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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Read this: Behind the scenes of North Korean action movie, Ten Zan: The Ultimate Mission

Illustration for article titled Read this: Behind the scenes of North Korean action movie, iTen Zan: The Ultimate Mission/i
Photo: Eric Lafforgue (Getty Images)

In 1988, Ten Zan: The Ultimate Mission was released, marking a rare creative collaboration between the North Korean government and a Western filmmaker. It also, notably, sucked. Over the years since it came out, Ten Zan has gained attention for its overall absurdity as a movie, but the way it was made is just as strange as the end product itself.


An article at NK News describes how it came to be, following the story of how director Ferdinando Baldi ended up shooting a film about a Long Island-born mercenary who heads to a nondescript “East Asia” to thwart the diabolical plans of a Lithuanian scientist trying to create supersoldiers with the DNA of virgin women.

Baldi was approached by North Korean producers in 1986 at Cannes, who, under Kim Jong-il, were hoping to find filmmakers who would help the DPRK establish an internationally recognized film industry that extended beyond propaganda films—without requiring kidnapped directors. After being promised “everything and the world,” he and an Italian film crew came to Pyongyang to make the movie that would become Ten Zan.


Apparently the movie was originally meant to be about the Pacific War, but Baldi (who also plays Ten Zan’s protagonist) had to deal with a rewritten script that swapped out the original plot. While shooting, Baldi also had to deal with the language barrier between an Italian and North Korean crew shooting a movie with English dialogue, not being allowed to scout locations, and, according to another article on the movie from The Telegraph, had to work around one of his main actors being thrown briefly in jail “on espionage charges” for taking “too many photographs.”

That the movie was released at all is, in light of this, pretty impressive. Read the entire article at NK News for more.


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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Reid's a writer and editor who has appeared at GQ, Playboy, and Paste. He also co-created and writes for videogame sites Bullet Points Monthly and Digital Love Child.

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