Step into North Korea

March 9, 2015, 6:51 p.m. | By Brian Le | 8 years ago

Step into North Korea

It is impossible to "define” North Korea. But it is also impossible to deny that the totalitarian regime of the country has continuously violated human rights and has failed to meet the basic needs of its twenty five million people. Between 1994 and 1998, as many as 3.7 million North Koreans died— one out of every ten people— in a famine whose repercussions are still felt today. Those who attempt to escape to neighboring countries are often caught, tortured and publicly executed by officials. The regime essentially blocks its people from all outside contact to ensure that they are absolutely obedient to Kim Jong Un, the Great Leader.

Yet for many outsiders, the so-called "hermit kingdom" is a world of fascination: what really goes on in this land that is so isolated from the rest of mankind? Below are some disturbing, stirring and, occasionally, hilarious videos that delve deeper into one of the most mysterious regimes of today.

BBC: This World, Escaping North Korea
This emotional documentary tracks the lives of North Korean defectors who try to escape to South Korea, an exceptionally dangerous journey. Filled with suspense and failure, the film shows the brutal torture of defectors who are caught and the harrowing separation of loved ones. In one instance, a defector secretly living in China has to move to South Korea to treat her son's cerebral palsy, but her false identity may cause her to be sent back to North Korea where she would be tortured and, since she was already caught once, executed.

Vice: Inside North Korea
Shane Smith, the co-founder of Vice, and his cameraman travel inside North Korea with a government-sponsored tour guide and capture the hilarity of the tourism industry, occasionally through secret filming. In one instance, he is invited to a luxurious "banquet" when he realizes that he and his cameraman are the only people at the banquet. His documentary also allows us to glimpse into what it's like to annoy the North Korean government officials without putting our lives in mortal danger.

Note: this video is Part 1 of 3

Dispatches: North Korean Life Inside the Secret State
This documentary contains tons of secret filming, which is something that can get North Koreans executed if they're caught by officials. Despite this risk, the North Koreans leak these videos to try to raise awareness of the horrendous conditions in their country. What's unique about this documentary is that we get to see many North Koreans rebel against authority: scenes range from people questioning a lavish department store in Pyongyang and learning that it doesn't actually sell anything, to a middle-aged woman who yells at and hits officials who curse at her for wearing trousers in public. There are also interviews from ex-North Korean propagandists, who claim that many North Koreans see Kim Jong Un as a god and believe that he doesn't go to the toilet.

Vice: North Korean Labor Camps
Shane Smith is really infatuated with North Korea. In this hilarious and impulsive documentary, he travels into the depths of Siberia with some cameramen, a freelance journalist and a North Korean defector who acts as a translator to try to talk to the laborers in the North Korean labor camps. The story starts to gets crazy when he hires a Russian ex-cop who illegally takes them into an abandoned labor camp. When they finally arrive at a functional camp, the supervisor tells them he cannot enter; thus, the group enters through a backroad and begins to interview some laborers. When they are caught, they participate in a five mile-per-hour car chase with a North Korean supervisor. This documentary is less about the horrors of North Korea and more about how far you can go to anger the manipulative North Korean government officials.

Note: this video is Part 1 of 7

Yeomni Park's speech at One Young World Summit 2014
Yeomni Park is a 21-year old human rights activist who defected as a teenager with her mother and her father, who was afflicted with colon cancer. In her speech at One Young World Summit, she describes the conditions in North Korea and how she began questioning the regime when, at nine years old, she saw her friend's mother publicly executed. She also tells how she had to bury her father alone, and advocates for a global movement to free North Koreans. Not only is her speech jarring, but it's difficult not to worry for those afflicted by the dangerous government.

Although it's easy to view these stories as well-written melodramas, it's important to realize that the brutality of North Korea is a reality that millions of people face daily. These videos only give a few facets of a convoluted regime, but the amount of information leaking through the iron curtains surrounding North Korea is slowly increasing, and the level of contempt against the Kim dictatorship is slowly building. Perhaps Yeonmi Park's dream may not be so far from coming true.

Brian Le. Hey guys! I'm excited to be writing for SCO. More »

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