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War of Art (2019)

Artists from across the Western world visit North Korea to take part in a "cultural exchange" - with varying degrees of success and failure.


Tommy Gulliksen


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Credited cast:
Matthias Scherwenikas Matthias Scherwenikas ... Narrator (voice)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Cathie Boyd Cathie Boyd ... Herself
Chol-Hak Ham Chol-Hak Ham ... Himself - Koordinator
Kyong-Chol Kim Kyong-Chol Kim ... Himself - Koordinator
Won-Gyun Kim Won-Gyun Kim ... Herself - Musikhochschule
Nik Nowak Nik Nowak ... Himself
Henrik Placht Henrik Placht ... Himself
Yong-Man Ri Yong-Man Ri ... Himself - Chefkoordinator
Quentin Shih Quentin Shih ... Himself
Jean-Emmanuel Simoulin Jean-Emmanuel Simoulin ... Himself (as Jean Valnoir)
Morten Traavik Morten Traavik ... Himself
So-Hyun Yun So-Hyun Yun ... Herself - Koordinatorin


Artists from across the Western world visit North Korea to take part in a "cultural exchange" - with varying degrees of success and failure.

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Official Sites:

Norwegian Film Institute


Norway | Germany


German | English | Korean

Release Date:

6 June 2019 (Germany) See more »

Also Known As:

La Corée du Nord et l'art - Une expérience au pays du leader bien aimé See more »


Box Office


NOK6,003,670 (estimated)
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


| (TV) | (TV)



Aspect Ratio:

16 : 9
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User Reviews

Outrageous documentary about contemporary-art missionaries in North Korea
13 October 2019 | by tityronSee all my reviews

Disclaimer: I am French and I have no connection whatsoever with North Korea, be it genetically, historically, or philosophically.

This is the 999th documentary I rate. That's a lot of documentaries. Yet I can say with hardly any doubt that this is the most outrageous documentary I have ever seen. I am even surprised they actually released it. If I had been one of the producers, I would have called it quits and marked the expenses as lost revenues.

I have watched maybe half a dozen documentaries about North Korea. I read the news related to that country like anybody else, nothing less, nothing more. I hence have a basic knowledge how how the regime works, the values of their society, and I am well aware of the indoctrination of the North-Korean people, which is clearly visible in this documentary. I am even able to see some positive things in their society; for example an artist in the documentary asked his North-Korean translator about his dreams, like having an apartment or a car, and the translator was surprised by such a shallow dream and said with a great innocence that they don't have that kind of dreams in North Korea.

What is so outrageous about this movie? Well, imagine you invite a few people to your house. You do your best to receive and accommodate your guests. You know that the people visiting you do not share your values so you tell them gently how to behave: we use forks, please do not eat with your fingers like a child; do not throw food on the table or drop wine on the tablecloth; we are quiet people, please do not scream, make dirty jokes, smoke, drink enough to be sick. These are your humble rules and you tell them to your guests. Sounds reasonable? Well, as soon as you told them the rules, the guests eat like pigs, swear, scream, etc. You try to contain them and ask them to stop. Do they? Hell no, they misbehave even more. You insist: please, we welcomed you, respect us, do not do things that bother us. Now they go even further: they insult you. You know nothing, understand nothing, they do you a favor coming to you stupid ugly house, your food stinks, your tastes are awful, why don't you grow up and be adults like them? You are really really polite, maybe too much, and tell them to stop. The more you do so, the more they misbehave and insult you.

That's what this documentary does. No matter what you think of the regime in North Korea, you are going to their country, they welcome you, they are polite. Yet the few guests who came to visit spend their time laughing at their hosts, being arrogant, insulting, provocative. They claim they know better and the more you watch the documentary, the more you understand that they are rather uninformed individuals who live in a fantasy world, like the North Korean they make fun of. They have no empathy, no curiosity, not a bit of understanding of people who do not live like them. And I am sure they would claim they have all of these, because it sounds good to say so.

Did you ever think about Europeans who went to Africa to "educate" Africans? Did you wish you could witness missionaries going to America and teach the native population about the truth of Christianity? Does colonialism and imperialism make you sick? Well, now is your chance to see it in real time. You will be sick seeing the "artists" in this documentary go to a foreign country and make fun of basically everything the inhabitants do, and try to "educate" them.

Somebody intelligent, educated, curious, would go to North Korea to understand their culture, share his/her vision of art, have an exchange. There is no exchange in this movie: the neo-conquistador come as the masters who need to enlighten the savages. No wonder North Koreans find capitalist countries despicable if these are the folks we send there. For once, they make an effort to open up and have an intelligent discussion, they only receive rude arrogant visitors. At the end of the movie, you can clearly see the North Koreans look at the artists, clap and think: "What a bunch of idiots!" The foreigners laughed at North Korea all along the movie, and North Koreans laughed at them at the end, thinking that, if that's what the West has to offer, god, we are very lucky to live in North Korea. Honestly, I think North Koreans in this movie were more sympathetic and open-minded than the westerners who visited them.

There is the rare exception of the Irish woman who showed some empathy with the translator at some point. There is also the message that the filmmaker tried to convey about life in North Korea: he showed people in the streets, lovers, friends and families, all smiling and rather happy, while we could hear Donald Trump in the background saying awful things about the country, and you could clearly see that the filmmaker was trying to say that life in North Korea may be hard, or very hard if you go against the system, but that they may not be the absolute monsters that the media describe in the West. Thank you, mister filmmaker, for your tolerance and curiosity, because the contemporary artists in this movie shamed us beyond words. Thinking that these people are esteemed in their respective countries is amazing. North-Korean artists have more to learn from world-class Chinese contemporary artists than from the fellows in this movie.

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