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N. Korea Growing More Tolerant of Foreign Movies

Posted September. 19, 2009 11:02,   


North Korea is slowly but steadily opening up its market for foreign movies and shows. The communist country has traditionally used popular media as a tool for propaganda.

○ Airing of Western culture

The first sign of changes in the North’s Central Broadcasting Station, the nation’s sole TV channel, appeared July 3 with a commercial for Taedonggang Beer, the North’s first. Before the commercial, North Korean television had focused on political propaganda. Since then, the station has launched a series of commercials for hawking products like Kaesong Ginseng, Cosmos Hairpin and a quail dish of the restaurant Okryukwan.

The latest programs include those on science and technology and culture of other nations. In prime time, the station even televised a Russian ballet performance of Swan Lake for one hour.

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.

○ Foreign movies on CD-ROM

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.

“The Pathetic Life of South Koreans in Crisis,” a 10-minute-long video clip broadcast by the Central Broadcasting Station July 29, was apparently made to prevent North Koreans from getting illusions about life in the South.

“Military Guard under a Neon Light,” a play watched by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il last month, reflects the intentions of North Korean leaders. Adapted from a Chinese play, the play has as its setting Shanghai of the late 1940s after China’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule.

The neon light is meant to criticize the growing fetishism of capitalism. North Korean soldiers must watch the play, whose message is that those addicted to bourgeois life cannot pursue revolution and that capitalistic principles should be prevented from infiltrating into the nation.