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North Korean Documentaries


Ariel

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Hey Guys!

 

I have a fun obsession with North Korea and I enjoy learning about it as much as I can. I've seen all the docs available on Netflix:

 

Crossing the Line

National Geographic: Inside North Korea

Kimjongilia

Seoul Train

 

I was wondering if anyone could recommend some more documentaries, books, tv episodes, etc?

 

Thanks in advance!

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I also developed a fascination ("obsession" is what hubby calls it) with North Korea. In the past year or so, I've acquired quite a collection of North Korea media....

The books I've read and recommend:

1. Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden - An absolutely horrifying account of a young man born a political prisoner inside a North Korean gulag. His parents were camp prisoners because of some crime committed by family members but they were rewarded with "marriage" for good behavior/work. The young man was borne of such a union, and upon birth, automatically sentenced to life in the prison camp. Honestly, after reading this book, all other books on the horrors of North Korea pales in comparison. And yet, it's fascinating to see the resilience of the human spirit. I think I've read and re-read this book several times now. I highly recommend this for anyone interested in North Korea.

2. The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-Hwan - Another account of a young man's time in a labor camp. Kang was born into the North Korean elite but as a child, he and his family were herded into the camps after his grandfather fell out of favor. A very good read. Evidently, Dubya decided to include North Korea into his "axis of evil" triumvirate after reading this book and even invited the author to the White House. For once, I'm in agreement with Bush II, you can't help but admit to the evil that is the Kim regime after reading this book.

3. Only Beautiful, Please by John Everard - A book on life in North Korea by a recent British ambassador to the country. It's an easy read and offers an outline of the socioeconomic and political situation of North Korea. The author is frank that his experience with North Koreans were limited to an elite group due to the country's restrictions on foreigners, but still offers a wonderful glimpse into how North Koreans live, what they think and what life is like for the small minority of Westerners who reside there.

4. Long Road Home by Kim Yong - Probably the earliest book (I've seen) written by a North Korean defector and camp survivor. Kim Yong was convicted of spying during a background check when the authorities found out his biological father had been labelled a South Korean collaborator during the Korean War----and Kim Yong tried to forge documents to hide that fact. Of course, despite Yong's father having died BEFORE Yong was even born, or the fact Yong grew up an orphan adopted by high ranking military members....he was accused of being a spy. It's pretty amazing to see the level of paranoia that the North Koreans had, that they will even interrogate and demand to know how a father managed to pass on his spying ways to his unborn child!

The difference between Yong's book and Aquariums and Camp 14 is that Yong was sent to the camp reserved for the traitors of the state, whereas the horrifying camps in Aquariums and Camp 14 were reserved for the families of traitors. I didn't think it was possible, but the camps for those branded traitors were even more horrific than the ones that their families were sent to....

5. Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick - It traces the lives of five North Koreans who defected to South Korea during the famine years, going back to the families' beginnings, some decades back, all converging on their decision to flee North Korea and make their way to the south. Each family suffered from the famine, and the book takes great pains to detail their daily lives before and during the famine. An awesome book on daily life in North Korea and the effect of a famine on a once prosperous nation.

Documentaries:

1. North Korea: A State of Mind - I actually found this BBC documentary on Daily Motion (?) but it's available on Netflix as well. The documentary follows the tales of two school age gymnasts who are preparing for the Pyonyang mass games.

The film actually spends a significant amount of time delving into the family lives of these two girls, who (from what I know of North Koreans) are part of relatively "well off" urban middle class. Obviously, some of the presentations (such as the nice meals the family cooks, the repainted homes they live in) were provided by the government for the camera, but you still get a good impression of how (poorly) North Koreans live and what it must be like for "normal" citizens to live there. They focus so much on the family members, friends and teachers that you sometimes forget that the filmmakers were there ostensibly to document the mass games. I would watch it if only for the glimpses into the daily lives of these people.....I have yet to find another western documentary that's been allowed such intimate and prolonged access to the daily lives of North Koreans.

2. North Korea: A Day in the Life - I think I found this one either on Youtube or Daily Motion. It's a Swedish (?) documentary on what daily life is like for the "average" North Korean family. The version I found had English subtitles. There is no narration as the filmmakers let the North Koreans speak for themselves. Again, it's another glimpse at the life of a "well off" urban, elite family, but it's still a treasure trove of North Korean goodness. The filmmakers follows the daily happenings of a family in Pyongyang: the mother to work in a garment factory, the stepson's (?) day in school and even the young daughter's day in kindergarten. All in all, a fascinating film on North Korea.

We will never know what living in North Korea is truly like but these two documentaries are rare gems which offers a look at daily life and what accommodations are for a certain segment of the population. From watching that, we can gussitmate what life must be like for the vast majority that are even less privileged.

My parents grew up under Mao in China, so studying North Korea provides a better understanding for me of what life may have been like for my parents. Conversely, because I grew up hearing snippets of life under Maoist China, I think I get more insight when studying North Korea.

Anyway, these are the documentaries and books I recommend for any North Korea watchers. They each offer a different slice of life into that country, with their own slants and focus. However, I think I came away with a far better understanding of what life is like there as compared to reading about the country in the news. Enjoy!

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From a slightly different angle, I've found a few travel documentaries on YouTube that are quite interesting. There was, I believe, a BBC one which came under fire because it might have endangered the guides - but that's a bit hard to get around with any north Korea footage.

Obviously the NK shown to tourists is very different from the NK that many people live in, but it isn't hard to read between the lines. In my opinion the most interesting thing about these videos is how north Koreans try to project an idealised image, and defend against scrutiny, in ways that are so transparent. It really shows how removed from the rest of the world the citizens are.

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Hey Guys!

I have a fun obsession with North Korea and I enjoy learning about it as much as I can. I've seen all the docs available on Netflix:

Crossing the Line

National Geographic: Inside North Korea

Kimjongilia

Seoul Train

I was wondering if anyone could recommend some more documentaries, books, tv episodes, etc?

Thanks in advance!

I went through a similar fascination with North Korea not too long ago! I loved Crossing the Line... so fascinating!

The Vice documentary "Inside North Korea" is pretty good and is on youtube. It won't present you with anything astoundingly new or different, but it's interesting to see how the guys from Vice deal with traveling to NK.

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I, too, have gone through periods of fascination with this culture, and have seen almost everything everyone above has referenced. I would add three to the list (both of these are on the humorous side):

The Juche Idea (2008). This is a "mockumentary" that takes on aspects of North Korean propaganda, Kim Jong Il's theories of filmmaking, and even critiques capitalistic society. I think it may still be on Netflix (not sure, though). Here's a link for more info: www.imdb.com/title/tt1233599/

The Red Chapel (2009). Two Danish comedians take a trip to North Korea and show viewers what they went through in trying to cut through the red tape to put on a variety-type show. www.imdb.com/title/tt1546653/

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  • 1 month later...

Well, I watched the PBS documentary and it was pretty well done. I felt afraid though, every time the camera wuld catch a face for too long. Though dangerous, getting info in and out of the country will force change. No doubt Kim Jong Un will go to extreme lengths to retain control, but the Internet and a more global world will eventually undermine his power. He is up against things his father and grandfather did not have to contend with. I feel horrible for all the innocents who will suffer as it all unfolds :(

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  • 2 years later...

I am sooooo glad that I am not the only person with both a religious/cult obsession and north Korea!

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  • 4 months later...

Another very good documentary just came out this year.  It is a Russian production by Vitaly Mansky called "Under The Sun" . It is on Netflix. 

What is different about this documentary is that it took two years of negotiations to get the film crew in. The entire script is produced, directed and after scrutinized by the North Koreans. The final product was approved after censoring everything they didn't want shown out.

The film crew took a huge risk and kept a copy of all the original footage backed up and managed to get it out of North Korea. That resulted in a documentary of the making of the documentary, with all of the retakes and discrepancies in the script.

Look around at all of what is being shown. It is often the things in the background that are the actual subject of the scenes. Full winter wear under uniforms  in what must be freezing cold factories, little children trying so hard to stay upright and awake for speeches too boring for most adults, children rummaging through the garbage for food and so on.

Here is an article that explains more:

 

LATimes - Under the Sun

 

 

 

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