Bend It Like Beckham Becomes First Western Film on North Korean TV

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A state TV broadcast of the British soccer film "Bend it Like Beckham" aired Sunday Dec. 26, 2010 in North Korea

Max Nash/File/AP

Is there nothing that David Beckham can’t do?

Actually, for once, Becks can’t take too much credit for a remarkable moment in pop culture. It’s emerged that the 2002 British movie about the plucky girls who achieve soccer greatness has become the first ever Western movie to be shown on North Korean television.

(See the top 10 soccer movies.)

Sunday December 26 will go down as the historic day when the good folk of Pyongyang settled down and enjoyed the light-hearted Brit-flick. The movie marked the 10th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Britain and North Korea and was arguably a welcome break from the regular schedule of news, documentaries and images celebrating the country’s army (those of you who thought we were describing Fox News should simply be ashamed).

Martin Uden, Britain’s ambassador to South Korea, tweeted that it was the, “1st ever Western-made film to air on TV.” And Peter Hughes, the British Ambassador to Pyongyang, said after the screening that, “The film was chosen because of the theme of soccer as well as other interesting themes such as multiculturalism, equality and tolerance.” And if Pauline Kael were still with us, that’s exactly how she’d have described it.

(See TIME’s top 10 movies of 2010.)

Naturally, there had to be some real-life drama and, sure enough, it’s since transpired that the movie was cut down to 104 minutes, from its original 112 minute running time. Pyongyang-based diplomats who were watching said it was “not obvious” what had been edited out (but, then again, being diplomats, they would say that, wouldn’t they?)

And on reflection, this comedy about a Sikh teenager who follows her passion for soccer despite the objections of her conservative parents, made for the perfect choice. North Korea hosts a biennial international film festival that has included entries from around the world, such as — yes! — Bend It Like Beckham and soccer has a rich history over there. Not only did North Korea make the 2010 World Cup in South Africa (where games were eventually shown to the locals) but the team of 1966 managed to embark upon a magical run and reach the quarter-finals, charming an entire host nation in the process. And who hosted the 1966 World Cup? That would be England, the birthplace of both the beautiful game and Bend It Like Beckham. (via the Daily Telegraph)