Inside North Korea

Not a week or let’s be honest a day passes without something in the news about North Korea. What do we really know about the so-called “hermit kingdom”? My students are always very interested in what life is like in North Korea. They are fascinated when I tell them that many people in North Korea do not have access to information from the outside world through the internet, television or even cell phones. Most of us cannot imagine what that would be like.

Inside North Korea is an excellent way to understand how isolated life is inside North Korea. Award winning journalist, Lisa Ling gives us a look inside the country that most people never get. Traveling alongside a doctor who is in North Korea to perform cataract surgeries, Lisa Ling poses as his assistant in order to film life in the country. She is able to speak with North Korean families in Pyongyang and see parts of life that normally no one is able to see. Throughout their time in North Korea, the film crew, Lisa Ling, and the doctor are followed by government minders who watch their every move and even make sure they do not photograph the “dear leader” from the wrong angle.

Everywhere they see images of Kim Jong-il (father of Kim Jong-un and leader at the time of this film). Even inside a North Korean home, family pictures are missing, but Kim Jong-il has a firm presence. At the end of the film when they show how recipients of the cataract surgery can see again. Instead of thanking the doctor they enthusiastically praise the leader. It is very difficult to tell if people truly believe the leader is like a god or if they need to act as if he is in order to avoid danger.

 If you are looking to explain to students the closed off nature of North Korea, Inside North Korea is a great place to start. It will bring up many human rights issues as well as the effects of an authoritarian government.

Inside North Korea is often available on Netflix and it can be found on Amazon.

Teaching Tips

  • Explain the history of the Korean war so that students understand the animosity towards South Korea and the United States.
  • Focus on the human rights violations in North Korea. Ask students to make a list as they watch to record violations of human rights in North Korea.


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