No “Interview?” Rest Assured There Is Plenty to Watch and Read about North Korea
Although Sony Studio’s “The Interview” may never be shown on the silver screen, there is plenty to watch and read about North Korea. HRNK wishes to put forward the following list of recommended movies, documentaries, books and reports, illuminating the tragedy of divided Korea, the gravity and scale of North Korea’s human rights violations, and the tyrannical nature of its leaders.
- The Berlin File (Ryoo Seung-wan; 2013): A North Korean agent in Berlin is betrayed and cut loose in the midst of a financial espionage intrigue. Together with his wife, a translator at the North Korean embassy in Berlin, they try to escape being purged, as North and South Korean operatives relentlessly pursue them.
- Crossing (Kim Tae-gyun; 2008): The movie is based on a real story about the life of a North Korean defector and his family. Actor Cha In-pyo stars as a North Korean coal miner who crossed illegally into China to get medicine for his wife. His wife passed away soon after he crossed the border and he was separated from his 11-year-old son (played by Shin Myung-chul) who was trying to find him from North Korea. The story shares the hardship of North Korean refugees in the late 1990s, with famine striking the country and killing an estimated 1 million people. The North Koreans could not cross into South Korea directly because of landmines and heavy military presence. At the border, these defectors had to cross into China and made a detour to South Korea instead. The Chinese government, an ally of the North Korean regime, does not recognize the defectors as refugees and would send them back to North Korea to face violence and even death.
- Joint Security Area (Park Chan-wook; 2000): After a shootout at the join security area at the border of the two Koreas, when two soldiers were murdered, Major Sophie E. Jean is assigned by the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission to investigate the incident. The Major finds lack of consistency in the statements of the survivors, and in spite of being pressed by her superior, she interviews South Koreans Sergeant Lee Soo-hyeok and Private Nam Sung-shik, and the North Korean Sergeant Oh Kyeong-pil, disclosing a tragic story of friendship.
- The Journals of Musan (Park Jung-bum; 2011): Jeon Seungchul's citizen registration number brands him as a North Korean defector. It is difficult to find a good job and it's hard to get along with people at church. He is not an ex-convict or a migrant worker, but he is subjected to much discrimination. Like the stray dog he looks after, Jeon Seungchul is a misfit in South Korea's capitalist society.
- Swiri (Kang Je-gyu; 1999): North and South Korean superspies battle and fall in love.
- Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War (Kang Je-gyu; 2004): A drama about the fate of brothers forced to fight in the Korean War.
- Exodus Out of North Korea (Channel A; 2012): For the first time, a group of fifteen North Koreans flee the country as a group. This documentary follows their journey for twenty days as they risk their lives and the lives for their families to find freedom. The temperature drops to -20 degree Celsius around the Amnok River region in North Korea. These people risk their lives to cross this icy river. This is the story of their miraculous exodus out of North Korea.
- Camp 14: Total Control Zone (Mark Wiese; 2012): Shin Dong-hyuk was born on November 19, 1983 as a political prisoner in a North Korean re-education camp. He is a child of two prisoners who had been married by order of the wardens. He spent his entire childhood and youth in Camp 14, in fact a death camp. He underwent forced labor since he was six years old and suffered from hunger, beatings, and torture, always at the mercy of the wardens. He knew nothing about the world outside the barbed-wire fences. At the age of 23, with the help of an older prisoner, he managed to escape. For months he traveled through North Korea and China and finally to South Korea, where he encountered a world completely strange to him.
- Kimjongilia (N.C. Heikin; 2009): North Korean defectors tell their stories of repression, escape and hope.
- Yodok Stories (Andrzej Fidyk and Torstein Grude; 2008): Today, more than 200,000 men, women, and children are locked up in North Korea's political prison camps. Systematic torture, starvation, and murder are what face the inmates. Few survive many years in the camps, but the population is kept stable by a steady influx of new persons considered to be 'class enemies'. A small group of people managed to flee from the camps to start a new life in prosperous South Korea. Some of them gather and decide to make an extraordinary and controversial musical about their experiences in the Yodok political prison camp. Despite death threats and many obstacles, the musical becomes a tour de force for this ensemble of refugees and for them a possibility opens to talk about their experiences and inspire others to protest the existence of the camps.
- Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story (Patty Kim & Chris Sheridan; 2006): A documentary on a 13-year-old Japanese girl abducted by North Korean spies.
- Juche Strong (Rob Montz; 2012): International observers have been predicting North Korea's imminent economic implosion for over two decades. And yet, the country persists. How? 'Juche Strong' provides an answer. This film explores the most pernicious misconceptions of the country and argues that the propaganda-fueled national ideology has played an integral role in its survival. The Kim regime has crafted a very specific national ideology designed to tap into the unique cultural and religious heritage of the Korean people. The film is grounded in interviews with over a dozen prominent North Korean scholars. It also includes interviews with a North Korean defector now living in the United States and world-renowned evolutionary psychologist Jonathan Haidt. The director visited and filmed in North Korea in the summer of 2012.
- Seoul Train (Jim Butterworth, Lisa Sleeth, and Aaron Lubarsky; 2004): The gripping documentary exposé into the life and death of North Koreans as they try to escape their homeland and China.
- A State of Mind (Daniel Gordon; 2005): A British documentary that follows two young North Korean girls as they prepare for the Mass Games, the world's largest choreographed gymnastics performance.
- North Korea: A Day in the Life (Peter Fleury; 2004): Dutch documentary on daily life in Pyongyang, especially focusing on one family’s life.
Video recordings of HRNK’s conferences, seminars, and Congressional hearings are available at HRNK.ORG. Of recent events, we would recommend:
A presentation by Ambassador Winston Lord, HRNK Board member and Q&A featuring him and Ambassador Donald Gregg at an HRNK-NYU Law event (November 11, 2014):
International Human Rights: North Korea, China and the UN
A presentation by UN COI chief commissioner Michael Kirby and his exchange with a North Korean official, at an event co-sponsored by HRNK, held in the main ECOSOC chamber at the UN in New York City (October 22, 2014):
Epic Exchange Between Justice Kirby and DPRK Councilor Kim Song
For those interested in more in-depth analyses:
All of HRNK’s publications can be found at
Books: Memoirs, Narratives, and Novels
- Aquariums of Pyongyang (Kang Chol-hwan & Pierre Rigoulot; 2005)
- Dear Leader (Jang Jin-sung; 2014)
- Escape from Camp 14 (Blaine Harden; 2012)
- The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot (Blaine Harden; 2015)
- Only Beautiful, Please: A British Diplomat in North Korea (John Everard; 2012)
- Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (Barbara Demick; 2009)
- The Orphan Master’s Son: A Novel (Adam Johnson; 2012)
- The Reluctant Communist (Charles Robert Jenkins & Jim Frederick; 2009)
Books: State & Society
- The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future (Victor Cha; 2012)
- The Last Days of Kim Jong-il (Bruce Bechtol; 2013)
- North Korea through the Looking Glass (Ralph Hassig & Katy Oh; 2000)
- Over the Line: North Korea’s Negotiating Strategy (Chuck Downs; 1999)
- Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader (Bradley Martin; 2004)
- Paved with Good Intentions: The NGO Experience in North Korea
(Gordon Flake & Scott Snyder; 2003)
- Kim Il-song’s North Korea (Helen-Louise Hunter; 1999)
Books: The Economy, Famine, and Refugees
- Escape from North Korea (Melanie Kirkpatrick; 2012)
- Famine in North Korea (Stephan Haggard & Marcus Noland; 2007)
- The Great North Korean Famine (Andrew Natsios; 2001)
- The North Korean Economy (Nicholas Eberstadt; 2007)