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Pyongyang Style – North Korean Haircut
March 14, 2011 12:09 AM   Subscribe

Filming in North Korea is a bit of an iffy task, and you never know when a minder may decide to confiscate your memory cards or camera. That was a risk I didn’t want to take, so I decided not to reveal to them the fact that my 5D was capable of shooting video. I taped up the back screen with black electrical tape. Pyongyang Style – North Korean Haircut
posted by finite (57 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
So the hair dresser he filmed, and his minders, are they in camps now, or just dead?
posted by orthogonality at 12:15 AM on March 14, 2011 [13 favorites]


I hope the hairdresser is okay.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:36 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a legitimate question, rogerd. None of these internet fame whores that want to be the next Rick Steves of North Korea ever consider how their actions will affect those people that dared to show them kindness.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:52 AM on March 14, 2011 [16 favorites]


It's a legitimate question

Totally. I too really hope that hairdresser is OK.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:00 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well at least we're all having the same reaction. The footage is fascinating but I worry about the repercussions.
posted by polyhedron at 1:07 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure what is more amazing: the fact that I just got to watch a ride on the Pyongyang subway, or the fact that it's 2011 and North Korea is so reclusive that I'm amazed that I get to watch a video online of a ride on the Pyongyang subway.
posted by zachlipton at 1:27 AM on March 14, 2011 [14 favorites]


I get the feeling that this women is
expected to act friendly with visitors.
and the filming of the haircut is considered
OK, just like the filming in the shopping area.
This is just the kind of propaganda film North Korea
wants visitors to take home.
posted by quazichimp at 1:36 AM on March 14, 2011


Needs subtitles. Without them, this is basically just some dude getting a haircut.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:36 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


quazichimp, the fact that he was allowed to interact with her suggests she's "approved" but video, especially this quality, is pretty rare. It's beautiful and tragic footage.
posted by polyhedron at 1:39 AM on March 14, 2011


They talk about anything specific?
The shopping center bit gave me the whillies. Such heavily mediated environments like that (like all shopping centers, personally) make me anxious, this doubly so as there is such an extra coersive/oppressive intent to it - the feeling that if you don't like it you are not free to just leave.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:48 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, even though I'm sure it's unintentional, this whole thing kind of has the feeling of a propaganda piece; it makes North Korea look like a modern Asian nation, in stark contrast to this recently-posted photoset, which I think is probably a lot closer to reality. I wonder how many people had to starve to death so they could grow fresh flowers for the Kim memorial.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:50 AM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Filming in secret is nothing. What impresses me is that having seen photos of the hairdo Kim Jong Il has, this guy took the risk of getting his hair cut by a North Korean barber.
posted by three blind mice at 2:00 AM on March 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


polyhedron, I agree. I also found the video beautiful, almost haunting.
I have never seen anything like this come out of North Korea.
I suppose that was the essence of the post.
posted by quazichimp at 2:04 AM on March 14, 2011


I found it to be much more affluent, somehow, than I anticipated. This is the big city tourist trail I suppose, but I kind of expected a lot more of the uniform-y drabness. If I had been told it was Seoul, I would have believed it.
posted by peacay at 2:28 AM on March 14, 2011


Peacay, I agree totally. I was really surprised by how similar to Seoul this was. The people also look surprisingly relaxed, I guess our assumption is that everyone goes around glum faced just because it's an oppressive regime, when in fact people mostly just try to get on with their lives.

I thought the video was great, and I can't really see how the hairdresser would get into trouble just for giving a good haircut with some smiles. Subversive it ain't.
posted by Duug at 2:37 AM on March 14, 2011


Well, look, it's pretty obvious that this is the North Korea that the NK government wants you to see. I mean, look at the flickr photoset I linked to. Most of the country is starving to death and looks like 19th-century rural China.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:45 AM on March 14, 2011


Also, even though I'm sure it's unintentional, this whole thing kind of has the feeling of a propaganda piece; it makes North Korea look like a modern Asian nation, in stark contrast to this recently-posted photoset, which I think is probably a lot closer to reality.

That photoset was taken outdoors in late fall or early winter. You could take photos anywhere at that latitude at that time of year and it would look every bit as grey and depressing.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:47 AM on March 14, 2011


Did you miss all the parts where roadwork and farmwork is done by hand, occasionally with the help of livestock? Or the poorly-planned hydroelectric dam that caused one of the worst famines in history? I don't mean to jump on the neocon bandwagon and be all "NK is evil!" but clearly what you see in this video is exactly what the NK government and this dude's handlers wanted him to see. NK is not the modern, prosperous nation it appears to be in this video. Each one of those people you see had family members that died miserable, unnecessary deaths.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:57 AM on March 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


Camp 22
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:00 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


And let's not even talk about the devaluation of the won, which wiped out the savings of most (non-politically-connected) North Korean families.

Anyway, I thought it was pretty well documented that the NK that you see on one of those "tours" is a carefully constructed Potemkin Village. I've heard the subway doesn't even have half the stops that appear on the subway map.
posted by Afroblanco at 3:01 AM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


For the people worried for the welfare of the hairdresser, do you think the "guide" assigned to the tourist was off taking a shit while this was being filmed? That part was absolutely approved. The hairdresser will probably get an extra ration of gruel for displaying a positive approach to Glorious Labor.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:39 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a little confused by all these implied allegations that homie was trying to create a piece of naïve North Korean propaganda, because he's quite clear that the hairdresser takes up such a big space in the video because she seems more "real" than the surreal super-Asia crap. It's obviously not "hey this is cool" but more "hey this is really weird, guys." And he's right! It is weird!
posted by Mooseli at 4:02 AM on March 14, 2011


I'm a little confused by all these implied allegations that homie was trying to create a piece of naïve North Korean propaganda

I don't think anybody is making those allegations.
posted by Afroblanco at 4:06 AM on March 14, 2011


If you enjoyed this you should check out the Vice Guide to North Korea

A bit more realistic experience perhaps, albeit through the eyes of typically obnoxious Americans.
posted by haroon at 4:39 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


metafilter: typically obnoxious Americans
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:51 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Most of the country is starving to death and looks like 19th-century rural China.

The same can be said for many parts of China.
posted by three blind mice at 5:06 AM on March 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


The same can be said for many parts of South Korea.
posted by blueberry sushi at 5:16 AM on March 14, 2011


Okay, I take it back. Everything from the 19th century is gone in South Korea, and nobody's starving.
posted by blueberry sushi at 5:21 AM on March 14, 2011


[A few comments removed. The solution to bad rhetoric is not worse rhetoric.]
posted by cortex at 6:14 AM on March 14, 2011


The people also look surprisingly relaxed

But they all have such great posture. I'm told that infiltrators to the South need to take lessons in slouching, or they give themselves away.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:51 AM on March 14, 2011


I'm just curious about how a Chinese guy dressed like a Westerner (is that shirt Tommy Hilfiger?) carrying around a camera didn't stand out more obviously....

(Or is North Korea less reclusive than we've been led to believe?)
posted by schmod at 7:50 AM on March 14, 2011


I'm surprised his handlers in DPRK didn't inspect his camera more closely. Maybe they just don't care as much anymore.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:11 AM on March 14, 2011


Young urban people in China dress similar to those in the West, and North Korea is a relatively popular tourist destination for Chinese citizens.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:11 AM on March 14, 2011


North Korea is a relatively popular tourist destination for Chinese citizens

Is it poverty tourism, or is there another element to wanting to go there?
posted by codacorolla at 8:44 AM on March 14, 2011


North Korea is a relatively popular tourist destination for Chinese citizens

I'm not sure about that. Whenever the subject came up with Chinese people I knew (in Shanghai and Nanjing), everyone talked about North Korea the same way people in the US do.

Here's an anecdote from a guy I knew from a city just on the other side of the river from North Korea in Liaoning. He's about 27 now. As a child, he remembers walking across the frozen river from his Chinese city to the park and carnival on the North Korean side. It was a good way to spend a weekend afternoon with family. I asked him if people in that city do that now. His eyes got big, and he said, "No way!"
posted by msbrauer at 8:56 AM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wonderful, fascinating stuff. Thanks!

I really, really, really wish he hadn't edited-down that long escalator descent into the subway station. It had this wonderful, sci-fi/dystopian feel to it that just kept building and building. He should have just let it run however long it took.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:10 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you enjoyed this you should check out the Vice Guide to North Korea

A bit more realistic experience perhaps, albeit through the eyes of typically obnoxious Americans.


Shane Smith is (was?) a Canadian, no?

The Vice guys seemed to get away with a lot of filming, and had some interactions at "approved" sites, even got drunk and sang karaoke with their minders.
posted by roquetuen at 9:30 AM on March 14, 2011


Young urban people in China dress similar to those in the West, and North Korea is a relatively popular tourist destination for Chinese citizens.

FWIW, this guy seems to be the epitome of "multicultural." Born in China. Raised in Italy. College in the US. Grad school in London.

So, I think it might be a bit of a stretch to stick one cultural label on him...All I can speak for is his ethnicity.
posted by schmod at 9:32 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whenever the subject came up with Chinese people I knew (in Shanghai and Nanjing), everyone talked about North Korea the same way people in the US do.

I don't know a lot about the numbers myself, although anecdotally I have heard that it's at least a relatively easy option for Chinese citizens (they don't even need a passport to travel there on a basic tour in some cases). And I believe whatever amount of tourism there is in North Korea, the vast majority of it is from Chinese tourists. So people in North Korea that for whatever reason tend to be around tourists (because as mentioned above these tours are very controlled and always hit the same spots) would probably be used to seeing people who looked like the guy who filmed this.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:46 AM on March 14, 2011


a loose, quick translation: He sits down and says "Thank you" when she puts the cape over him. There's a little dickering back and forth about how he wants his hair cut, but I don't think he speaks much Korean - she's asking him, "Where should I cut it to?" and he looks perplexed...then the fade, he laughs, she says, "A little?" and makes that cute pinchy motion above his ears, and asks again how long he wants it.

Then the other woman in the pink hanbok walks in, and the hairdresser says with concern in her voice, "This guest can't speak Korean and I don't know where to cut his hair to," they both laugh, the man says, "Pyongyang style!" and the pink hanbok woman says, "Like a person from Pyongyang!" They all laugh and repeat it a few more times. I can't hear what the pink hanbok woman says next...but then the hairdresser says a few times, "you look like a person from Pyongyang" with a smile.

Second part: She starts telling him, "After washing your hair, I'll do more." He doesn't understand, so she just says, "Okay, just stay where you are."

Third: She says, "Why are you taking pictures?" She has to repeat it a few times because he doesn't hear her at first. Then she says, "Why? Why?" And makes an "uh oh" noise and laughs, then says, "I'm sad." But it all seems playful, not serious.

Fourth: She gets a phone call, which is too chopped up to pick up most of, all I hear is her saying "yes..." at the beginning, like the person on the other line asked her a question.

I was pretty surprised at how different the dialect is from the Seoul-accented Korean my dad speaks (and the Busan-accented Korean my mom speaks, but that's like saying a Scottish accent sounds different from RP). I guess you so rarely hear anyone from NK speaking.

This video is really haunting. It's like bizarro Korea. I feel all tingly and weird.
posted by peachfuzz at 9:46 AM on March 14, 2011 [23 favorites]


Those subways are kickass. I think they made a point in the Vice Guide that there are only 2-3 stations but the stations they do have are incredibile.

The Vice Guide is pretty nuts, the minder gets shitfaced and Shane Smith somehow finds Anarchy for the UK on the karaoke machine. The minder and the Karaoke hostesses seem a little shocked by the ... vigor .. of his rendition but take it in stride.

You certainly get the impressions that everyhing is very carefully choreographed. I think they probably set up opportunities for people to "sneak" pictures and video. They sort of scold Shane Smith every once in a while to make it seem like he is getting away with something but never actually confiscate or check his camera.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:58 AM on March 14, 2011


The bulk of the footage was haunting enough that I would have enjoyed it more if it weren't for the unsettling feeling that he was needlessly putting the hairdresser at risk.

I was surprised that 2011 Pyongyang reminded me a lot of 1989 Seoul.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:03 AM on March 14, 2011


Needs subtitles. Without them, this is basically just some dude getting a haircut.

While that's technically true, it's not nearly the point. This is incredible footage considering the context.
posted by odinsdream at 10:50 AM on March 14, 2011


Steve Gong kindly responded to a (slightly accusatory) inquiry I made about the hairdresser.

"She consented to the filming, and was fully aware and okay with it."
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:51 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I watched A State of Mind a couple months ago. Much of the documentary is focused on the relationship of handlers and the crew, as well as the behavior of the locals. Also: putting on this huge event, with intense coordination/choreography and a surprising frequency, is pretty impressive.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 10:54 AM on March 14, 2011


Thanks, peachfuzz, for the context & translation!
posted by Afroblanco at 11:04 AM on March 14, 2011


So the hair dresser he filmed, and his minders, are they in camps now, or just dead?

I hope the hairdresser is okay.

It's a legitimate question, rogerd. None of these internet fame whores that want to be the next Rick Steves of North Korea ever consider how their actions will affect those people that dared to show them kindness.


Seeing as how the internet has not yet reached stuck-in-1970-North Korea, I'm sure they are fine.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:52 AM on March 14, 2011


Isn't the United States is still, technically, at war with North Korea? So isn't it incumbent on any patriotic American to portray NK as a grim and grimy nation of poverty and oppression? Aren't North Koreans supposed to be either insane fanatics or sadly yearning for freedom?

There may be something subversive about this footage.
posted by fredludd at 12:17 PM on March 14, 2011


I suppose portraying our fellow humans in any light that is not dehumanizing is subversive in that context, fredludd. It makes me sad to see those people and to know most of them will never live the life promised by the frankly stunning facade. I kind of thought the nice side of NK looked more like an old Holiday Inn.
posted by polyhedron at 12:53 PM on March 14, 2011


Seeing as how the internet has not yet reached stuck-in-1970-North Korea...
Oh?
Really?
posted by Thorzdad at 1:58 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


And no doubt there is probably a small cadre of loyalists who are constantly doing searches for DPRK related material and keeping dossiers of anyone who posts content.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:47 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, even though I'm sure it's unintentional, this whole thing kind of has the feeling of a propaganda piece; it makes North Korea look like a modern Asian nation

Yeah, I was immediately struck by how nearly every male he passed was wearing a military uniform and the women that weren't appeared to be wearing traditional Korean wedding attire.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:53 PM on March 14, 2011


Yeah, I was immediately struck by how nearly every male he passed was wearing a military uniform and the women that weren't appeared to be wearing traditional Korean wedding attire.

Can't. Tell. If. Serious. Civil_Disobedient.

Oh, jeezus, now the whole freaking web is Poe's Lawed.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:57 PM on March 14, 2011


Isn't the United States is still, technically, at war with North Korea?

Technically, the US was never officially at war with the DPRK. It was a "Police Action" under the auspices of the UN.
posted by hominid211 at 4:28 PM on March 14, 2011


peacay: "I found it to be much more affluent, somehow, than I anticipated. This is the big city tourist trail I suppose, but I kind of expected a lot more of the uniform-y drabness. If I had been told it was Seoul, I would have believed it."

Whaaaaaat. For comparison, here is a video of Seoul.
posted by danny the boy at 5:40 PM on March 14, 2011


I've recommended this a few times in AskMe: if you are interested in North Korea, Guy Delisle's Pyongyang is well worth a look. It's a graphic novel memoir of the time he spent there supervising animators. It's pretty much my favourite graphic novel; I read the whole thing in one sitting. Fascinating stuff.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:29 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let's trim our hair in accordance with the socialist lifestyle
posted by finite at 5:05 PM on March 23, 2011


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