North Korean soldiers enjoy South Korean film “Along with the Gods”

"Along with the Gods"
“Along with the Gods” promotional poster.

The South Korean movie “Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds” tells the story of reincarnation and a trial in the afterlife. Although North Korea’s state ideology prohibits any belief in an afterlife, the movie has sparked a great deal of curiosity about the afterlife among ordinary North Koreans.

The movie is particularly popular in the military and a North Korean officer was recently caught watching the movie along with two other soldiers, sources in the country told Daily NK.

“The movie is very popular and a lot of soldiers are buying copies at ‘general stores’ outside military bases,” a Pyongyang-based source told Daily NK.

General stores sell food and other daily necessities, but are also where people go to buy or watch South Korean movies and dramas in secret. The International Solidarity for Freedom of Information in North Korea (ISFINK) released a short film about this phenomenon in September 2016, and stated that more and more North Koreans are paying to watching foreign movies and dramas in their homes.

“A lot of people are interested in the afterlife depicted in the movie. One should consider that North Koreans really like going to fortune tellers,” the source explained.

Fortune telling is considered an anti-state activity in North Korea and is punished accordingly. Yet many North Koreans subscribe to a great number of superstitions and are very interested in the afterlife. “Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds” has piqued this inherent curiosity even more.

“The movie talks about South Korean soldiers and many of their counterparts in the North are interested in seeing how South Korean soldiers are portrayed, even though it doesn’t show a complete picture of their lives,” he said.

North Korean soldiers particularly identify with “Won Il Byong” (stage name: D.O. (of the band EXO); real name: Do Kyung Soo) who is considered a “real attention-seeker,” according to the source.

“North Korean soldiers feel sorry for Il Byong for shooting a fellow soldier by accident and then helping a superior officer cover up his mistake,” he said.

“Soldiers who watched the movie told me that they realized after watching it that there are soldiers in liberal democratic societies who fail to adapt to the military and are emotionally distressed.”

North Korean soldiers in Saju County, North Pyongan Province
North Korean soldiers in Saju County, North Pyongan Province. Image: Daily NK

Soldiers who have been caught watching the movie are being punished accordingly. “A sergeant Pak who was part of a communications unit in Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province, along with two other soldiers, was caught watching the movie,” said the source. “Pak was sentenced to one year in a forced labor camp, while the two other soldiers were sentenced to six months.”

Starting in May, they watched the movie along with other American movies, including “Dark Valley,” over four visits to a general store near their military base. They paid foreign currency to load the movies onto a thumb drive and left the USB at the general store before returning back to base each time.

The general store owner’s son found the USB and watched the movies with his friends, but was later caught by MSS agents in a raid. Soon after, the soldiers were arrested, too.

“The soldiers were investigated by local security agents but ultimately were interrogated by Room 79, which is managed by the General Political Bureau’s Publication Inspection Department,” a separate source in Pyongyang told Daily NK.

Room 79 was established to monitor the ideological state of soldiers and focuses on investigations that concern the viewing of South Korean dramas, movies, radio programs and other media. Room 79 considers any act of secretly viewing capitalist videos or publications as “reactionary.”

According to the additional source, the soldiers charged in this recent case will be dishonorably discharged from the military upon the completion of their sentences. The authorities almost certainly decided to make an example out of them to deter other soldiers from viewing foreign media.

“The military authorities gathered all of the soldiers in the unit that the accused belonged to and informed them of the crimes that had been committed and how they were punished. They wanted to ensure that a similar incident doesn’t occur again.”