the film at the Michigan Theater February 13.
[Originally published in February, 2010.]