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My Way In Pyongyang on - The Best Documentaries... Instantly On Demand

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Public interest in North Korea, and media reportage on the world’s most insular and secretive state has never been higher. Yet all of us who live outside the country remain entirely detached from ordinary North Koreans, their experiences, their lives, their thoughts and feelings. We remain fixated on the nation’s public face, the photo-ops and choreographed parades of the Kim dynasty, but completely ignorant of what it is like to actually live under their dictatorship, and what perceptions on the ground are. In My Way in Pyongyang, the filmmakers do all they can to peer beneath the veil of state secrecy and control, and try to understand North Korea as it really is.

'Kap-si-do!' the guides yell in Korean. It means 'hurry up' and is a refrain often heard in North Korea. This is 'a country full of instructions' where nothing stands still, always busy, everything in service to the Dear Leader. Lingering for too long, especially with a film camera, is expressly forbidden. If perpetual motion is not maintained, then the thin illusion of a utopian society might evaporate, and the deprivation and dysfunction that is all around could become all too apparent. Throughout the film the camera, our view into this shadowy land, is hurried along, speeding through grey-brown fields in a Chinese train at the start, slums and propaganda billboards a blur. It is rushed past monuments, reverence maintained through censorship, and led briskly through the streets, not allowed to linger on the stern faces of the populace for too long. 'Why aren't we allowed to film?' the narrator asks repeatedly. No clear answer is ever given. No clear answer need ever be given by North Korean authority. It is absolute and unquestioned.

Despite all the control imposed on them however, the filmmakers still manage to capture some of the contradictions of life in North Korea, and glimpse the internal landscape of its people. We see daughters of party officials roller-skating through Kim Il-Sung Square and protecting their pale skin with parasols as peasants wither in the fields. We see workers rushing into a two-stop underground system and ushered along to work by patriotic pop music. And we see an accordion player smilingly drone out 'My Way' in central Pyongyang, a defiant hymn to individualism in the most collectivized country in the world. Nothing appears to make sense in this country: life itself is a bizarre, double-thinking, paradox, constantly open to re-interpretation by the powers that be. The country is compared to Wonderland. It is 'an idea, a timeless country, lost in its own history'.


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