This North Korean film takes a page from the classic kung fu era and brings a tale of Korea’s martial art of Nalpharam (which later would be called Taekkyon, a predecessor of Tae Kwon Do) against Japanese invaders.

In the early 20th century Japanese occupation of Korea, an ancient martial arts manual that showcases the techniques of Nalpharam is given to Jeong Taek, the son of the manual’s current owner. Taek’s father wants Taek to deliver the manual to Father Jidam at Mount Taesong and also gives him the news that Taek’s childhood sweetheart, So Kyon, is returning to town to marry Taek. Mieko, a Japanese woman, poses as So Kyon and poisons Taek’s father in an attempt to get her hands on the manual for the Japanese, who want to combine the techniques of Nalpharam with Judo.

With Taek forgiving Mieko, he eventually comes across the real So Kyon, who revealed her father was killed when he refuses to reveal the location of the manual. Along with Taek’s fellow students and a group of reformed masters, the group attempts to protect the manual. However, when they are betrayed by one of their own, Taek, Kyon, and the rest must band together when they learn the Japanese plan to challenge them to a match on Mount Taesong.

While this film is from North Korea, the film is seen more of a Korea vs. Japan martial arts action film. The film revolves around the art of Pyongyang Nalpharam, a predecessor of the martial art of Tae Kwon Do and in a very interesting viewpoint, the names of the two primary characters are named after what would be another predecessor of the renowned Korean martial art, Taek and Kyon. The film’s script has a straightforward story mixed in with some intricate twists that help drive the story.

Ri Ryeong-Hun and Kim Hye-Gyeong do really well in their roles of our loving couple Taek and Kyon. In addition to showcasing martial arts, they show that chemistry of a couple who still hold strong feelings for each other. As for Ri’s Taek, he has a thirst of revenge for his father’s death after he finds himself duped by Japanese woman Mieko, who starts out with her mission in mind but shows a bit of sympathy towards Taek. However, when she is forced in a situation she wishes she never was involved in, she finds herself having to face midway against the very person she impersonated.

As for the fight scenes themselves, they are quite sped up at times. However, they do showcase some nice display kicking skills as well as some nice tackling and wrestling skills. There are some bits of wirework that exaggerate the fight scenes but they are ultimately forgiven as the film is a period piece in the vein of how period pieces would use that exaggerated wirework in films. Thankfully, it doesn’t take away the overall quality of the film’s action itself. The final match between the Koreans and the Japanese experts is pretty well with Taek and company using their skills against the judo skills of the Japanese.

Pyongyang Nalpharam is a decent period martial arts film from North Korea that meshes a love story of sorts with Korean martial arts against the Japanese martial arts in the vein of a classic kung fu film done in modern times. Definitely worth taking a look.


A Korea Film Export & Import Corp. Production. Directors: Phyo Kwang and Maeng Cheol-Nam. Writers: Kim Jeong-Seok and Jo Se-Hyeok. Cinematography: Shim Yeong-Hak.

Cast: Ri Ryeong-Hun, Kim Hye-Gyeong, Ri Yun-Su, Yu Hye-Gyeong.