This story is over 5 years old.


Adventures in the North Korean Film Industry

I travelled to Pyongyang to become a Socialist movie star.

Kim Jong the Illest loved cinema, both pornographic and traditional. His masterplan involved diverting considerable amounts of humanitarian aid into making films that used big scary monsters to tell the good Korean people they weren't hungry, instead of spending all that crystal meth cash on actually feeding them.

Kim Jong-il also loved giving white guys a chance on the big screen, as long as they were up for playing the white devil, so it was inevitable that someone as fame-hungry as me would travel to the asshole of the earth just to have a crack at the whole "Socialist Movie Star" thing.


I boarded the plane to Pyongyang with simple dreams: to be scouted and find fame; to be given a Korean wife and an unlimited supply of raw octupus. I wanted to scale to the swirling heights of North Korean Hollywood.

Onboard, the cabin attendant served me a "meal" that looked like a braised piece of baby wrist, served up medium rare. Just how I like it. Not sure what the garnish was, but it smelled like tears.

I made it to Pyongyang in one piece. Kim Jong-il's son Kim Jong-un has spent his first nine months as Supreme Leader sending out press releases detailing his plans to build new aquariums with backflipping dolphins and explaining how he's going to retrofit the country's deathtrap amusement parks.

Here is the post-production facility for North Korea's cinematic dream factory. This dull grey box has been pumping out the humourless revolutionary epics and dull comedies made to service the party line since the country was founded in 1948. Kim Jong-il made over 600 visits to the movie studios during his lifetime. His father Kim Il-sung (who did a much better job of running a country) only visited a paltry 20 times.

Life in North Korea is wholesome, just like this statue I got reprimanded for taking a photo of. The guards told me that taking pictures so close denied other tourists the chance to appreciate it.

This is a replica of an ancient Korean village. There was absolutely nothing going on in the North Korean film Mecca. But we did get a sweet tour of some of these permanent film sets they use when they're making massive historical blockbusters.


This is a set built to look like Seoul in the 1920s, when Korea was still occupied by fascist Japan. This was by far the most humiliating period in both North and South Korea's history. But compared to what most of North Korea is like today [see photos below], it seemed pretty clean-cut and nice:

While lost in the midst of my juxtapositional fantasy, I became aware of something going on behind me:

A wedding! I turned around just in time to see a merry band of celebratants with fancy video cameras prancing through the park. Everyone seemed genuinely happy, not crushed under a grinding totalitarian bureacracy at all.

After strolling about for a while among the nostalgic Seoul street scenes, I headed back to plain North Korea. On my way out, I passed a film shoot – these four white devils were chasing a ghost with a skateboard.

While I had been noodling around soaking up the ambience, I had missed a historical epic being filmed right behind me. The shouty director kept waving his arm and instructing the actors to act "with the passion of a man driving his expensive car into a wall knowing that he can walk away without a scratch."

I asked my guide what was going on. "You want to be in the movies?" He smirked. "No problem. Ten euros."

Why is it every time I try and ask a communist for a favour they charge me? I coughed up the money and was hooked up with a skirt and a hat.

The cameraman whipped away from the other two actors and focused the camera in on me, the new star of North Korean Hollywood. I mugged a bit for my adoring audience and the director said, "Yes, very good, very good! Ha ha! You would make a great king!" before things inevitably settled into a dull, awkward silence. I sighed, figuring I had better get back to writing for a living.  Later on, they tried to charge me another 40 euros for a copy of the footage they had shot. They'd edited the video of me into a sequence with a bunch of flashy North Korean graphics and pop tunes.


I found out afterwards that this kind of incidental footage of foreigners acting like idiots ends up being used as anti-foreigner propaganda on state-run television. I guess I'll only know what happened to the footage of me after Kim Jong-un is gunned down in a bloody CIA coup and they open the vaults. Can't wait! Woody Harrelson ignoring you on Twitter? Why not talk to Alex instead: @alex_hoban

More North Korean Adventures:

The VICE Guide to North Korea

Hoping No One Dies at the North Korean Fun Fair!

Our Unseen Holiday Photos from Kim Jong-il's North Korea

Inside the Third Korea