North Koreans see themselves from the outside in ‘Reply 1994’

South Korean TV drama  “Reply 1994,” produced by cable channel tvN, is seeing continual popularity up in North
Korea. A particular scene from the series that portrays the time back in 1994,
when the North’s founder Kim Il Sung died, has helped stir up even greater
interest among viewers. 

Daily NK has learned that more people, curious to know
how others in the South reacted to Kim’s death at the time, are seeking out illegal discs of the
popular series that follows the lives of six university students.

“People who are interested in the South’s
past continue to watch the series,” a source from South Pyongan Province told
Daily NK in a telephone conversation. “They’ve also shown keen interest in how
people in the South reacted to the passing of our highest leader (Kim Il

An additional source in North Pyongan Province corroborated this news. 

The character Hae Tae (left), played by actor Son Ho Jun, almost misses the express bus while
watching news regarding Kim Il Sung’s death. Binggrae aka Kim Dong Joon
 (played by the singer Baro) wears a shocked expression after reading about Kim Il Sung’s
 death in the school paper. Image: ‘Reply 1994’ screen capture.

“Scenes of South Koreans being shocked
after hearing the news of Kim Il Sung’s death have even prompted some people to
look back on those days,” she said, adding many are fascinated with how
people in the South and North can have such different reactions to the same

“Reply 1994,” which aired back in 2013, was
highly popular in the South as well for its compelling depiction of current
events and popular response to those occurrences such as the death of Kim Il
Sung and the collapse of a South Korean high-end department store Sampoong that
killed hundreds. The death of the North’s founder topped headlines across the
South at the time, providing some temporary relief about the unknown threat of
war and greater hope for reunification.

“Watching this TV drama has made some
realize that had Kim Jong Il not taken over power at the time, the two Koreas
may have been reunified,” the source said. “A growing number of people now
think that Kim Jong Il was the main obstacle to unification after the Suryeong
(Kim Il Sung) died.”

She also reported that being able to
see a snapshot of what South Korean everyday life is like, more people in the
North are developing new perspectives toward North Korean society, where the
Suryeong is considered a deity. Some people even complain about having been

The source explained the interest in this
drama has to do with people’s curiosity about how they are viewed from the
outside world. Also, the fact that they realize South Koreans are not much
different in their emotions is what keeps people intrigued in cultural content of this nature.

“People like dramas that deal with simple
everyday life rather than political content,” she explained. “This kind of
integration we see on the side of sentiment and emotion is what authorities
fear, and that’s why they’re stepping up crackdowns.”

Some residents and mid-level cadres are known to secretly criticize–in very trusted circles and behind closed doors– the current leader, Kim Jong Un, for his unflagging efforts to tighten up the borders, and the source asserts much of this has to do with a growing
desire for freedom spurred partially by South Korean dramas.

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