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I found this French film, apparently shot in spring 2010, to be better than most treatments of the North Korean tourist experience. Among other things, a young North Korean “rapper” is encountered in an amusement park (at 12:31), North Korean rallies are accompanied by music by Philip Glass, and the piece benefits from the use of some selected extracts from North Korean film archives.
In Part II, one gets a sense of how French tourists experience the Korean War museum in Pyongyang, a visit which begins with one of the visitors writing an inscription about her father, who left Korea in 1950 for France, never to return, in the museum’s visitor’s book.
Of slightly older vintage (but with the same North Korean Francophone guide, and a far more vigorous and hirsute traveller) is this French documentary from 2008, which concludes, around 2’30”, with the main TV personality sprinting across a field to batter a plywood cutout of a big-nosed American soldier, which prompts some humorous dialogue with the locals.
In the following section, a man gathers edible grasses on Kim Il Sung’s birthday. Then, in section three (below), the host laughs — he has finally lost his guides, who refuse to enter the church along with him in Pyongyang.
In Part 4, the viewer can enjoy (what else?) spectacle, as the French man goes into an extended discussion with his hosts about the sex habits of ostriches, including the possibility of bisexual ostriches. This is as far from the dark and paranoiac music of Lisa Ling’s National Geographic DPRK documentary as possible! As with everything else, it seems that the results of a journey have much to do with the proclivities of the traveler.
On the more geopolitical side of things, there is this in-depth French look at current events through a historical prism, including interviews with (among others) Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation which begins with a look — which I had never seen before — at the immense American flotilla sent to intimidate the North Koreans in summer 2010.
There are, somewhat less helpfully, long discourses by Jerrold Post, head of psychoanalysis [?] for the CIA, about Kim Jong Il’s cognac habits, and Klingner goes on about how the current generation of North Korean children are “mentally stunted.” But the documentary takes Kim Jong Il’s film history seriously, and, for the cultural historian, part 2 begins with extracts from the 1985 North Korean remake of Godzilla.
Not to be missed (besides the wonderful contrast between the personal stories of the casual and goateed bandana biker-styled Kenji Fujimoto and the statistics of Marcus Noland in his precisely fixed suit and tie) are North Korean television depictions of George W. Bush, seen here at 6’30”. What I find remarkable is the extent to which the continuity of the North Korean graphic styles manages to make Bush look like John Foster Dulles in 1950.
Finally, the obligatory refugee documentary, “Han, la prix de la liberte [Han, the Price of Liberty]” by Alexandre Dereims in 2009. Like Mike Kim’s book Escaping North Korea, “Han” traces the path of refugees from Yanji down to the Chinese borders with Laos/Thailand and takes them into Seoul. This is a well-known arc to anyone who follows news about North Korean defectors, but there is one point of fact which I found particularly interesting, if not happily so. At about 1’40” of the following segment, a young woman refugee being interviewed in an apartment in Yanji describes the years of famine — 1994, 1995, 1996, she enumerates them off one by one as if to recount each as an entity deserving of individual weight — and matter-of-factly recounts that people resorted to cannibalism. Then, she says “Things are presently on the path for it to happen again.” Not good news from inside North Korea. Incidentally, although in the wake of the Laura Ling/Euna Lee debacle which managed to break up at least one network dedicated to extracting refugees from the North, the defectors’ faces here not pixelated out because they made it to Seoul, where, presumably, they are presently.