A new South Korean television drama that depicts elements of North
Korean society is attracting viewers in the North, Daily NK sources inside the
country report. The SBS production “Doctor Stranger,” which tells the tale of a
South Korean doctor’s life during and after his escape from North Korea, is popular with North Korean university students.
A Pyongyang source reported the news to Daily NK on the 17th,
saying, “Some parts, like the bit where surgery is performed on the Suryeong
(Kim Il Sung), are just not the reality we know, and we find them odd. But still, many people say it’s a fun show.”
In an early episode of the drama, which went on air in South Korea at the
beginning of May, a famous South Korean doctor is brought to North Korea to
save the life of Kim Il Sung. Thereafter, neither he nor his son is permitted
to leave, however, and it is only following the father’s death that the son finally
makes it back to Seoul.
Though the number of North Korean people viewing South Korean media is currently far lower than previously due to the era’s ultra repressive atmosphere, it is still possible
for some groups, including Party officials and other citizens with social capital, to watch
them in secret. Bribery remains a viable means of evading punishment, too.
“The popularity of ‘Stranger’ among university students is not waning,” the source went on. “No matter how much they try to step up the
crackdowns; there are already many people for whom watching South Korean dramas
is part of life. In fact, it is Party officials, their
children and students who are driving the popularity.”
“Group 109 [which is responsible for controlling “anti-socialist” activities] don’t visit the homes of officials much,” she pointed out. “And if
students do get caught watching this kind of thing, they can normally get away
with a bribe. They just confiscate the CD and tell them not to say where they watched it.”
According to inside sources, it is unusual for people in North Korea to buy copied DVDs outright. Instead,
they are borrowed for roughly half the purchase price, which in the
case of new material is roughly the same price as a kilo of rice in a public market.
Although there are fewer goods entering North Korea today
through smuggling, the cross-border flow has not been completely halted. “Smugglers say that they are currently able to bring in
less than half the 1000-3000 discs per day that had been the case,” the source said. “But
that is still not nothing. There is no way they can stop the flow completely because it is Party officials who keep wanting to get hold of them.”
In 2012 and 2013, another South Korean drama, “The King Two Hearts,”
which depicted the North Korean military, also attracted a following in parts of North Korea.