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A South Korean Artist Smuggled These Pizza-Making Instructions into North Korea on 500 DVDs

Hwang Kim doesn't know how many North Koreans got to see his 'Pizza for the People' miniseries, but he's finally showing it to the rest of the world.
Screengrab via YouTube

In addition to his affinities for militaristic jumpsuits, developing nuclear weapons, and lying about his golf scores, the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il also loved pizza. He dreamed of opening a pizza restaurant for more than a decade, and sent his country’s chefs to Naples and Rome so that they could bring the secrets of Italian pizzaioli back to Pyongyang. ("One of the officers [chef Ermanno] Furlanis was training asked him to specify the precise distance at which olives should be spaced on a pizza," noted one 2009 Guardian story.) In 2008, he opened his long-awaited restaurant—cleverly called “Pizza Restaurant”—and flew flour, butter and cheese in from Italy so he and other members of the ruling elite could have the best (and only) slices north of Seoul.


"General Kim Jong-il said that the people should also be allowed access to the world's famous dishes," the restaurant's manager, Kim Sang-Soon, said at the time. But totalitarian leaders tend to be full of shit, so the restaurant—and decadent mouthfuls of pepperoni and cheese—remained off-limits to the majority of North Korean citizens. (Mouthfuls of anything remained off-limits for many North Koreans; in the mid-90s while Kim was daydreaming about pizza toppings, more than 2 million people were dying from starvation and malnutrition).

Shortly after the Pizza Restaurant opened, South Korean artist Hwang Kim decided that pizza shouldn’t be restricted to Kim Jong-il and his cronies. He started working on a series of four short films that he hoped would introduce North Koreans to some aspects of Western culture—and possibly give them a bit of a culinary education as well.

"In North Korea, there is very limited access to influences from other cultures, for ordinary people, at least, and it's strictly controlled,” he told Deutsche Welle. “The political leadership has these privileges, of course. And suddenly there was a pizzeria in North Korea. But very few people could actually eat there."

In the films, which he called “Pizza for the People”, he explored the idea of what would happen if North Korea became a democracy, and the two male and female actors who starred in each installment acted out four scenarios, including instructions for making a pizza (complete with a made-from-scratch potato dough crust), packing a suitcase to go abroad, celebrating Christmas and “how to become a trend leader at pop dancing.”

"The whole thing comes across as a kind of mixture of soap opera and home video," Kim said. "We wanted to use a light, satirical tone to try and explain something to North Koreans about Western lifestyles."

After filming was completed, he burned the video onto 500 DVDs and handed them over to five smugglers who were tasked with carrying them across the border and into the hermit nation. The DVDs were distributed on the black market and, although Kim doesn’t know how many people ultimately saw his film, or whether the smugglers actually distributed them, but he did say that he’d received photos and letters from people who had successfully made their own pizzas afterwards.

Kim recently presented all four parts of the documentary at a theater festival in Heidelberg, Germany. And afterward, when the audience members walked home past pizza restaurants that were across the street from other pizza restaurants, maybe they felt a little more fortunate than they did a few hours earlier.