The VICE Guide to North Korea

The VICE Guide to North Korea

2008, Society  -    -  Playlist 126 Comments
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Ratings: 7.74/10 from 101 users.

The VICE Guide to North KoreaGetting into North Korea was one of the hardest and weirdest processes VBS has ever dealt with.

From the authors: After we went back and forth with their representatives for months, they finally said they were going to allow 16 journalists into the country to cover the Arirang Mass Games in Pyongyang.

Then, ten days before we were supposed to go, they said, No, nobody can come. Then they said, OK, OK, you can come. But only as tourists. We had no idea what that was supposed to mean. They already knew we were journalists, and over there if you get caught being a journalist when you’re supposed to be a tourist you go to jail.

We don’t like jail. And we’re willing to bet we’d hate jail in North Korea. But we went for it. The first leg of the trip was a flight into northern China.

At the airport, the North Korean consulate took our passports and all of our money, then brought us to a restaurant. We were sitting there with our tour group, and suddenly all the other diners left and these women came out and started singing North Korean nationalist songs.

We were thinking, Look, we were just on a plane for 20 hours. We’re jet-lagged. Can we just go to bed? but this guy with our group who was from the LA Times told us, Everyone in here besides us is secret police. If you don’t act excited then you’re not going to get your visa.

So we got drunk and jumped up on stage and sang songs with the girls. The next day we got our visas. A lot of people we had gone with didn’t get theirs. That was our first hint at just what a freaky, freaky trip we were embarking on.

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Aethylswith
Aethylswith
7 years ago

Really dissapointing docementary. Not well made and he is not a good narrotor either.. too bad

Kris
Kris
8 years ago

Watching this doco on SBS right now, and it's interesting. I'm learning quite a lot about American perceptions of North Korea. Well, the presenter's American perception at least. This guy is pretty arrogant for a guest. Yeah there's a lot about the northern Korean society that seems weird from the outsider's vantage point but that's not a phenomena exclusive to NK. (Hello USA!) For a doco, it does a great job of portraying an insular American's sense of superiority and his confusion when facing exactly the same attitude from some of the Koreans. It could've been way more interesting to have a southern Korean and this northern American presenting, and exchanging views.

FERENC CSICSERI
FERENC CSICSERI
9 years ago

Please explain me if you not able to have any recording device,camera or anything than how the fu...k you made this documentary

Hilmar Herman Schraft
Hilmar Herman Schraft
10 years ago

good doc

Ms Trixiebaby
Ms Trixiebaby
11 years ago

Absolutely delightfully made ! Shane Smith is a natural at this and makes the experience worth watching. Thank you :)

littlewildthang
littlewildthang
11 years ago

sure it's a little lighthearted, but worth watching.
i think i have a little crush on the dude, shane. he's funny :)

Lucy Saw
Lucy Saw
11 years ago

Well after watching 'Poor in America' I was glad to watch such an interesting entertaining documentary. It was so much fun to watch! The only thing is he doesn't really explain how he was able to film while he was in the country.

ThePhilhw
ThePhilhw
11 years ago

Fascinating doc. but they could have done so much better by having a more neutral and perhaps deeper, style of reportage.
A great opportunity sadly trivialised.

Lazaro010491
Lazaro010491
12 years ago

Some of you cementing on here are so ignorant, however watching this doc reminds me of my home land of cuba both places are like time machines and its so sad how the people that live in both of these countries have to suffer and be denied the opportunities that many in the rest of the world enjoy because of crazy sadistic self absorbed dictators.

Lazaro010491
Lazaro010491
12 years ago

Some of you cementing on here are so ignorant, however watching this doc reminds me of my home land of cuba both places are like time machines and its so sad how the people that live in both of these countries have to suffer and be denied the opportunities that many in the rest of the world enjoy because of crazy sadistic self absorbed dictators.

Karmiccontrail
Karmiccontrail
12 years ago

One of the spiritual masters for Krishna Consciousness Devamrita Swami said in one of his audio lectures ,that North Korea had a famine so bad they turned to cannibalism and every house has to buy a television which can only receive the governments propaganda .the set can not be turned off .
Devamrita Swami smuggled and distributed books about Krishna consciousness in Russia and that brought about the fall of the wall .
If the same could be done in North Korea at very least the peoples suffering would be minimised and at best bring down the regime .

mac
mac
12 years ago

I think he is the most ignorant bastard, If you can help those people, if you cann't , just leave them alone/ for them you are the most weird ignorant man

Mik Blyth
Mik Blyth
12 years ago

This guy says that there is no electricity, if so how did they manage to do Karaoke, cook food or make beer/wine???? and if the security is that tight how the hell did he get out with the film without a total strip search....looks like more American propaganda to me. Although I doubt I would spend my next holidays in North Korea...

toy
toy
12 years ago

this guy´s missing the point.. the rest of the world is not angry at north korea we are angry at America.. we just cant say it because then they come and kill us.. we scared of the americans 10 times more then north korea. its sad to see a country have to convert to this for being safe from the americans.. the middleeast and africa didnt have that leadership and we all know how it went for them.. it shuld be usa thats excluded not korea..

slow lori
slow lori
12 years ago

I don't think collective paranoia is funny guys. You had the chance to get there and make a really interesting doc but you srewed it.

Morsie
Morsie
12 years ago

What a show up for the books was that Shane Smith. I felt embarrassed for him when he stepped on to the stage to give the girls the flowers. The bum of him jeans was shiny as, and his hair was dirty. He wore that old smelly looking jacket, and he sneered and mumbled into the camera most of the time, like a sniggering kid. The North Koreans came across as very agreeable, and it's strange how the guards said they were going to jail if they filmed this or that again, and ALL of what they said was off camera! The North Korean girls were so pleasant and quite happy-looking. I would say this was a propaganda film from Mr Smith to a capitalist society, saying "Look how lucky we are". Rhubarb!

What was very noticeable, was the absence of advertising, which I found very freeing and relaxing to sight and mind. We're all bombarded day and night by ads, commercials, left, right and in-your-face.

Thank you so much for that video. Well worth watching and quite an eye-opener.

Jessie iesika
Jessie iesika
12 years ago

A lot of the comments are bemoaning the informal nature of the film, but that's the thing I found made the video entertaining and accessible. The things going on around the host *were* bizarre, and his reactions to them where honest. The film is part of a larger series, and true to the style of that series.

The comments about "screaming anarchy in the uk" seem to be missing the point - were you watching the reactions on the faces of the Korean hosts and guards? They were completely baffled by the concept of punk rock. The hostess tried to sing along and couldn't. It was such an alien thing that they had no frame of reference for it at all. (And anyway, karaoke is kind of *for* bad singing).

And the huge show *was* weird, particularly in the context of a government that's failing to ensure its people are even fed.

yashman2011
yashman2011
12 years ago

The host went to North Korea with a very pretentious and closed mind.
I thought the 120,000 people show was awesome, but he kept calling it weird, which wasnt.
I know North Korea is a totalitarian military state with all the propoganda of a cummunist state and closed to foreigners, which would make it impossible for me to live there. Plus North Korea didnt seem to have electricity wide spread etc, it appears its communist russia, china in korean style with all the mass poverty etc.
I must say the Host did well to get in to North Korea and filmed some pictures of north but would have been better to have some a bit more empathetic and well atleast trying to be objective.

bluetortilla
bluetortilla
12 years ago

It's a shame that the host was not more professional. These people risked imprisonment and torture to get this amazing footage, and yet they didn't edit out cursing, beer slurping, and karaoke screaming of Anarchy in the U.K.
I'm no prude, don't get me wrong. But I just this was a very dangerous mission and deserves to be seen by the world. The sloppy and unprofessional demeanor of the host will make it unacceptable to many outlets. I suggest that you gentlemen edit it a bit.
Otherwise, awesome job and very brave!

Glenn Lopez
Glenn Lopez
12 years ago

wow, makes me wanna visit north korea

Ella Silver
Ella Silver
12 years ago

anarchy in the UK.. interesting choice of song.

Ella Silver
Ella Silver
12 years ago

"norz korear"

much as i hate that country right now... you gotta love that accent.

bulletbees
bulletbees
12 years ago

The part with the girl in the tea shop made me sad...And lonely

gibber17
gibber17
12 years ago

If you don't want to support Regimes like North Korea. Buy local products and stop using so much gas. Would you let your child make shirts for Walmart? NOOOO then stop buying from Walmart because if you keep buying cheap products you are supporting a sick regime. You have to do something about the situation but don't think complaining about things will get you anywhere. That is just weak. It is the act of doing that is productive. Fight the system of the rich and the corrupt and you will see the light. I would rather see my child excel with a musical instrument then have bleeding hands from sewing stuff from Walmart. OMG a empty road with no cars. That is so disgusting!!

eyecandy_babydoll
eyecandy_babydoll
12 years ago

Oh and if it weren't for Russia & China, the regime would've collapsed long time ago. But even China is starting to get TIRED of North Korea. South Korea has more financial benefits for China.

Even wikileaks revealed what the Chinese thinks of the North Korean regime - acts like a spoiled little brat.

Why would any country want an unstable, economically crippled, politically incorrect, morally corrupt, technologically backward and mentally brainwashed ally?

eyecandy_babydoll
eyecandy_babydoll
12 years ago

I'm sorry, but these people are brain washed - BADLY.
No electricity, no freedom, hardly any food - let's not forget the starvation of millions in the 90s.

North Koreans who escape to the South are totally struck by how advanced the world has become. They're in awe that there's plenty of food, that they can choose their jobs, that they have freedom of speech, freedom of privacy, heating, electricity, education, trivial gadgets and all the little basics we take for granted.

And no, I'm not American - but I don't have to be one to pity these folks who live in a country that's more like a cage. And yeah yeah, democracy is overrated and being capitalist is not always good given the state of the world's finances - but I'd STILL prefer to live in a democratic country. At least I know when I type in comments like these, it's not going to send me to jail just because I voice my opinion. People there can get capital punishment for offending the fat leader.

Imagine what would happen when the citizens become free from this regime. Can you just imagine the amount of anger from the people who were lied to for over 50 years?! Think Libyan and Egyptian riots but 10 times worse. That day will come - no empire (no matter how great or pathetic) survives forever.

gibber17
gibber17
12 years ago

Also was it that bad having a quite street with no cars? I rather that then new york city? but that is my perspective!! you bring bad vibrations into anything and it will bounce back at you!! metaphysics.

Deejay Es
Deejay Es
12 years ago

insane , damn ,i really would not enjoy having to perform these shows every time .

andy thompson
andy thompson
12 years ago

I'm an american citizen and all i want to do is impose my ideas on north koreans and steal their land from them using military force and allow for our great financial institutions to turn that hell hole into a giant fantasy land where capitalism and freedom run wild. Just kidding, I have a life to live. Don't people understand that the majority of american citizens doesn't give a flying f--k about other countries? We just do us and improve our own situations, because we're allowed to. Everyone hates us but they secretly want to be us because we have money, great teeth, and the most fun. I love where I live because I'm allowed to be myself, not some loser holding up colored pieces of cardboard signifying the great struggle of my country. Alright I'm out, I'm gonna smoke some weed and text ms. new booty aka yung titties galore aka saucy mcsexington. alright bye.

Patrick Leonard
Patrick Leonard
12 years ago

Weird comment section...like a gathering of North Korean Secret Police..

Jack1952
Jack1952
12 years ago

Your posting of your personal opinion does not make you an ideologue. He went to North Korea and reported on what he saw. The actions of the United States is irrelevant to his visit. If I commit a crime I can't point at my neighbour and tell people to leave me alone because his crimes were worse than mine. What criminal could ever be taken to account. I have to face up to my own wrongdoing as does my neighbour. North Korea must do the same. This doc in not a poll. It is about one place that has reprehensible record for the abuse of its own citizens. Not every opinion is propaganda either. Propaganda does not apply to some one who disagrees with you. My biggest problem with this journalist was his smugness. That is a personal opinion about the journalist and has nothing to do with the content of the documentary.

Guest
Guest
12 years ago

Yet the United States has to seal its borders to stop unwanted aliens sneaking in to live. I wonder if North Korea has the some problem.

Jack1952
Jack1952
12 years ago

How is it that when commenting about North Korea, so many posts are about the United States. Does anti-American bias run so deep that people cannot discuss any topic without a rant against the U.S.? The United States is far from perfect but that does not negate the wrongdoings of other nations.

Rachelnico
Rachelnico
12 years ago

HA...funny, another reason I love ViceMag./

Arnold Vinette
Arnold Vinette
12 years ago

I really enjoyed this documentary on North Korea. Although I found the narrator to be a bit anal and I have no idea why they let him into North Korea, the finished product is really good and shows a mysterious people that are very creative, arts oriented, industrious, and defensive of their way of life.

North Korea has definitely been getting a bad rap these days. Based on everything I saw in the video, these people work very hard to accomplish incredible things. The narrator was a little bit harsh on the people who were helping help out and at the school.

However based on some American schools it is nice to see so much attention given to the kids to creative and to excel at a specific art.

At times I was very embarrased by the narrator's actions and no doubt the North Koreans will now know that they are right about Americans. At other times though the narrator showed the proper respect to his hosts and the country he was visiting.

Although the narrator and the videographer did not have the freedom to go where they wnated to, they were treated it seemed with an incredible amount of respect and given access to many places with a team of people who spoke English.

In the United States or Canada would we do the same in the North Korean tongue?

All in all I was left with a very positive image of North Korea and its people.

The editing of this documentary is very well done cutting in North Korean propoganda footage with the narrator.

The massive spectale at the end for the games was simply amazing. What an experience that would have been to see it live! All those 120,000 North Koreans working together to make it happen.

North Koreans are anything but a backwards people and they really need to be given more due credit. Yes they may be controlled by a central government, but who isn't these days. A very enjoyable documentary for the positive things the narrator and videographer were allowed to see.

Arnold Vinette
Ottawa, Canada

StillRV
StillRV
12 years ago

Saw this a long time ago and enjoyed it. I think some people here are overreaching in their serch to bash anything done by any American ever. These guys have made quite a few docs, most of which were excellent and informative. To feel this is somehow propaganda?? So ya think the presenter paid off the thousands of people who would have attended that big show not to come? or did he stage the show himself. Maybe he planted the fake food in the empty hotel. And perhapse he was responsible for the hauntingly lonely look on the face of the Tea girl. Go ahead and hate America hey it's the cool thing to do these days but give it a rest some places and some governments are actually worse. Admit that or go ahead and do what this guy does. Tour N.K. Tour Darfur, visit Ruwanda, Visit the child brothels of South East Asia. Or just keep on raging against the most visible target. Your choice, but if what you are trying to acheive is depth, try looking at all sides not just the hipster "down with the evil empire" side.

gibber17
gibber17
12 years ago

What a typical American perspective! I found him one sided in his thoughts. Why don't we go into the western society and see how wasteful we are and how we go into other countries to destroy there land for our lavish life style.

LIVEFROMLIMBO
LIVEFROMLIMBO
12 years ago

very good documentary but lets not rush to conclusions and forget how we are similar. "indoctronation"? how bout a nation who is currently at war right now but bombards their people with IDOL, football and ipods, while towers fall and muslims blamed? in a f--ked up crazy way, N.Korea, may be one of the last free places on earth.

capriciouz
capriciouz
12 years ago

Great documentary but one of the worst edited I've ever seen. For one, it's in 14 5-minute parts and each of them include an intro, which is retarded. Second, the volume on music is ridiculously high versus the volume on normal speech.

I recommend checking out "Inside North Korea" if interested in this subject as well or instead.

chaysun
chaysun
12 years ago

Interesting! At the end when he said that they have absolutely no cultural exposure....I agree, N. Korea is very secluded but aside from N. Korea, almost all of Asia would come to the USA or western cultures and say the same thing. How exposed are we to Asian culture? We don't know who their top musical artists or biggest celebrities are so in my opinion it's pretty equal comparing Asia to the West. Just because Asians don't know who Bruce Springsteen is doesn't make us any better because we don't know who their Bruce Springsteen equivalent is either...

jonathon wisnoski
jonathon wisnoski
12 years ago

What do they mean by a "vice guide to travel: north korea", because to me I hear how to be a sex tourist.

Anthony Young
Anthony Young
12 years ago

Ok, two things I have to say about all of this. ONE, these people are bat s*** crazy. TWO, some of those N.K. chicks are kinda hot. I'd like to introduce that tea girl to a little western culture.

Bjurne
Bjurne
12 years ago

why do i get a feeling of fear mongering and propaganda? Kim jong ill isnt about to take over the world, the US has already done so :S

Jack1952
Jack1952
12 years ago

The reason North Korea isn't an imperialist power is because they know they wouldn't win any war. Their venerated leader would then lose the one thing he craves most; complete and total control.
True freedom is anarchy. Anarchy will never work and is a pipe dream. Reality insists that we give up some freedoms to maintain a certain level of freedom. That is a very difficult level to sustain and relies on the participation of all citizens involved. I wish the people of the United States would form a third party and take on the power of the two elite parties. It can be done. All is needed is the will, strength and determination of the people. Take away that will, or worse, don't even exercise that will and you will get the type of government that most are complaining about.

Guest
Guest
12 years ago

Saw this doc before, the DMZ, talk about a powder keg, I betcha wont be to long before the empire will try to take over that country also. Another war Hmmm?

But nobody is free anywhere, just wait people until it becomes mandatory to get chipped, your elected govment that is itself governed by a handful of the elite is trying to garner more control over the sheeple everyday.

Kevin Muller
Kevin Muller
12 years ago

Wow,
This is an incredibly important document.
This highlights exactly how much governments f#ck with our heads all the time. And how normal we perceive ourselves when we are within that context.
The whole democracy b*llsh1t is not much different, especially in the African countries.... Sure, your vote counts. Yeah, all the voters are dumb enough to vote for a brain dead criminal. Wow, who are they kidding.

Also, this is much like the internet, and all the western hypocrisy. More and more control is exercised centrally. For example without a google account, or one of the other main accounts that have the ability to track our daily activity, it is no longer even possible to make a comment, not even on this site. Wow, talk about social engineering and control. Who are we kidding. Us westerners accept just as much social engineering as the North Koreans, and it is just as bizarre.

Dave Campbell
Dave Campbell
12 years ago

It's easy to tell an american not to judge another country, But North Korea Has some serious problems. If we ignore both our problems and theirs.... their problems might turn into ours anyways. We have to study history, but we have to look around at what's going on right now too. Maybe looking into N.K. might wake us up to how our goverment treats us too.

princeton
princeton
12 years ago

@azilda

point taken and i tend to agree with most of what you post, but I think you got a bit overly relativistic here, in a sense claiming that there is no objective way to organize a society where it benefits the most people.. (i think)

see, the problem with all present government configurations is the initiation of the use of force on the citizen. point blank period.
Because "we" believe that those who attack us and take our lunch money are the ones who are protecting us, we set ourselves up to be pillaged and in a sense deserve it. this is what happens all over the world, US and N. Korea alike.

in your thought experiment, a simple solution would be to create a country based on nothing but contracts (evidence of voluntary agreements) and the non-aggression principle. NO taxes, no "legislation" or regulations. (i know, its a thought experiment)

I agree and don't think its fair to pass value judgments based on personal tastes, But I am fully justified in judging and condeming those who initiate force and use violence to control others.

great posts.. and oh yea, this film is awesome!

Robert Elliot
Robert Elliot
12 years ago

This guy is every bit as much an ideologue as the North Koreans. At least their propaganda as regards the US is entirely true, as opposed to US propaganda which is generally a pack of outrageous lies, but you wouldn't know that from his reactions. He says the North Koreans don't know that "the world is mad at them". How ridiculous. The North Koreans aren't the imperialist bullies of the world. They aren't bombing, occupying and torturing the citizens of other countries. I think you would find the country that is doing those things would top the polls by a longshot for justified anger and resentment toward it. And that would be your county, doofus "journalist". What an ungracious guest. Why did he go there in the first place? Oh that's right, propaganda.

misterwong
misterwong
12 years ago

For those of you who have never seen a doc like this it is hard to digest or even accept.In fact this has been going on for 50 years but you've been kept in the dark.Maybe Colonel Jessop is right,Americans can't handle the truth.NK is the fearsome indoctrinated,Military Industrial Complex that Eisenhower dreaded would one day dominate the US policy.We did not listen.Misinformation,mass propaganda,willfully surrendering our rights to the State by media generated terror is commonplace now in Amerika and after the fact.
And you,my fellow Americans ,must agree with our government policies,or you are a traitor.Brainwashed,complacent,robotic ,systematically undereducated,placated by luxury and bold lies.
Perhaps we deserve the grim destiny of North Korea,enslaved by its own government.If you're real Americans,then think.Question your leaders,its your precious right.The Money Mongers who own the government won't give up .If you think you deserve your country back,get ready for one helluva fight.