The North Korean film Salt(1985) starred Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee is well known for breaking the taboos of the North Korean film industry in terms of that they used dialects, described rape and childbirth, and exposed women body. These ‘broken taboos’ have mainly been interpreted in respect of the ‘revolutionary mother’ image and sexuality reproduced by Choi Eun-hee. On the other hand, the issue of utilizing dialects in the North Korean film industry, where only Munhwaŏ (North Korean standard language) could appear, has not been closely addressed. This article would like to re-read the implications of movies produced by Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee in the North by apprehending the dialect as a space where various elements are combined in layers and capturing the inside and outside of the dialect use.
Kim Jong-il kidnapped Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee to North Korea in the late 1970s and demanded a new type of film that could resonate with the public emerged after the globalization and industrialization of the North Korean film industry. The two filmmakers could have made various attempts in a relatively free environment under the support of Kim Jong-il. Representing the dialect in Salt was also possible in that sense, and Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee used the dialect as a device to sympathize with North Korean audiences by taking advantage of its ‘realness’ in Salt. The dialect symbolizing ‘livelihood of (Joseon) women awakening’ from Choi Eun-hee’s mouth intended to refer to the (Joseon) people, not the two Koreas. However, as the dialect represented the wretched life of the lower class whilst NK standard language as wokeness, the dialect transformed into a device that emphasized class disparity rather than locality or ethnicity. The dialect as a ‘realistic’ element originally intended by Choi Eun-hee and Shin Sang-ok interlocked North Korea’s hegemony while being incorporated into the norms of NK standard languages in that respect.
In conclusion, the dialect in Salt reveals that the cinematic achievements of Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee, prominent position in the North Korean film industry, were inseparable from the North Korean regime. Their breaking taboos had a characteristic of being allowed in a tolerance range. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that their works captured the gap taking place in the succession of the regime from Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il.