Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

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
Hwangbo Yon


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


“The Cleanest Race” on C-Span

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Back in February, B.R. Myers, author of The Cleanest Race, gave a few talks in the US.  Apparently I missed all of them.

Luckily, C-Span recorded the one of the discussions for us all to see.  It is well worth watching in its entirety here.

You can order the book at Amazon here.

(hat tip to a reader)


2010 Pyongyang Film Festival

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

According to the AFP:

One of the world’s most tightly-controlled societies got a rare glimpse of the outside world at the Pyongyang International Film Festival last week, where even Western films were screened.

Communist North Korea strictly controls access to information, including via mobile phones and the Internet, leaving most North Koreans in ignorance of the wider world. A tour guide had never heard of the late pop star Michael Jackson.

Yet participants in the 12th Pyongyang International Film Festival, which ended on September 24, say it helped open a window for the impoverished country.

Only a minority of the population was able to attend the event, but it gave them access to documentaries, feature films and shorts from several European countries and Canada.

Productions from Asia, Russia, the Middle East and elsewhere were also on the programme.

Henrik Nydqvist, a freelance film producer who was Sweden’s official delegate to the eight-day event, said anything which breaks North Korea’s isolation is positive.

“We think we’re doing something good here,” he said. “We feel we can make some positive impact… and that outweighs the other things.”

The festival has its own venue, the Pyongyang International Cinema House, which includes a 2,000-seat theatre as well as other smaller halls.

Red, blue and green neon signs hanging in the atrium beam the country’s foreign policy slogan: “Peace, independence, friendship”.

A 300-seat hall was almost completely filled with Koreans for an afternoon screening of the comedy “Pieces d’Identites” from Congo.

They sat quietly behind padlocked doors in a hot, airless room for the story of an African king who travels to Belgium in search of his daughter, who has been forced to work as a nude dancer.

The film’s images include bordellos and a heaving African nightclub, depicting a world alien to North Koreans who are bombarded with propaganda from childhood and whose showpiece capital Pyongyang appears to be stuck in a time decades past.

Such images can only help to bring about change, said a source connected with the film festival.

“They have in mind: Why is North Korea, my country, different?”

Connections are required to gain admission and authorities do not want the rural masses outside of the capital to see foreign movies, he said.

“I watched some poor people who wanted to see the movie, and the guard stopped them.”

At the event’s closing ceremony attended by more than 1,500 people, including foreign diplomats, Nydqvist read a letter of thanks to Kim Jong-Il, ruler of the country which has twice tested nuclear weapons and is under various United States and United Nations sanctions.

“The Pyongyang International Film Festival is unique,” the letter said, thanking Kim for his “care and interest.”

Such messages are common practice in the country, Nydqvist said.

Read the full story here:
Foreign films give isolated N.Korea rare window on world


Chongryun on YouTube?

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

UPDATE: As noted in the comments and in this post, Uriminzokkiri is run by the North Koreans, not the Chongryun.


The pro-Pyongyang ethnic Korean community in Japan (Chongryun, Chosen Soren) has apparently opend a YouTube channel named “uriminzokkiri” (“On our own as a nation”) where they are uploading pro-DPRK and DPRK-made videos.

The Chongryun operate a number of web pages on behalf of themselves and the North Korean government (, Naenara,,, and more) all of which host video content.  So why open a YouTube account?  All these web pages are blocked in South Korea—so I am wondering if South Korean readers see these YouTube videos? 

UPDATE: Gag notes the following in the comments: “The ‘uriminzokkiri’ account is presumably run by the website of the same name, which links to it. The homepage lists two email addresses on, so I doubt that it’s run by the Chongryon either. (, which is in Japanese, has an email address on its own domain.)

I wonder also whether it is just a matter of time before the US Justice Department/Treasury Department goes knocking on YouTube’s door.  If this account is sponsored by the official Chonryon organization, the US government might have a problem with that.  I suspect, however, that the account is “maintained” by a “private” individual so that it cannot be construed as engagement in a business trade with the DPRK.  In the past, on line chat services owned by Yahoo and Linkedin have been asked to close accounts of individuals in sanctioned countries like the DPRK.  

As of now, the account hosts nearly 40 videos.  Unfortunatley not a single one is of the North Korean evening news.  The North Korean news is usually posted on, but has not been updated since July 26. Rather than running 10 pages poorly, they might consider consolidating and running 2 pages well!

According to Yonhap:

North Korea has apparently registered an account with the iconic U.S. video-sharing site YouTube, uploading clips that praise the isolated regime and defend itself against accusations that it attacked a South Korean warship.

The name in Korean means “on our own as a nation” and was registered July 14.

The uploaded footage contain regurgitations of official cant that honor the North’s leader, Kim Jong-il, and the usual South Korea bashing. The Aug. 2 upload contained an elaborately produced three-minute clip lashing out at South Korea’s foreign minister.

Another clip, uploaded the same day and also produced in Korean, ridicules Seoul for its failure to stop the U.N. Security Council from placing Pyongyang’s denial in its statement deploring the deadly March sinking of the Cheonan warship.



DPRK, PRC to produce film on Korean War

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

According to Yonhap:

North Korea and China will jointly produce a film marking the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, according to the Chinese embassy in Pyongyang on Tuesday.

The announcement was posted on the official Web site of the Chinese embassy amid heightened tensions after North Korea’s sinking of the warship Cheonan in the Yellow Sea in March this year, which killed 46 South Korean sailors.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea, China to produce film on Korean War
Kim Young-gyo


Most DPRK defectors watched ROK media

Monday, June 14th, 2010

According to Yonhap:

More than half of North Korean teenage defectors viewed South Korean movies and dramas when they were in the communist country, a survey said Monday.

According to the survey conducted last month by Yoon Sun-hee, a professor for Hanyang University, 79 of 140 students, or 56 percent, in Hangyeore Middle and High School said they watched South Korean films and TV programs in North Korea.

North Korea reportedly strictly bans its people from viewing South Korean broadcasts and films.

Hangyeore, located in Anseong, 77 kilometers south of Seoul, is a school for North Korean defectors founded in 2006.

Among the respondents, 57 students said they saw South Korean movies on DVD and 43 claimed to have watched videotaped dramas, while 15 watched broadcasts on TV, the survey showed.

It did not say how the students had obtained the South Korean DVDs and videos, or gained access to the broadcasts.

Forty students said they could see the South Korean programs whenever they wanted and five watched them everyday, when asked how often they had seen the banned films.

The survey also showed that 21 teenagers said they had watched the programs once a month, six said once a year, while seven students experienced the South Korean material only once during their lifetimes in North Korea.

According to the survey, most of them said South Korean films and dramas were “interesting,” although they had to view them secretly in the reclusive country.

“It’s hard to make generalizations but the results are surprising,” said Prof. Yoon. “The result itself indicates that North Korea is more open than we expected.”

“The study shows that North Korean teenagers tend to protest against the regime and also enjoy their lives,” she added.

Some 125 respondents were living near the North Korea-China border, while 15 others were living closer inland, including Pyongyang.

Read the full story below:
More than half of young N.K. defectors watched S. Korean TV programs: poll


Friday Fun: North Korean fashion

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

I watch a lot of North Korean television either by seeking out content or receiving it through friends.  I have decided to post some of it to YouTube (apologies to readers in China) so that I can blog about it.  This first clip is from North Korean television (this month) and the subject is women’s fashion.


Click on image to watch the 5 minute television show.

I am not a fashion critic, so let a thousand flowers bloom–but I should add that clothing lies within the portfolio of the KWP Light Industry Bureau which is controlled by Kim Jong-il’s sister.

UPDATE: This video was featured in an article on Radio Free Asia.  It has a lot more information.

While figuring out how to use YouTube I also stumbled on another discussion of North Korean fashion by Suk-young Kim, associate professor of theater and dance at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of Illusive Utopia: Theater, Film, and Everyday Performance in North Korea and translator of Long Road Home: Testimony of a North Korean Camp Survivor. See her discussion on Youtube by clicking on the image below.



North Korea scores with fascinating football film

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

By Michael Rank

North Korean films are as hard to find as kimchi-flavoured ice cream, so Koryo Tours have done us a big favour by releasing on DVD Centre Forward (film trailer here), a highly watchable and fascinating Pyongyang production from 1978.

It’s the tale of talented novice footballer Cha In-son (Kim Chol), who’s been on the bench for Taesongsan for the last three years, but finally makes the team. Not everything goes well at first, and he’s forced to leave the field injured in his first match. But he sticks at it, and strongly supports the coach’s tough new training regime, unlike his complacent best friend and teammate, Chol-gyu, who thinks it’s unnecessary for such a successful team. Chol-gyu (Choi Chang-su) tries to distract him with drinking sessions, but In-son will have none of this, and eventually everyone’s won over to the coach’s demanding regime and Taesongsan ultimately win the North Korean equivalent of the Premiership.

The film, co-directed by Pak Chang-song and Kim Kil-in, is well paced (and only 70 minutes long) and the black and white camerawork is fluent and confident.

There’s a strong political message, inevitably. “Oh, we are the sports soldiers of the leader/ Let us glorify the honour of the motherland…,” goes the splendidly rousing theme song, and to underline the point, the coach reminds In-son, “The Fatherly Leader taught us that we should train harder to win every single game and we should turn our country into a great sporting nation. But we’re still not sweating enough, that’s why our football isn’t getting any better and we’re failing to achieve the teachings of the Fatherly Leader who taught us to make the country a kingdom of sport.”

On a less overtly political level the role of the women in the film is fascinating. In-son doesn’t seem to have a girlfriend, and the love interest, as it were, is provided by his pretty sister,  Myong-suk. She is the star member of a dance troupe and her hard work and dedication is an inspiration for her brother, while she is just as devoted to him, going off to talk to the coach about his prospects when he is feeling despondent. And she takes time off from her dancing duties to iron her brother’s clothes, while his mother washes them for him as he rests, exhausted.

There’s some wry comedy in the relationship between In-son’s mother and best friend Chol-gyu’s grandmother. After her grandson’s string of successes on the pitch, she feels right at home in the world of football and knows all the jargon, and she’s apt to be a bit condescending to In-son’s mum to whom she has to explain terms like “left back” and “having an off day”.

There’s a bit of melodrama when In-son is concussed during a match – don’t worry, he makes a miraculous recovery – and his mother who is watching the game on television wants to rush to the stadium to be with her son. But then she realises she can’t face seeing In-son apparently seriously injured, and Chol-gyu’s granny tells her, “You’re not ready to be a footballer’s mother yet.”

Interestingly, neither In-son or his friend seem to have fathers, and this emphasis on mother figures seems to underline what Brian Myers says in his excellent book The Cleanest Race (Order here) about the roles of mothers and motherliness in North Korean politics and society.

This is the perfect film to see ahead of the World Cup in South Africa next month, in which North Korea have qualified for only the second time ever. Not for nothing has Centre Forward been hailed as “the best North Korean-themed football movie of all time” and there’s no doubt that the Choson Art Film Studio is a truly worthy winner of the Kim Il-sung medal and the National medal, first class.


Friday Fun: Centre Forward and Mass Games photos

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Koryo Tours is distributing the North Korean film Centre Forward–a film which “critics are already hailing as the best North Korean-themed football movie of all time”.


See the trailer you YouTube here.

See the trailer on Youku (PR China) here.

You can order the film directly from Koryo Tours by email: [email protected]

Also, photographer Werner Kranwetvogel worked with Nick Bonner to produce high quality photography of the Mass Games:


See more about his work here.