Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Friday Fun

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

1. Alejandro Cao de Benos, head of the Korean Friendship Association,  did an interview for an Italian publication (Page 1, Page 2).  Josh is posting a translation: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.

2. Flower of Reunification: North Korean propaganda film about Im Suk Yong.  Lots of great footage of the 1989 World Festival of Youth and Students in Pyongyang.  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.

3. North Korea has launched a new propaganda campaign aiming to increase living standards.  See the new paintings in the Choson Ilbo here.

 4. Ice skating: Pyongyang might have the DPRK’s only indoor ice skating rink (as far as I know), but ice skating–particularly on frozen rivers and lakes–seems to be pretty popular in the DPRK.  Scenes like the one below (Hyangsan) can be easily found in North Korea on Google Earth:


5. Reunification fruit.

6. According to Google’s international dailing chart, North Korea and Cuba are the most expensive places to call!

7. North East Asia Matters posts interview with former member of KJI pleasure squad.


Korea Business Consultants Newsletter

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

Korea Business Consultants has published their October 2009 newsletter.  You can read it here.

Here is the newsletter table of contents:

– China eyes DPRK’s mineral wealth
– SinoMining acquires 51% of DPRK’s Hyesan Copper Mine
– Transformation and Modernization of North Korea
– DPRK sees peace pact with US as key to disarmament
– US “willing to engage DPRK directly”
– “DPRK Energy Sector Assistance to – Accompany Progress in… Discussions”
– Billy Graham’s son visits DPRK to deliver aid
– Lang visits Seoul

– DPRK vows to expand trade
– China poised to give substantial aid
– DPRK films looking for joint producers

– Buddhists from south, north call for reopening of Mount Kumgang tour
– Kaesong factory recognized for quality
– Frayed relations hindering development of mineral resources
– ROK aid to north falls
– Lawmakers call for use of rice surplus as DPRK aid
– Farmers demand rice price stabilization

– Kenya establishes diplomatic relations with DPRK

– Eriksson to coach DPRK?
– DPRK’s Hong battles for gold at World Gymnastic Championships
– DPRK begins preparations for World Cup

– Mangyongdae
– Korean Proverb


Black market film prices

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

From a recent article in Time:

In recent years, bootlegged South Korean dramas have been flooding into the northern neighbor — part of a recent explosion across Asia in the popularity of South Korean TV shows and music known as the Korean Wave. On the black market in North Korea, American DVDs go for about 35¢; South Korean ones go for $3.75, because of the higher risk of execution for smuggling them in, according to two recent defectors from Pyongyang. The nation’s films and dramas have become so widespread across North Korea that the regime launched a crackdown this fall on North Korean university students, the movies’ biggest audience, and smugglers at the Chinese border, charging some with promoting the ideology of the enemy state.

It seems plausible that South Korean films are more expensive than American films due to political risk, but this cannot be the only factor.  DPRK politics aside, South Korean and American films are not perfect substitutes.  I am willing to bet that some of the price difference can be explained by the language barrier.  North Koreans can watch South Korean films and dramas without reading subtitles.  Some of the stories, characters, and motivations probably make more sense as well.

We can make apriory assumptions all day, however.  We need some data. There is a paper in here for an enterprising economics student living near Dandong.

Read the full story here:
Soap-Opera Diplomacy: North Koreans Crave Banned Videos
Geoffrey Cain


N. Korea [not] growing more tolerant of foreign movies

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

UPDATE 2: (hat tip to a couple of appreciated readers) Park Soo-me reports on the proliferation of South Korean films in the DPRK:

“It’s safe to assume that a majority of North Korean residents have watched a South Korean film or a soap opera at least once,” said Kim, who left North Korea in 2004, and established a think-tank in Seoul called the “North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity.”

The group, which frequently communicates with their inside contacts in the North, recently broke revealing news that a group of North Korean students were caught watching “Haeundae,” a mega-hit South Korean disaster film locally released just over a month ago, at a computer lab inside a Pyongyang college.

The defector group cited an anonymous source in Pyongyang who told their reporter that the government is tightening a crackdown of digital files, as South Korean films smuggled through China are endangering the North’s dictatorial regime.

A student identified only as “Choi” said he had downloaded the film at his relative’s house in Cheongjin, a city about 50 miles from the Chinese border. He was arrested for promoting the ideology of his enemy state, not for circulating a pirated film.

Since the late 1990s, South Korean dramas and films were illegally traded in the North through local businessmen frequenting the Chinese borders. The phenomenon is not unlike that from the young Soviets in the 1970s, who secretly acquired rock ‘n’ roll records and American videotapes through its black market, despite the country’s ban on the cultural products of the capitalist state.

Last year, an insider from another defectors’ group based in Seoul broke news that DVD compilations of South Korean adult films and TV dramas are becoming popular in the North, as the sales of the average South Korean soap opera has declined in recent years. Such DVDs were found in a North Korean market in Cheongjin, the group said through its newsletter.

The situation in the North has gotten to the point where Oh Yang-yeol, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, published a paper on “Hallyu in North Korea: Now and Future.”

The term hallyu recalls the Korean wave of pop culture that hit Southeast Asia in the early 2000s. Oh’s paper stresses the spread of South Korean fashion, drama and music among the younger generation of North Koreans.

In a separate release by the Korean Institute of National Unification, experts have quoted North Korean defectors who have testified that South Korean melodramas like “Autumn in My Heart” and “Winter Sonata” have become a such hit in the North that a special squad was once organized to crack down on the violators.

But not all dramas smuggled into the North are soft, touchy-feely soap operas. Among the works that have been found and blacklisted by the Northern authorities include films like Park Chan-wook’s “Joint Security Area,” a story which is essentially built around a forbidden friendship between solders from the North and South who are stationed in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two countries.

On the distribution side, South Korean films and TV dramas are appearing in the North faster and with a broader reach, as evident in the recent case of “Haeundae.”

“In the past, it normally took up to six months for a South Korean film to arrive in the North,” Oh said. “Now, it takes little over a month. In wealthier neighborhoods in Pyongyang we start to see local girls imitating the hairstyle and fashion of South Korean celebrities who starred in the latest TV dramas.”

Irritated by the spread of hallyu — often referred to as the “yellow wind” in the North — authorities have tightened censorship regulations and house inspections to encourage “ideological discipline.” But there is a limit as to what they can do.

Although limited to a privileged few, more computer-savvy Koreans in Pyongyang are finding easier alternatives to enjoy pop culture from the outside world, making the North’s isolation more difficult. Internet access is limited to an Intranet for most people in the North. But USB drives are becoming more common among local college and middle school students, and frequent traffic between North Korea and China is increasing opportunities for cross-border smuggling of pirated films from Hollywood and Seoul.

Read the full story below:
Pop culture making inroads into North Korea
Hollywood Reporter
Park Soo-mee

UPDATE 1: Although the Donga Ilbo previously reported that the DPRK was growing more tolerant of foreign films (below), Channel News Asia reports the DPRK is clamping down:

The student in Pyongyang was caught on September 5 while watching a digital copy of “Haeundae” with his dorm friends, the North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity said in a newsletter posted on its website.

The student allegedly acquired a file of the film at a relative’s house in the northeastern port city of Chongjin and downloaded it onto his college computer, it said.

The case prompted authorities to launch an extensive probe aimed at preventing the spread of the movie, the group said, quoting a “correspondent” in the North.

The inspection revealed that tens of thousands of North Koreans have secretly seen foreign films, it said.

Defectors say South Korean pop songs and movies are popular in the isolated communist country, despite a steady campaign to weed out what state media has termed “decadent foreign culture and ideals”.

In December 2007, three North Koreans including a schoolteacher were sentenced to death for smuggling illegal adult films from China and South Korea, according to Good Friends, a Seoul-based aid group working in the North.

ORIGINAL POST: According to the Donga Ilbo:

Recently, the North has televised the shows “International Common Sense,” “Animals in the World,” and “Foreign Culture,” programs which had been abolished long ago. Those programs even show the daily lives of Westerners.

A few days ago, a video clip was aired in which North Korean singers in military uniform played the guitar and sang Italian songs. When broadcasting sports, Pyongyang used to simply air competitions in which North Korean athletes participated, but when airing the IAAF World Championship in Athletics in Berlin last month, the North summarized footage of major events and televised them.

North Korea’s attitude toward foreign movies has also changed. CD-ROMs containing foreign movies have been manufactured by the state-run Hana Electronics, which has sold them across the nation. Most of the CD-ROMs include foreign movies aired by Mansudae TV, which serves Pyongyang only.

A CD-ROM is priced at 1,500 North Korean won (41 U.S. cents) and a DVD goes for 7,500 won (2.07 dollars). CD-ROMs of cooking game programs as well as those on the lives of famous soccer players such as Diego Maradona and Franz Beckenbauer are also on the market.

The North has also embraced world-famous animated films. The Disney productions of “Cinderella,” “Pinocchio,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Robin Hood” are available across the nation. The popular American cartoon “Tom and Jerry” is called “The Magic World of a Mouse” in the North.

The proliferation of foreign movies has also led to an increase in secret movie rental stores. Government-manufactured CD-ROMs can be rented out at 300 won (eight cents) per day and illegal movies can be borrowed at 500 won (14 cents) per day.

Yet most foreign programs broadcast in North Korea are created in China, which, in turn, has encouraged North Koreans to adopt the Chinese way of life. Mansudae TV routinely broadcasts Chinese soap operas like the drama “Unnamed Hero” and “Vertical Blow,” which shows the training of China’s special forces.

Despite the apparent liberalization of North Korean television, Pyongyang has toughened its punishment for those watching South Korean TV programs. In the past, punishment for watching a South Korean program was usually avoided through a bribe but the offense is now considered more severe than a drug-related crime.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea Growing More Tolerant of Foreign Movies
Donga Ilbo


Friday Fun: DPRK movies, KFA, and Air Koryo

Thursday, September 10th, 2009


Hero of the the Commoners


One Photo (Part 1)


One Photo (Part 2)


Shiny Morning (part 1)shinymorning.JPG Shiny Morning (Part 2)shinymorning.JPG

The Miraculous Sound of Love


Cartoon- A Kum Rangakumrang.JPG

Also, Alejandro Cao de Benos has published his own book in Thailand.  According to the KFA web page the book, Korea, the Songun Citadel, was recently published in Bangkok, Thailand. With 148 pages and first edition of 500 volumes.

I am not sure when volume 2 of 500 will be published.

And finally, Skytrax has ranked Air Koryo as the world’s only 1-star airline.


Friday Fun: Nick Bonner, Kim Yong Sik, and Paul Romer

Friday, August 14th, 2009

1. Nick Bonner, founder of Koryo Tours and producer of three documentaries filmed in the DPRK has given a recent interview to World Hub.  Mr. Bonner is currently working on a new film–a North Korean romantic comedy:

“We are hoping to start shooting in December. If that does not kill me then nothing will. We will keep people updated on Facebook and our newsletter and I think the making of the film will be one heck of a ride. Think revolutionary coal miner who wants to become a trapeze artist. But how does she accomplish this? With a script like that how can we go wrong!”

2. Kim Yong Sik was born in 1949. Having lived in Seoul all his life, he discovered his unique talent about 15 years ago; when others started to notice he looked like North Korea’s “Dear Leader.” Since then, Kim Yong Sik has made a living, part time, imitating Kim Jong Il in movies, television commercials, weddings and Japanese TV dramas.


3. Paul Romer’s TED talk: How can a struggling country break out of poverty if it’s trapped in a system of bad rules? Economist Paul Romer unveils a bold idea: “charter cities,” city-scale administrative zones governed by a coalition of nations. Could Guantánamo Bay become the next Hong Kong?  Watch the presentation here.


North Korea on Google Earth v.18

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

North Korea Uncovered version 18 is available.  This Google Earth overlay maps North Korea’s agriculture, aviation, cultural locations, markets, manufacturing facilities, railroad, energy infrastructure, politics, sports venues, military establishments, religious facilities, leisure destinations, and national parks.

This project has now been downloaded over 140,000 times since launching in April 2007 and received much media attention last month following a Wall Street Journal article highlighting the work.

Note: Kimchaek City is now in high resolution for the first time.  Information on this city is pretty scarce.  Contributions welcome.

Additions to this version include: New image overlays in Nampo (infrastructure update), Haeju (infrastructure update, apricot trees), Kanggye (infrastructure update, wood processing factory), Kimchaek (infrastructure update). Also, river dredges (h/t Christopher Del Riesgo), the Handure Plain, Musudan update, Nuclear Test Site revamp (h/t Ogle Earth), The International School of Berne (Kim Jong un school), Ongjin Shallow Sea Farms, Monument to  “Horizon of the Handure Plain”, Unhung Youth Power Station, Hwangnyong Fortress Wall, Kim Ung so House, Tomb of Kim Ung so, Chungnyol Shrine, Onchon Public Library, Onchon Public bathhouse, Anbyon Youth Power Stations.


North Korea’s revolutionary operas

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

I was looking at the Koryo Tours web page and found the following information on North Korea’s revolutionary operas:

In the DPRK there are five revolutionary operas, all created in the early 1970s, which have been termed in North Korea as ‘immortal classics’.  In order of production date these are; Sea of Blood, The Flower Girl, A True Daughter of the Party, Tell O’ the Forest! and The Song of Mt. Kumgang. These operas are still performed to this day and on the occasions that performances take place it is even possible for tourists to attend the shows, the performing language is of course Korean but when foreigners are in attendance English language supertitles are beamed onto a wall beside the stage so that the narrative can be followed by visitors. All operas are full-scale, large cast efforts with amazingly high production values and these 5 shows have sustained their popularity over the decades. All of them of course contain strong political messages that reflect the issues concerning the country at the time of their writing up until the present day and people of all ages attend the shows frequently. For complete information on what comprises and constitutes a Revolutionary Opera and what characteristics and values it must have then there is only one book to read; On the Art of Opera by Kim Jong Il.

I have posted descriptions of the five operas below (each also from the Koryo Tours web page):



Day of the sun: propaganda time

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

UPDATE: Here is a photo of the fireworks show

April 15 is the biggest holiday in North Korea–it is Kim Il sung’s birthday.  I thought this would be a good opportunity to post some good old fashioned communist propaganda which I found on the Korean Friendship Association web page.  

The film is called Always Together, and it is in Russian, which gives it that socialist je ne sais qua.  Another important thing to note is that although the film appears to be about Kim Il sung it is really about Kim Jong il and how is is the legitimate successor to his father. 

Those interested in North Korean propaganda will be surprised to see how many classic propaganda images are taken from this video.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9.


North Korea Google Earth

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

North Korea Uncovered v.16
Download it here


The most recent version of North Korea Uncovered (North Korea Google Earth) has been published.  Since being launched, this project has been continuously expanded and to date has been downloaded over 32,000 times.

Pictured to the left is a statue of Laurent Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  This statue, as well as many others identified in this version of the project, was built by the North Koreans. According to a visitor:

From the neck down, the Kabila monument looks strangely like Kim Jong Il: baggy uniform, creased pants, the raised arm, a little book in his left hand. From the neck up, the statue is the thick, grim bald mug of Laurent Kabila (his son Joseph is the current president). “The body was made in North Korea,” explains my driver Felix. In other words, the body is Kim Jong Il’s, but with a fat, scowling Kabila head simply welded on.

This is particularly interesting because there are no known pictures of a Kim Jong il statue.  The only KJI statue that is reported to exist is in front of the National Security Agency in Pyongyang.  If a Kim Jong il statue does in fact exist, it might look something like this.

Thanks again to the anonymous contributors, readers, and fans of this project for your helpful advice and location information. This project would not be successful without your contributions.

Version 16 contains the following additions: Rakwon Machine Complex, Sinuiju Cosmetics Factory, Manpo Restaurant, Worker’s Party No. 3 Building (including Central Committee and Guidance Dept.), Pukchang Aluminum Factory, Pusan-ri Aluminum Factory, Pukchung Machine Complex, Mirim Block Factory, Pyongyang General Textile Factory, Chonnae Cement Factory, Pyongsu Rx Joint Venture, Tongbong Cooperative Farm, Chusang Cooperative Farm, Hoeryong Essential Foodstuff Factory, Kim Ki-song Hoeryong First Middle School , Mirim War University, electricity grid expansion, Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground (TSLG)” is also known as the “Musudan-ri Launching Station,” rebuilt electricity grid, Kumchang-ri suspected underground nuclear site, Wangjaesan Grand Monument, Phothae Revolutionary Site, Naedong Revolutionary Site, Kunja Revolutionary Site, Junggang Revolutionary Site, Phophyong Revolutionary Site, Samdung Revolutionary Site, Phyongsan Granite Mine, Songjin Iron and Steel Complex (Kimchaek), Swedish, German and British embassy building, Taehongdan Potato Processing Factory, Pyongyang Muyseum of Film and Theatrical Arts, Overseas Monuments built by DPRK: Rice Museum (Muzium Padi) in Malaysia, Statue de Patrice Lumumba (Kinshasa, DR Congo), National Heroes Acre (Windhoek, Namibia), Derg Monument (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia), National Heroes Acre (Harare, Zimbabwe), New State House (Windhoek, Namibia), Three Dikgosi (Chiefs) Monument (Gaborone, Botswana), 1st of May Square Statue of Agostinho Neto (Luanda, Angola), Momunment Heroinas Angolas (Luanda, Angola), Monument to the Martyrs of Kifangondo Battle (Luanda, Angola), Place de l’étoile rouge, (Porto Novo, Benin), Statue of King Béhanzin (Abomey, Benin), Monument to the African Renaissance (Dakar, Senegal), Monument to Laurent Kabila [pictured above] (Kinshasa, DR Congo).