South Korean Dramas Are All the Rage among North Korean People

Daily NK
Yoon Il Geun
11/2/2007

“Foreign Films That Are Circulating at More Than One Million CDs”

Despite the North Korean authorities’ strict control, foreign films and South Korean drama Video Compact Disks (VCDs) circulating around North Korea is reportedly over 1 million copies since 2000.

Defector Choi Young Bum (pseudonym, 38), who has circulated South Korean and foreign movie VCDs among North Korean citizens said, “If one goes to a large city market, not only Pyongyang, but Pyongsung, Chongjin, Hamheung, Wonsan, and Shinuiju, hundreds or thousands kinds of movie and drama CDs can be obtained through black marketeers.”

According to Mr. Choi, foreign movie CDs inside North Korea have become significantly more mainstream.

Mr. Choi said that the largest market for the North Korean VCD business is the Pyongsung market. He said, “In Pyongsung market alone, merchants who sell South Korean dramas or foreign movie CDs while avoiding regulations, are sufficiently over 100. One person has several hundred copies at the least while another person has over 2,000 copies on the higher end. The authorities are stepping forward for inspections, but VCDs that have been circulating are at over several million copies.”

He said, “In Pyongyang, VCDs that have been circulating are more than in other regions. In early 2000, Hong Kong movies, South Korean dramas in mid-2000s, and recently, American movies that have been translated in Korea have been drawing a lot of popularity.” He relayed that the cultural difference between Pyongyang or other large cities to the provinces are sizable. The South Korean drama “Winter Sonata” became already a classical one in Pyongyang, but was still a hit in the countryside.”

He said that with the rise in popularity of South Korean dramas among North Korean people, the VCD merchants along the border region made quite a profit.

According to Mr. Choi, the prime cost from China was 150 North Korean won, but now, the asking price is over 300 won. The price of a VCD was around 900~1,000 won per copy in 2003, but it is now over 1,500 won. The price is supposed to jump twofold as the VCDs pass through each phase through Chinese merchants, the wholesaler, runner (regional circulators), and to retail trade.

He explained, “With popular action movies or dramas, they were sold at 2,000 won per copy. South Korean Series that have been consistently popular like “Autumn Sonata,” “Hourglass,” and “Glass Slippers” are wrapped in cases by sets, so the price is a bit discounted.”

Mr. Choi said that the price of a VCD player is around 30,000 won. “There were times when we sold the VCDs in cash, but we have thrown in extra as a bonus when selling used TVs from China.”

He added, “From mid-2004, DVDs started entering North Korea. Nowadays, their qualities are better than VCDs and high-capacity DVDs have been in circulation.”

Mr. Choi said that according to a change in DVD trends, North Korea’s Hana (one) Electronics Company have assembled and sold DVD players from attachments from China with the “Hana Electronics” brand. These DVDs can be purchased at North Korean stores.

”The contents of DVDs which can be produced legally in North Korea are mostly North Korean movies, films, former Soviet movies, former Chinese movies, screen accompaniment music (music videos), etc. North Korean civilians pretend like they are watching DVDs that are officially sold in North Korea while they have been watching South Korean dramas bought from the black market.”

Defector Ms. Im, who entered South Korea, said, “North Korean citizens, when someone comes to visit them while they are watching South Korean dramas with doors locked, hide the CDs while the other person goes to the door. They switch on a North Korean CD as if they were watching a North Korean movie.”

Ms. Im said, “Even the National Security agents and the Safety agents watch South Korean dramas and most people are watching them secretly. No matter how much the authorities regulate, it is difficult to control the practice. Once people are exposed to such a culture, it is not easy to stop. They are not going to stop watching them.”

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