North Korea is getting a ski mountain, and the Ministry of Propaganda wants you to know about it. Kim Jong-un’s pet project, the Masikryong Ski Resort, was built in just ten months, uses a 30-year old lift China sold them, and tops out on the summit of Taehwa Peak that, we’re told, has all sorts of amenities. It's probably not worth the dangers of entering a hostile country to hit the nine beginner and intermediate runs descending 2,130 feet, but North Korea is trying to convince us otherwise. The country put out an 11:27-minute-long promotional film that, rather than convincing tourists from the Western world to come ski, has become a semi-viral laughing stock and nominee for the weirdest ski flick ever. To make some sense of this muddled mess, we turned to Josh Haskins, Executive Producer at Warren Miller Productions — the creators of some of the greatest ski films ever — to see if he could make some sense from the film, and offer some helpful suggestions for their next.
What do you think of the film?
Promotion to a ski resort that most people don’t have access to is really just a bizarre thing. One of the first things I noticed was that there are many empty shots with no one around, and when people are in the shots it just seems very strange. There is something almost hypnotic and surreal about it. It’s entertaining in an almost ridiculous way. If I did not know that their government put this out, I would wonder if this was a parody video. People work very hard to create parodies that are at this level.
I get the impression that their clientele don’t do a lot of skiing. There is a lot of backseat skiing, where people are barely hanging on. One of the first rules of making a ski movie is to hire the best skiers possible. You need skiers that know how to hit their mark, and look dynamic in front of the camera. They must not have those in North Korea.
That being said there was part of the movie that reminded me of some of the older films Warren used to shoot. He loved to shoot at locations that had beginner skiers, places that had them falling off the ski lifts and stuff. That gag always worked well for Warren and I saw a lot of parallels in this movie, but I don’t think it was intentional.
Can you believe that this was put out by a country that has one of the most advanced cyber warfare apparatuses out there?
I hope that who ever edited this video is not in some labor camp for doing such a bad job. You would of thought that they would have had better film-editing equipment and technology. It’s just not a good video for such a supposedly advanced country.
People work very hard to create parodies that are at this level.
Speaking of editing, what were your thoughts about the overall feel?
It was really eerie and obviously staged. To show shots of an empty disco, sauna, pool, and lobby made it feel like a real estate video, not one for a ski resort. I got the feeling that many people are not able to visit this place. I loved the narration that called the place a “peculiar tourist resort.” The only non-Korean faces I saw were playing cards in some empty room.
The narrator is one of the better parts of the comedic effect; there are so many lost-in-translation moments throughout the film. Some of the funniest lines I don’t think were intended to be humorous. When they talked about the “natural spring waters gushing forth” while showing an espresso machine — that was a classic. And, how are "visitors being relieved of their fatigue"? I was so confused. How are they relieved? What are they talking about? What is the message again?
From a comic level the narrator was perfect, but when you are trying to produce a serious promo piece you have to be very careful to choose the right voice. She was not it, not at all, she added to the absurdity of the film. She sounded somewhat creepy, like someone to watch out for.
And that music...
Soundtrack is so important, audio is half your movie, and can make or break it. This soundtrack, much like the rest of the film, is so over the top. I don’t even know where you find music like this. It gave a real throwback vibe, you could not parody this better, and it was incredible how bad that music was. There was some elevator music in there, at times it felt like an old video game, there was some really, really awful stuff, but it worked perfectly for the comedic effect here. Not that I think that was what they intended.
It seemed that they did not know how to transition from scene to scene.
That’s the thing that stuck out to me the most, the thing that made this video so cheesy. Bad video transitions are the one thing you want to avoid at all costs. They had everything in here, water drop effects, wipes, stripes, and scene to scene. Nothing says amateur like overuse of any of those, let alone all of them.
If you want to watch a film where they break just about every single rule on how to make a film, then watch this.
You have been to a lot of resorts in your time. Have you ever seen a video-monitoring station like the one they show here?
That was amazing that they would even include that in this film, like having cameras watching your every move is normal. It’s like the curtain was pulled back for a moment and you could actually see what really is going on. It made me laugh out loud, and feel a bit nervous, a bit like big brother is watching, which he obviously is there. Their monitoring system was so high tech, it looked like a casino system. I would be nervous to stay there wondering where all the cameras are. If the runs are this wired you have to wonder what the rooms are like.
Did the snow make you want to visit this resort?
Look, this is approachable skiing for the clientele; easy groomers most people can ski. I certainly would not want to go there. There is so much better snow nearby in Japan, it’s epic there. I almost thought that a lot of the snow was bootlegged stock shots that were faked for the video. To even consider skiing there strikes me as ludicrous.
How would you describe this film to someone who has not seen it yet?
I would tell them that if they want to watch a film where they break just about every single rule on how to make a film, then they would watch this. I think there is maybe ninety seconds of usable footage in this. All of the skiing is terrible, the empty shots of the hotel are downright creepy, and the forced smiles are painful. The pans of the distant mountains were one of the few shots that were good.
So do you think that after seeing this will Warren Miller Productions will be heading to North Korea anytime soon?
We have thought about trying to go there before. We pride ourselves on going to every corner of the globe in search of snow, but given the current political climate, I think we are safe to put it on the back burner.