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Enter the Pyongyang
August 9, 2014 6:57 AM   Subscribe

A Beijing-based tour company commissioned a moving time-lapse video of Pyongyang, the capital of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
posted by rhombus (36 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow that was spectacular. It worked too, I kinda want to go there now.
posted by Uncle at 7:58 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


It was produced by JT Singh, which considers itself a city-branding outfit. On the vimeo page for the video, there's an FAQ under the "read more" link in the description that has some interesting information about making the video. From that: "We were closely assisted by two guides from the National Tourism Administration, who helped us gain special access to locations and made sure that we followed all the rules. As is standard for all foreign visitors to the country, we were not allowed to shoot any construction sites, undeveloped locations or military personnel. Other than that we were given relatively free reign."
posted by msbrauer at 8:32 AM on August 9


Between this and the recent article in io9, it is becoming depressingly clear that North Korea's campaign to use tourism to get themselves regarded as a wacky, fun destination rather than a monstrous, brutal tyranny is working just fine.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:41 AM on August 9 [12 favorites]


Wow that went really nicely with Dirty Beaches "Night Drive" playing in my speakers.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:47 AM on August 9


This video may have been made by a Chinese tour company, but it shows exactly what North Korea would like the world to see: no more and no less. Shiny buildings, (a relatively few) shiny people, shiny tourist spots --- not a bit of the reality of life for the majority of North Koreans.
posted by easily confused at 8:53 AM on August 9 [5 favorites]


I can't believe this tourist company tasked with attracting customers to take on one of their tours would make such a glaringly one-sided video. Where is the balance. Why not show the truth. smdh this is horrible.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:13 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


I'm squicked out by how well it worked on me.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:15 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


guess they had to cut the video around dusk as power rationing/brown outs at night would make the video quite dark and less dynamic
posted by wallawallasweet at 9:44 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


There is some pretty noticeable bullshit here.

The street shots are obviously sped up to make it look like there are more people and cars. Same for the shots of the subway.

And am I nuts, or does the Ryugyong hotel also seems to be replaced by a digitally composited rendering right after they zoom in on it?
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 10:05 AM on August 9 [8 favorites]


The vimeo page says it uses "digital animation" which probably explains some of the fakery.

I've read Escape from camp 14 which is excellent although disturbing, especially when comparing with the scene of the happy kids skating in this video.
posted by JonB at 10:27 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


That was really well done. It's not a documentary on North Korean Life, it's a travel video. In fact, it's almost a masterpiece of a travel video. I want to go.

Somehow knowing that it's only showing the shiny parts is even more of a hook; now I'm curious to see for myself how much of a glimpse of the real story I could get as a tourist. Plus, if a coworker told me they had gone to Pyongyang last week, now THAT would be interesting. My first reaction is, you can DO that?
posted by ctmf at 10:30 AM on August 9


Yeah the scene with the kids at the skatepark is the real eye opener here.


Plus, if a coworker told me they had gone to Pyongyang last week, now THAT would be interesting. My first reaction is, you can DO that?

if they went purely as a tourist my first reaction would be, Oh you're an asshole who provides money to some of the worst people in the world.
posted by dogwalker at 10:35 AM on August 9 [8 favorites]


Ick.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:39 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


And am I nuts, or does the Ryugyong hotel also seems to be replaced by a digitally composited rendering right after they zoom in on it?

Maybe but I don't see the necessity of it. The building is complete from the outside & seems to look exactly the same in recent photos as the video. The inside's another matter, although this video from 2013 suggests they've made a lot of progress there too.
posted by scalefree at 10:40 AM on August 9


Wow, watching that gave me a very creepy feeling. I almost want to be sucked in by the enchanting beauty of a world untrashed by ubiquitous advertising, but then I realize that the ubiquitous Dear-Leader-faces are so much worse.
posted by Corvid at 10:42 AM on August 9


My first reaction is, you can DO that?

North Korea allows 2,000 Western tourists every year, who are all chaperoned and scuttled through the same tour that gets featured in the "A look inside the SUPER SECRET North Korea!" exposés that run several times a year.

Also, totally agree that tourism to North Korea is pretty repugnant. Reading Koryo Tours own "tour tips" should underline this for anyone who isn't some befedora'd edgester with a hard-on for totalitarian regimes.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 11:07 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


Personally, I'm still impressed that VICE got in there using Dennis Rodman as bait. They got a lot more than the chaperoned tour.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 11:13 AM on August 9


So, everybody happy, everybody well dressed, everybody well fed, everything clean, everything nice.
Good to know.

Also: NORTH KOREA, EVERYTHING SUNNY ALL THE TIME ALWAYS GOOD TIME, BEACH PARTY.
Ah ha ha!
posted by SLC Mom at 11:14 AM on August 9


Oh you're an asshole who provides money to some of the worst people in the world.

North Korea allows 2,000 Western tourists every year,

Yeah, so those 2000 people are totally propping up the regime which would otherwise fail. What are they paying, a million dollars a trip? (I honestly don't know.)

It seems to me a lot more complicated than that. Isolation is not making the bad things go away. To the extent that I could get around and see things with my own eyes (if not take photos) and interact with actual people, I think that could only help.

Aya Hirano's link to the tour tips kind of makes it seem unlikely to be what I wanted, though. Like seeing the US without being allowed to leave the Disney park.
posted by ctmf at 11:31 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Stunning and brilliant filmmaking from the time-lapse guy the tourist company hired for this, but looking beyond the camera talents, Pyongpyang as a city still looks in bad shape and empty.

Especially if you compare the time-lapse guy's similar videos of e.g. Shanghai or even a small ancient town in Vietnam. Other films here.
posted by Bwithh at 11:36 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the emptiness freaked me out. It felt very twilight-zone, with huge wide roads and no cars and only a few humans. About the only time I didn't feel a creeping sense of dread was during the skate park, which seemed appropriately populous and like people were actually enjoying themselves.
posted by katemonster at 11:41 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


Creepy and robotic.
posted by Vibrissae at 11:46 AM on August 9




Yeah, so those 2000 people are totally propping up the regime which would otherwise fail. What are they paying, a million dollars a trip? (I honestly don't know.)

Going by prices to take a group tour to there from here, anyway, just over $5,000 per head. Not likely to lead to the collapse of the regime if no one went, no, but still additional money going in part to the North Korean state for every person who travels there.

Another interesting thing about the "tour tips" is that it earlier on touts tourism as a way for North Korean people to become exposed to people from other cultures. Later on, though, they talk about how even leaving the hotel without official guides isn't going to happen, and that locals you try to strike up a conversation with are not likely to be very chatty, in part because they are "careful with drawing attention to themselves". And that breaking any of the tour rules, e.g., photographing things you shouldn't, being "disrespectful" to sites honoring the State (includes chewing gum near statues), or slipping off unaccompanied, is likely to get the guides in serious trouble.

So yeah, hard to see a net positive of tourism for the North Korean people themselves - apart from the gifts of cigarettes and face cream they recommend for male and female guides respectively.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 11:57 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


That was nauseating on a couple of levels.There's a reason Ron Fricke doesn't pan during time-lapse shots.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:57 AM on August 9


Yeah, so those 2000 people are totally propping up the regime which would otherwise fail. What are they paying, a million dollars a trip? (I honestly don't know.)

It seems to me a lot more complicated than that. Isolation is not making the bad things go away. To the extent that I could get around and see things with my own eyes (if not take photos) and interact with actual people, I think that could only help.


I came nowhere near saying that the entire regime is propped up by the tourist industry. But if you think they don't profit from it, you're naive. And if you want to contribute to those profits, go ahead. But the goodwill you're planning to spread on the ground while in-country will not offset any of it, your two handlers and driver will make sure of that.
posted by dogwalker at 11:59 AM on August 9


Everyone in Pyongyang stands still on escalators? No thank you.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:27 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


The DHL truck at 03:02 seems very out of place.
posted by sour cream at 1:38 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


The DHL truck at 03:02 seems very out of place.

Yeah, like everything in the video it seems staged, but I guess they could use some publicity for their office in Pyongyang.
posted by jsavimbi at 2:30 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Wow, there is a not subtle vibe of WE ARE EVERYWHERE AND ALWAYS WATCHING YOU in that.
posted by The Whelk at 4:06 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


They seemed quite desperate to capture small moments of humanity, such as the man fumbling for change, the traffic officer checking on the woman with the baby carriage, or the young girl at the skate park apparently unaware she was on camera -- the last of which makes me wonder if it were disguised somehow. But throughout you see people stonefaced and wary of appearing distracted by the unusual sight.

And of course, yes, the framing, zoom-ins, and other elisions really make me wonder what was or wasn't in the camera.

I'm sure at some level most people are able to get on with their lives despite the totalitarianism. It can't be everywhere, exactly, and there are sunny days, beaches, parks, and so forth. People must be capable of at least intermittent happiness. But this video really raises more questions about that than it answers.
posted by dhartung at 4:41 PM on August 9 [5 favorites]


Although it's certainly disingenous for the North Korean government to be all "EVERYTHING SUNNY ALL THE TIME ALWAYS GOOD TIME" of their country, I also think it's not good for those outside of North Korea to be constantly wringing their hands over the poor, deluded, ever-suffering souls of North Korea. They are not robots and they are not all dead in their souls. And I'm pretty sure they're not as naive as the West seems to think they are. I've heard black market DVDs are quite popular over there, so it's not like they have no idea what life is like beyond their borders.

Also, I hardly think that this one, incredibly well-edited video, showing a brighter, shinier side of Pyongyang is going to overshadow the overwhelming media perception of North Korea, which is all starvation, torture camps, and brainwashing.

To be clear, I am NOT defending the North Korean government or saying that life in North Korea is hunky dory.
posted by Rora at 5:40 PM on August 9 [3 favorites]


Also, totally agree that tourism to North Korea is pretty repugnant.

I visited DPRK courtesy Koyro Tours a few years ago, and I've felt pretty conflicted about it ever since. Their Beijing office is decorated with attractive propaganda posters, and you can't help but feel that you're subscribing to a kind of trophy tourism- some kind of "been there done that", "check it off..."

Soon after arriving and on the bus rumbling along the sporadically empty road into Pyongyang, you realize you're to be seen as an endorsement of the regime. You've come from a foreign land to learn of the glories of Juche- Particularly so as you're asked to wear a tie as you visit Kim Il Sung's Mausoleum and bow respectfully over his waxen body three times. This doesn't go unnoticed by the steady stream of north Koreans on pilgrimage dressed up in their finest.

At the same time the trip was mesmerizing, bewildering and angering in equal measure, and I feel a furtive slightly shameful sense of satisfaction in having witnessed the crumbling delusional country close up.
posted by marvin at 7:09 PM on August 9 [8 favorites]


I have seen the future and it works!
posted by Renoroc at 7:32 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


another thing to consider is that Pyongyang is the capital and the main showpiece and even ordinary North Korean citizens who live there have a standard of living much better than their peers in the rest of the country
posted by Bwithh at 8:20 PM on August 9


JonB: I've read Escape from camp 14 which is excellent although disturbing, especially when comparing with the scene of the happy kids skating in this video.

I immediately picked that up, and it is very interesting. I also came across this documentary about North Koreans secretly filming conditions in the country, and the smuggling of goods and media into NK: Undercover in the secret state. Warning: It starts off with executions, but the remainder of the film is less gruesome.
posted by Snjo at 10:48 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


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