Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Some stuff from Koryo Tours

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Comrade Kim Goes Flying…a film by British entrepreneur and Koryo Tours founder  Nick Bonner (who also did The Game of their Lives, A State of Mind, and Crossing the Line) and a North Korean film production team.

See the film’s official web page here (includes screening dates and cast/crew).

See the film’s Facebook Page here.

See a film clip on YouTube here.

See CCTV coverage here (in English).

BBC coverage here.

See Nick Bonner talking about the film at the Toronto International Film Festival here.

More on the Pyongyang Film Festival here,  here and here.

Also…

Love North Korea Children Charity Event in Shanghai
On September 25th, the UK-based charity Love North Korea Children will hold an event in Shanghai. Hannah Barraclough from Koryo Tours will also attend this event and will be able to answer any questions you may have.

Location: The Public
Address: Sinan Mansions Block 2 4/F, 507 Fuxing Zhong Lu, near ChongQing Lu
Date: 25th September
Starting time: 7PM (19:00)
Entrance: 150 CNY

For more information, please contact: LNKCShanghai@gmail.com

*Love the North Korean Children’s official web page is here. I have previously blogged about their bakery in Rason here. LNKC recently build a bakery in Sariwon.

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Comrade Kim Goes Flying

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

The first collaborative film project between the DPRK and western producers, Comrade Kim Goes Flying, will premier at the 2012 Pyongyang International Film Festival.

If you would like to attend the film festival with Koryo Tours to see the film, click here.

Yonhap reports:

As the North’s first romantic comedy feature film, the movie was produced by the communist country in partnership with Belgian producer Anja Daelemans and British-run travel agency Koryo Tours’ official Nick Bonner. The film was shot in Pyongyang with North Korean cast and crew, according to the report.

The biennial festival also plans to screen feature films including “Mr. Bean,” “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” and a South African movie titled “Cry, The Beloved Country,” the report said, citing Koryo Tours, which runs tour programs to the North for the film fest.

Without giving too much away, the plot of the film revolves around the daughter of a coal miner who wants to be a gymnast in Pyongyang.

UPDATE: This story was picked up in the New York Times on 2012-7-30.

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DPRK takes steps to reduce access to foreign media

Monday, February 13th, 2012

According to the Daily NK:

A new unit was formed in mid-January to deal with the amount of ‘illegal’ media circulating in North Korea.

“Unit 114 has been formed following a January 14th order handed down by General Kim calling for a concentrated crackdown on suspicious songs, recorded materials and impure published media,” a source from Yangkang Province told Daily NK on the 12th.

The source went on, “The unit has been organized by the Propaganda Department of the central Party, but the interesting thing is that it also contains people from the National Security Agency.” Interesting, the source noted, because such units, also a very regular feature of the Kim Jong Il era, are commonly made up of people dispatched by the central Party. Indeed, there is already Unit 109 similarly charged with dealing with inflows of outside media.

In addition, the format of the unit’s activities is in marked contrast to some of the past, the source said. “These inspections have not been announced in people’s unit meetings and, since the inspectors are circulating undercover in the jangmadang, people are much more frightened,” she explained. “Someone who was caught selling CDs in the area in front of the jangmadang here told me that the investigation was done by an NSA agent and someone from the central Party Propaganda Department.”

According to the source, the trader in question was selling copies of a recently released North Korean film, ‘Brotherly Love’, when he came under suspicion. Even though it is a North Korean film which portrays Chinese troops in the Korean War and the lives of North Koreans at the time, the trader nevertheless got in trouble because the film was copied rather than being an original.

“The trader made and signed a written statement saying ‘I will not sell copied films again’ and so was let go, but as he was leaving he was asked by an NSA agent to report people possessing or selling South Chosun films and songs or American films. He got really shocked by the experience, and is now at home resting up,” the source said.

“A lot of traders who used to make a living selling CDs are now in hiding. The investigation is harsh, so people with experience selling South Korean CDs in the past are hiding to avoid getting caught.”

Read the full story here:
More Pressure on Illicit Media
Daily NK
Lee Seok Young
2012-2-13

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Pyongyang International Film Festival 2012

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Pictured above (Google Maps): Pyongyang International Cinema Hall, home of the Pyongyang International Film Festival.

Koryo Tours sent out the following press release today:

Dates announced for the 13th Pyongyang International Film Festival – Pyongyang, DRPK (North Korea), 20th – 27th September 2012.

Koryo Tours has been the official Foreign Representative for the biennial Pyongyang International Film Festival since 2002 when they first submitted their film on the North Korean World Cup football team of 1966 The Game of Their Lives to a packed North Korean audience. “It was the first time that the North Koreans had seen just how their fans were received in 1966 – and the first foreign-made documentary about their country to be shown in their country. Myself and director Dan Gordon were pinched by the girls in the hotel restaurant as they wanted us to help get tickets to the best screenings” said Nicholas Bonner, co-producer of the film. “It will be some time before the festival becomes the Cannes of the East but we hope to get one or two film stars for the experience of a lifetime… probably one of the few places they can avoid being mobbed. The motto of the festival is independence, peace and friendship and is a great way of showing locals what is going on in the world of cinema.”

Perhaps the festival’s biggest achievement was the screening of the British Film Bend It Like Beckham at the festival in 2004 (seen by an audience of 12,000 locals) which cleared the path to make it the first western film to be broadcast nationwide on December 26th 2011. “We spoke to Gurinder Chadha, the Director, who was thrilled her film had been seen by a country who just adore football and of course it was the ideal film to show, full of hope – it has become unbelievably popular in the country and a talking point for everyone.

Koryo Tours director Nicholas Bonner is asking for submissions:

“Ealing Studios, The Goethe Institute and various embassies have all presented films but there is always room for more. Romantic comedy and period dramas are popular and we have managed to show films as diverse as Mr. Bean, the Swedish horror comedy Frostbiten to the South African drama Cry, The Beloved Country and UK’s Elizabeth I: The Golden Age.

Koryo Tours will run an exclusive tour for tourists during the festival and will include screenings of North Korean films such as the classic Flower Girl (very popular in China during the 1970’s), a visit to the North Korean film studio with mock up streets and meeting various North Korean film celebrities.

For further information and images contact: info@koryogroup.com
Tel: +86 (10) 6416 7544
Website: www.pyongyanginternationalfilmfestival.com

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Pyongyang seeing more inspections

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

According to the Daily NK:

With the border area enveloped in ‘Storm Trooper Unit’ inspections, operations against South Korean goods have been stepped up in distant Pyongyang, according to a man from the city who talked to the Daily NK in Dandong, China on Tuesday.

“Inspections by ‘Group 109’, which has been around for a while, have gradually become more intense,” the man, Kim, explained. “Worst of all, they are showing up in the middle of the night without warning to search for CDs, DVDs and recorders, and if there are any materials such as pornography or South Korean merchandise, then the offender is taken away. There are no exceptions.”

“In the past when the National Security Agency or People’s Safety Ministry came to inspect, people would pay them to let it slide, but nowadays the authorities send an agent from both of those agencies and the Defense Security Command as a team, which makes it hard to get out of it if you get caught,” he added.

A Daily NK source from Pyongyang confirmed the story, saying that as recently as July one could escape Group 109 punishment for watching South Korean or American DVDs with a bribe of $100 in central Pyongyang, or less in the surrounding areas.

Group 109 is an organization set up by the Chosun Workers’ Party to crack down on illegal media including CDs and DVDs. The group is one of a number of ‘Gruppas’, as they are locally known, currently operating in the capital, with others including Group 622, which handles juvenile delinquency, and Group 27, actually a branch of the Defense Security Command, which deals with mobile phone usage.

The various groups have been conducting their assorted inspections to weed out myriad ‘anti-socialist’ behavior for some time, but bribery has always provided an escape route, albeit while those without money or connections were made an example of. However in recent times, allegedly since successor Kim Jong Eun ordered more intense inspections and punishments, the ‘Gruppas’ have had to take their tasks more seriously.

The volume of South Korean goods trading in the market has contracted due to the recent crackdowns, but their popularity is undiminished; evasion of inspections is apparently being achieved via house calls to trusted clients. Kim says that the preference is only getting stronger for South Korean goods amongst cadres, a group which has always been safe from inspections.

“The traders go around the city knocking on people’s doors, quietly asking whether the residents would like to buy some South Korean merchandise. For this reason the nickname ‘knock-knocker’ is sometimes used to refer to them,” Kim explained.

Read the full story here:
Pyongyang Seeing Tighter Inspections
Daily NK
Lee Seok Young
2011-8-24

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Office 38 reportedly back in business–and other changes

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

UPDATE 4 (2/20/2011): Kim Tong-un (김동은) named Kim Jong-il’s fund manager.  According to Yonhap:

A senior official of North Korea’s ruling party has been named to lead a special party bureau, code-named Office 38, that oversees coffers and raises slush funds for its leader Kim Jong-il and the ruling elites, a source on North Korea said Sunday.

Kim Tong-un, formerly head of Office 39 in the Workers’ Party of Korea, assumed the post in May last year, when North Korea revived Office 38, which was merged with Office 39 in 2009, the source said on condition of anonymity. Office 39 is believed to be another organ that governs a wide network of business operations both legal and illegal.

Both Offices 38 and 39 belong to the Secretariat of the Workers’ Party, which Kim Jong-il chairs, according to a diagram of the North’s power structure released by the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs. Last year, the ministry had only included Office 39 in a similar diagram.

In a meeting with reporters last week, a ministry official said Office 38 has been spun off from Office 39 and is now running on its own again. The official, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity citing the sensitive nature of his comments, described “a stream of information” that has come through since mid-2010.

Office 38 mainly oversees transactions involving foreign currency, hotels and trade, the official said, while Office 39, headed by Jon Il-chun, drives revenue by dealing in narcotics, arms, natural resources and others.

The North’s revival of Office 38 is interpreted as an effort to cover the increasing cost of leader Kim Jong-il’s ceding of power to his youngest son, Jong-un.

The story was also reported in Yonhap.

UPDATE 3: Here are links to the Ministry of Unification‘s English language organization charts of the North Korean leadership in which some of the changes mentioned below are listed (though not all): Workers’ Party, State Organs, Parties and Organizations

UPDATE (2/15/2011): According to the Daily NK:

The number of Special Departments under the Secretariat of the Chosun Workers’ Party has been increased from 18 to 20, a move that includes the revival of the No. 38 Department, which previously served as Kim Jong Il’s private bank vault, and the foundation of a film department.

The Ministry of Unification revealed the news yesterday in its 2011 North Korean Power Structure and Index of Figures, Agencies and Organizations. It incorporates North Korean changes from December, 2009 up to the present day, completed after consultation with relevant agencies and experts.

The revival of the No. 38 Department and founding of a film department

The report states, “The No. 38 Department, which was merged with the No. 39 Department in 2009, was spun off again last year. Kang Neung Su, who was appointed Deputy Prime Minister in June of 2010, was introduced as head of the film department at the same time. The exact foundation date of the film department is unknown; however, it appears to be newly established.”

No. 38 and No. 39 Departments are directly controlled by Kim Jong Il and serve as a private vault for his ruling funds. The No. 38 Department manages hotels, foreign currency stores and restaurants etc, while illegal weapons trading through foreign trade companies, the smuggling of gold, illegal trade in drugs and the distribution of counterfeit dollars, so-called supernotes, are handled by the No. 39 Department.

“They combined two offices which had different functions, and it appears that this did not result in the intended efficiency,” a knowledgeable source commented.

Meanwhile, on the establishment of a film department, the source added, “North Korea’s cultural art is a political means by which to carry out Party policy and a policy tool to implant policy in the North Korean citizens.”

Among the reshuffled special departments, the existing ‘Munitions Industry Department’ has been renamed the ‘Machine Industry Department’, and the ‘Administration and Capital Construction Department’ has been scaled back to simply ‘Administration Department’.

Elsewhere, the existing National Resources Development and Guidance Department under the Ministry of Extractive Industries has been promoted to National Resources Development Council and, as reported, the Joint Investment Guidance Department rose to become the Joint Investment Committee, while the National Price Establishment Department became the National Price Establishment Committee. Again, as reported, the ‘People’s Safety Agency’ under the Cabinet became the People’s Safety Ministry under the National Defense Commission, while the Capital Construction Department was downsized to become the General Bureau of Capital Construction.

The Central Court and Central Prosecutors Office were also renamed the Supreme Court and Supreme Prosecutors Office respectively.

The Ministry of Unification report also notes that North Korea added Nampo City to its list of eleven cities and provinces, increasing the total number to twelve.

The newly designated Nampo City includes five former parts of South Pyongan Province; Gangseo, Daean, Oncheon, Yonggang, and Chollima districts. Previously, Nampo was under the direct control of the central government as part of South Pyongan Province proper.

At the same time, North Korea also transferred the existing Kangnam-gun, Joonghwa-gun, Sangwon-gun, and Seungho-district, all formerly southern sections of Pyongyang City, to North Hwanghae Province.

Military Commission placed under the Central Committee of the Party

The relationship of the Central Committee and Central Military Commission, which was formerly said to be in parallel, has been changed, reflecting the idea that the Military Commission is now under the Central Committee of the Party.

The Ministry of Unification commented, “By revising the Party regulations, the Central Military Commission and Central Committee were marked as parallel in 2009 and 2010. However, after confirming the revised Party regulations at the Chosun Workers’ Party Delegates’ Conference on September 28th last year, this relationship was adjusted, and an election is now held for the Central Military Commission via a plenary session of the Central Committee.”

Also, the ‘Bureau of General Staff’ under the National Defense Commission was judged to be below the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, but is now shown to be in a parallel relationship with the Ministry of the People’s Armed Force and ‘General Political Department’.

ORIGINAL POST (2/14/2011): According to Yonhap:

North Korea has revived a special party bureau, codenamed Office 38, that oversees coffers and raises slush funds for its leader Kim Jong-il and the ruling elites, South Korea said Monday in its annual assessment of the power structure in the communist country.

In 2009, the bureau had been merged with Office 39, another organ that governs a wide network of business operations both legal and illegal, according to the Unification Ministry in Seoul.

In a meeting with reporters, however, a ministry official said Office 38 has been spun off from Office 39 and is now running on its own again. The official, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity citing the intelligence nature of his comments, cited “a stream of information” that has come through since mid-2010.

The official would not elaborate on how the information has been obtained, only saying the ministry works closely with “related government bodies” to outline the North’s power structure.

Office 38, whose chief remains unknown, mainly oversees transactions involving foreign currency, hotels and trade, the official said, while Office 39, headed by Jon Il-chun, drives revenue by dealing in narcotics, arms, natural resources and others.

A source privy to North Korea matters said the spin-off suggests that North Korea has been experiencing difficulties in earning foreign currency since merging the two offices.

“Efficiency was probably compromised after the two, which have different functions, were combined,” the source said, declining to be identified citing the speculative nature of the topic. “More importantly, it seems related to the current state of foreign currency stocks. The North is apparently trying to address those difficulties.”

In August last year, the United States blacklisted Office 39 as one of several North Korean entities to newly come under sanctions for involvement in illegal deeds such as currency counterfeiting.

North Korea is also believed to have been hit hard financially after South Korea imposed a series of economic penalties last year on Pyongyang when the sinking of a warship was blamed on it.

Both Offices 38 and 39 belong to the Secretariat of the Workers’ Party, which Kim Jong-il chairs, according to a diagram of the North’s power structure released by the Unification Ministry. Last year, the ministry had only included Office 39 in a similar diagram.

Both offices have often been referred to as Kim Jong-il’s “personal safes” for their role in raising and managing secret funds and procuring luxury goods for the aging leader.

Read the full story here:
North Korea Splits No. 38 and 39 Departments Up Again
Daily NK
Kim So Yeol
2/15/2011

N. Korea revives ‘Office 38′ managing Kim Jong-il’s funds: ministry
Yonhap
Sam Kim
2/14/2011

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Pyongyang University of Dramatic and Cinematic Arts

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Pictured above (Google Earth): the Pyongyang University of Dramatic and Cinematic Arts (평양연극영화대학: 39.017329°, 125.792912°)

Al Jazeera filmed a short documentary with some students at the Pyongyang University for Dramatic and Cinematic Arts.  This organization is tasked with training the country’s film actors.  According to Al Jazeera:

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s love of film is well-documented, but few outsiders know that he is revered as a genius of cinema by his own people. On this episode of 101 East we gain a rare insight into the beating heart of North Korea’s film industry.

Watch the high quality video below (Youtube):

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DPRK, NGO to film Paek Son Haeng film

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Pictured above: Paek Son Haeng Memorial Hall, Pyongyang (Google Earth)

According to the Daily NK:

North Korea has apparently agreed to accept foreign funding to produce a movie which shows Christians in a positive light. It will be the first movie made in North Korea to show the life story of a Christian.

An activist working in New Zealand for “Team and Team International”, a South Korean NGO working on international disaster relief, reported today, “A North Korean movie import-export company (Chosun Movie Company) has decided to produce a movie, ‘Paek Sun Haeng’, with the support of an organization from New Zealand,” and added, “They are at the last stage of working on the scenario and plan to start filming this coming September.” A budget production, it will cost a reported $1.5 million.

The activist said that the two sides have agreed to show the movie in movie theaters across the country and on Chosun Central TV. The purpose behind the investment is apparently to depict the positive side of Christianity and Christians to the North Korean people.

He explained, “Based on the idea that the figure, Baek Sun Haeng, has been defined as a good capitalist in North Korea, the organization has been negotiating production of a movie about her with North Korea since 2008.” Additionally, he said “They will describe fully the image of Baek as a philanthropist as well as a Christian in the movie.”

The scenario was reportedly written by the head of Chosun Movie Company, Choi Hyuk Woo, but there has been conflict over the degree of Christian content.

The source explained, “Problems when the North Koreans tried to change one line or scene have not been small.” However, “They were able to persuade the North Korean staff by sticking stubbornly to the fact that it would have been impossible to invest in the movie without Christian content.”

North Korea’s bad situation vis a vis foreign currency may have influenced the North’s decision-making, the source agreed, saying, “I am aware that North Korea’s internal capital situation is rather difficult. That economic difficulty may have influenced this contract somewhat.”

Chosun Movie Company oversees the export and import of movies under the Culture and Art Department of the Propaganda and Agitation Department, which is within the Central Committee of the Party.

The activist emphasized, “Aid activities for North Korea should give dreams and hope for new things to the North Korean people through diverse cultural approaches beyond food or essential aid.”

The movie’s main character, Baek Sun Haeng (1848-1933) is a well-known philanthropist in North Korea who has been mentioned in North Korean textbooks, in Kim Il Sung’s memoirs and elsewhere.

After her husband died when she was 16 years old, she is said to have accumulated wealth relentlessly. After that, she built both “Baek Sun Bridge” across the Daedong River and a three-story public meeting hall in Pyongyang. She also donated real-estate for Pyongyang Gwangsun School and Changdeok School.

Baek, as the deaconess of a church, also contributed to the education of Korean Christians by donating capital and land for Pyongyang Presbyterian Church School, which was built by Rev. Samuel Austin Moffett, the then-reverend at the First Church of Pyongyang, and Soongsil School, the forerunner to Soongsil University in Seoul, which was established by Dr. W. M. Baird, an American missionary, in Pyongyang on October 10th, 1887.

Additionally, she dedicated all of her property to an organization dedicated to the relief of poverty in 1925, so the Japanese government general tried to present her with a commendation, but she refused it. Therefore, she has been praised highly as a “people’s capitalist” in North Korea.

In 2006, the North Korea media reported that an existing monument to Baek had been restored and moved into “Baek Sun Haeng Memorial Hall” in Pyongyang on the instructions of Kim Jong Il.

Read the full story here:
Christian Movie Being Shot inside North Korea
Daily NK
1/17/2011

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ROK goods saturate DPRK

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

According to the Hankyorey:

A report on major North Korean indicators released by Statistics Korea on Wednesday revealed that South Korean products are becoming increasingly popular in North Korea, and that there are hardly any North Korean urban youth who do not watch South Korean TV dramas or movies.

In the report, Statistics Korea said it is becoming a fad for young people in major North Korean cities like Pyongyang and along the border with China to watch South Korean television dramas and films using MP3 players or laptop computers. Statistics Korea said MP3 players with 1G of memory cost 60,000 North Korean Won (estimated $419), while a used laptop costs about 2 million North Korean Won. A memory chip with two or three movies costs 10,000 North Korean Won if it is an original, and 5,000 North Korean Won if its a copy.

The report also said many South Korean products are in circulation in North Korea, including blenders, portable heaters, gas ranges, butane cans, lunch trays, gas heaters, rice cookers, dishrags and gloves. According to the report, South Korean shampoo and conditioner is popular with the wives of high-ranking North Korean officials in Pyongyang. Some 470g bottles of South Korean shampoo and rinse go for 40-50 yuan (8,000-10,000 South Korean Won) in Pyongyang. The report said the popularity of South Korean products was also reflected in other goods. South Korean necklaces are sold for about $500 and earrings for about $70-80, while South Korean products like perfume, deodorant, car air fresheners, refrigerator deodorizer and bathroom air fresheners are also selling well.

South Korea’s nominal GNI in 2009 was $837.2 billion, 37.4 times that of North Korea’s $22.4 billion. North Korea’s economic power, all told, is no more than the level of the South Korean city of Gwangju (about 22 trillion Won). South Korea’s per capita income of $18,175 was 17.9 times that of North Korea’s $960. South Korea also conducted $686.6 billion in total trade, 201.9 times that of North Korea, which conducted only $3.4 billion. The only sectors in which North Korea topped South Korea were production of iron ore and coal and length of railroads. North Korea’s iron ore production was 4.955 million tons, ten times that of South Korea (455,000 tons), and its coal production was 25.5 million tons, 10 times that of South Korea (2.519 million tons). North Korea also had 5,242km of railroads, 1.4 times that of South Korea’s 3,378km. North Korea is also believed to have 7 quadrillion Won in underground mineral wealth.

I have been unable to locate the original on the Statistics Korea page.  If any readers can find it, please let me know.

Read the full story here:
In limited N.Korean market, furor for S.Korean products
Hankyoreh
Hwangbo Yon
1/6/2011

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North Koreans reportedly enjoy US films

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

According to the Choson Ilbo:

Young North Koreans apparently prefer American soaps and films to South Korean ones, and they can now watch both easily. A defector who gave his name as Kim (43) and used to sell TV sets in the North said, “Used color TVs imported from China have both PAL and NTSC options, so there’s no problem receiving South Korean TV signals,” even in remote South Hamgyong Province.

North Korea and China use the PAL format to receive TV signals, while South Korea and Japan use the NTSC format. Some European countries and the Middle East favor SECAM. Most models manufactured after the 1990s allow users to shift formats.

“In South Hamgyong Province, only a few households are able to capture TV signals, but reception is quite good in Hwanghae or South Pyongan provinces,” Kim said. “People there look forward to the evenings when dramas are broadcast.” He said North Koreans also enjoy watching news and current events programs as well and power their TVs with their car batteries during power outages.

Another defector surnamed Yoo (40), who used to sell DVDs in the North and came to South Korea late last year, said North Koreans have grown tired of South Korean TV soaps with their stereotypical plots. “Nowadays, ‘Rambo 4,’ ‘007 Casino Royale,’ and other American action films or TV dramas like ‘Prison Break’ are popular,” she added.

According to Yoo, South Korean TV soaps like “Winter Sonata,” “All In” or “Autumn in My Heart” were popular in the early 2000s, while “Jewel in the Palace” and other historical dramas grew popular in the late 2000s. Recently, action movies are gaining more attention.

North Koreans also prefer American movies to Korean ones. “Practically everyone knows ‘Titanic.'” The movie classic “Gone with the Wind” is popular among upper-class North Koreans in Pyongyang, while young people enjoy action films. “DVDs of American movies or TV dramas fetched the highest prices,” she said. “But now USBs with American TV programs are more popular than DVDs.”

Additional information:
1. Titanic is rumored to have been screened in Pyongyang cinemas.

2. Also, Tom and Jerry was shown on North Korean television in the 1980s. See here and here.

3. We have heard conflicting reports about just how tolerant the North Korean government is of foreign films.

Read the full story here:
N.Korean TV Viewers Favor American Shows
Choson Ilbo
12/18/2010

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