North Korea – Spend an Hour with this Travel Documentary

Following the BBC’s airing of an undercover report from North Korea last night I decided I was interested enough to look around and find out more.  Time is limited for me (when is it not!) as Salute 2013 is only a few days away now but I took an hour and found a really great video on YouTube by a film maker called ‘Etherium Sky’.  This film maker has produced an excellent, actually better than the BBC’s efforts, travel documentary of his own trip to North Korea.  I recommend that if you have any interest in what is likely to be the most secretive and paranoid nation on earth that you watch it.  It is well worth an hour of your time.

Leaving aside the ongoing and seemingly constant threats of military action and possible thermonuclear attack upon South Korea and other nations by the DPRK (Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea) the documentary was fascinating to me.  I am a big, big fan of the works of George Orwell and to see a state that exists in close to what ‘1984’ describes was very interesting.  I will not spoil the documentary for you but a few interesting points:

  • Lack of Technology – The DPRK is almost medieval in many places.  A lot of the jobs and tasks in the video looked to me, as a student of history, the way Japan did in the 1400’s.  The typical person there has no technology of any kind on their person including a wrist watch or mobile phone.
  • Failing Electricity Grid –   It would be amusing if it was not so criminal but the power grid in the DPRK seemed to fail constantly plunging whole towns into darkness.  That is a society in touble, rule one for a modern civilisation…electricity.  You try living without it.
  • Grinding Poverty – You can find out about the famine that killed a million plus, of the food aid that China and other give the DPRK, but in watching this film you also see the hard manual labour most North Koreans must also put up with.  I don’t even think it was about full employment on farms or such just a lack of machines to achieve more with less labour.
  • Isolationism – As a pariah state North Koreans have NO information about the outside world and this is down right strange.  Never heard of the Beatles, not heard of Star Wars or seen The Eiffel Tower.  We know little about them but they really know nothing about us.
  • Child Actors – It is worth watching this film if only to see the section in the middle of it with a performance put on including dance routines, piano, violin, guitar and acting put on in PERFECTION by DPRK children aged about 4-5 years.  Yes, very young children.  Speaking as a father of three and having been to a dozen or more such performances of this age can only get this level of perfection if the threat of failure is dire indeed for the kiddies.
  • Slight of Hand – A lot of the filming is out of the corner of a window or slyly from a coach or under the arm.  Why?  Well the regime wants you to see only what it wishes you to see.  Taken to the model village, the ideal factory, the perfect hospital and immaculate hotel but not the buildings next door or the stores with empty shelves.  It is awful to watch and so clueless to a modern audience from the West who are just not taken in by this attempt at slight of hand.  Indeed the idea of perfection for the regime is something from the 1970’s or 1980’s, all pre-digital.
  • The Military – Everywhere and everything.  In fact the only thing that seems to run well in North Korea.
  • The Glorious Leader Cult – Scary, scary stuff.  A mix of hacked down messianic religion and fairy tales about the current, previous and first glorious leader.  If the DPRK had any form of free media it would not be able to exist like this.  Some of the stories are really wild.
  • Ideological Failure –  The DPRK is a broken state its obvious to all watching this film.  The reasons for this are many but what interests me is the idea that extreme nations where dictatorship and military led societies ALL seem to fail; why is this?  Lack of investment, a slow down of growth and innovation, public sector meltdown for military spending and so on.  North Korea is like any number of such states in Africa ruled in much the same fashion or it can be compared to the Soviet Union of the 1990’s or the Argentina of the 1980’s.  As you will all know the more democratic a nation’s name is the less democratic it is likely to be indeed throw in a ‘democratic’ or ‘peoples’ or ‘republic’ and I will assure you the nation in question meets none of its own named qualities.

A pariah state.  A place not really of our world.  How long with North Korea remain this way…well in my opinion not as long as the glorious leader would like it to.  But then what do I know, what do any of us know.


2 thoughts on “North Korea – Spend an Hour with this Travel Documentary

  1. An incredibly thought provoking documentary that was a fascinating watch. Many years ago I saw a National Geographic undercover documentary that for the first time showed the squalor in which most of the inhabitants live (only touched on in this documentary as the guy wasn’t able to roam around freely)

    Strangely enough, the country doesn’t remind me as much of the Soviet Union or East Germany, but rather of Romania under Nicolae Ceaușescu. The deserted hotels, restaurants and spas are basically “Potemkin villages” to fool foreigners, but even then still, the rest of the country is in such a terrible and paranoid state that they don’t even really try.

    Lastly, the absolute randomness of their propaganda is baffling. But again, such quasi-mythological aspects were also part of the Ceaușescu propaganda.

    There’s a brilliant animated video parody that highlights this weirdness of North Korea’s leadership:

    • Hello Sam,

      Good points. The empty places were fascinating to me as well. I will check out that video parody right now!


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