After a lot of back and forth and even after President Obama weighed in, Sony decided to release, as scheduled, the movie The Interview. Over the long holiday break, I was able to watch it from the comfort of my own living room! As I mentioned in a previous post, having traveled to North Korea in the summer of 2012, I was curious to see how closely the movie portrayed the reality of the country. I will not comment here about the artistic or the cinematic value of the film. I’m not a movie critic. Plenty others have done it, and I’ll agree with most that it was indeed hilarious. I’ll therefore limit my observations to a comparison of the North Korea I’ve seen on the ground with the one shown in the movie.
As a general observation, I’ll say (no spoilers here) that the movie shows, surprisingly, very little of North Korea. In the first half of the movie, the action takes place mostly in the United States. In the second half, when the story shifts to North Korea, most of the action unfolds indoors. However, the little that is shown is a rather accurate portrayal of Pyongyang and of the DMZ and it seems that great care and attention was paid to the uniforms worn by the various characters.
The only scene from North Korea in the first part of the movie is the very first one which takes place in front of the Monument to the Korean Workers Party. It is a very accurate portrayal of the monument, as it clearly can be seen. The background, however, was “enhanced” to show other famous buildings from Pyongyang’s skyline, including the famous Ryugyong Hotel (the pyramid-shaped building) and the new downtown complex completed in time to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung (left side). Both of these are in fact located on the other side of the Taedong River from the Korean Workers Party Monument.
The second part of the movie shows a bit of Pyongyang and of the DMZ but mostly takes place at Kim’s Palace which, as shown, is a Hollywood creation. The few shots of the store in Pyongyang are not a reflection of the reality I’ve seen in North Korea. In fact, there is very little shopping space visible on the streets. However, we too were taken to a “special” department store which catered, from what I understood, to the small ex-pat and diplomatic community and to the local elite. The only “real” footage of North Korea was the one from the DMZ and in this instance, the scene was shot from the South Korean side.
I should also note here that all the split images in this article were created using screen shots from the movie (time in the bottom right corner) and actual photos from my trip to North Korea. You can see the full set here.