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February 8, 2014

Is North Korea on the verge?

While it might be called the “Hermit Kingdom,” North Korea is seeing a lot of change.

Some of those changes were evident in the recent Frontline documentary, “Secret State of North Korea.”

Like many throughout the world, I’m fascinated with North Korea ever since I got to lay eyes on it (from a very safe distance) when I lived in South Korea. I try to keep in touch with the news from the Korean peninsula since my time there about a decade ago.

News from North Korea is sparse. It has always been that way in order to control its people with a cult of personality around their leaders, Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il and now, Kim Jong-Un.

What is interesting about “Secret State of North Korea,” was it is one of the first documentaries produced since Kim Jong-Eun took power two years ago. The youngest Kim has created, like his father and grandfather, an even-tighter grip on the population. An attempt to solidify power in what experts believe to be a tricky transition.

What was so interesting about director James Jones’ documentary was the use of hidden video from North Korea. The video, shot by North Koreans at great risk to themselves and their families, is smuggled from North Korea via thumb drives and DVDs to AsiaPress, a Japan-based group committed to telling North Korean stories.

The footage shown in Jones’ film did not show the regular North Korean footage of famine, military might and really intricate choreography. One of the videos was of a black market in North Korean city, where goods smuggled in from the Chinese border are bought and sold, in plain view of the state. Capitalism was at work in the “Socialist Worker’s Paradise.”

Another video was one of a woman, owning a bus business, telling a soldier off. Okay, the bus was really a truck with people riding in the back of it, but the image of a female in authority and one using that authority is stunning, especially considering the Confucian heritage of both Koreas.

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