South Korean Dramas Are All the Rage among North Korean People

[imText1]Despite the North Korean authorities’ strict control, foreign films and South Korean drama Video Compact Disks (VCDs) circulating around North Korea reportedly amount to over 1 million copies since 2000.

Defector Choi Young Bum (pseudonym, 38), who has circulated South Korean and foreign movie VCDs among North Korean citizens said, “If one goes to a large city market, not only Pyongyang, but Pyongsung, Chongjin, Hamheung, Wonsan, and Shinuiju, hundreds or thousands of movies and drama CDs can be obtained through black marketeers.”

According to Mr. Choi, foreign movie CDs within North Korea have become significantly more mainstream.

Mr. Choi said that the largest market for the North Korean VCD business is the Pyongsung market. He said, “In Pyongsung market alone, merchants who sell South Korean dramas or foreign movie CDs while avoiding regulations, are over 100 in number. One seller may have several hundred copies at least while others have over 2,000 copies on the higher end. The authorities are stepping forward for inspections, but the number VCDs that have been circulating are at over several million copies.”

He said, “Pyongyang circulates more VCDs than other regions. In early 2000, it was movies from Hong Kong, in the mid-2000’s it was South Korean dramas, and now American movies that have been translated into Korean have been drawing a lot of attention.” He relayed that the cultural differences between Pyongyang or other large cities in the provinces are sizable. The South Korean drama “Winter Sonata” has become a classic in Pyongyang, but is still a recent hit in the countryside.”

He said that with the rising popularity of South Korean dramas among North Korean people, the VCD merchants along the border region made quite a profit.

According to Mr. Choi, the original cost of CDs from China was 150 North Korean won, but now, the asking price is over 300 won. The price of a VCD was around 900~1,000 won per copy in 2003, but it is now over 1,500 won. The price is expected to jump twofold as the VCDs pass from Chinese merchants to the wholesaler runners (regional circulators) and then to retailers.

He explained, “Popular action movies and dramas were sold at 2,000 won per copy. South Korean series that have been consistently popular like “Autumn Sonata,” “Hourglass,” and “Glass Slippers” are wrapped in cases as sets, so the price is a bit discounted.”

Mr. Choi said that the price of a VCD player is around 30,000 won. “There were times when we sold the VCDs for cash, but then we started throwing them in as a bonus when selling used TVs from China.”

He added, “From mid-2004, DVDs started entering North Korea. Nowadays, their quality is better than VCDs, and high-capacity DVDs have been in circulation.”

Mr. Choi said that in accordance with this new preference for DVDs, North Korea’s Hana (one) Electronics Company has assembled and sold DVD players using parts from China with the “Hana Electronics” logo. These DVD players can be purchased in North Korean stores.

”The contents of DVDs which can be produced legally in North Korea are mostly North Korean movies, films, former Soviet movies, former Chinese movies, screen accompaniment music (music videos), etc. North Korean civilians pretend to watch DVDs officially sold in North Korea while they are really watching South Korean dramas bought at the black market.”

Defector Ms. Im, who lives in South Korea, said, “North Korean citizens, when someone comes to visit them while they are watching South Korean dramas with their doors locked, hide the CDs while the other person goes to the door. They switch on a North Korean CD as if they were watching a North Korean movie.”

Ms. Im said, “Even the National Security agents and the Safety agents watch South Korean dramas and most people are watching them in secret. No matter how much the authorities regulate, it is difficult to control the practice. Once people are exposed to such a culture, it is not easy to stop. They are not going to stop watching them.”

Questions or comments about this article? Contact us at