To the Western world, North Korea remains the Hermit Kingdom, a whole, mysterious nation still frozen in the Cold War and a never-ending source of bewilderment and curiosity.
Often, that comes in the form of mockery: The photo that went viral last week of North Korean despot Kim Jong Un visiting a lubricant factory is a case in point.
A new video aims to show a different side of Pyongyang. It is fascinating because it rather successfully portrays North Korea as a place that is — despite being one of the last truly totalitarian states on the planet — perfectly normal.
North Koreans march into the train station during a tedious commute just like us. Their kids shriek and laugh while rollerblading in the sunshine; they have high-rises, public parks and taxis just like us:
This is, of course, a version of the story as told by JT Singh and videographer Rob Whitworth on behalf of a Beijing-based tourism company and with the blessing of Pyongyang's National Tourism Administration.
The sleek production traverses the 400-square-mile city showing it in full color — though nothing can make the ubiquitous brown and army green completely disappear. It blends slow motion with time-lapse effects to convey a sense of progress, according to the filmmakers:
North Korea was the last country seemingly immune to change — but no longer. Recent years have witnessed mobile phone penetration, a surge in tourists, and even a marathon. Numerous special economic zones have been launched in cooperation with China, Russia, and South Korea, with railways planned linking all countries in the region. “Enter Pyongyang” captures not just the city, but this dynamism and sense of potential.
Some 1,500 westerners travel to North Korea each year, according to the BBC, and that doesn't include Asian tourists who travel there from neighboring countries. The filmmakers estimate the number of tourists to be between 4,000 and 6,000 each year.
And the North Korea tourism business could well be burgeoning. The video was sponsored by Koryo Tours, a U.K.-run, Beijing-based operation that has led tours to North Korea since 1993. A member of the Koryo Tours staff co-produced the video, and the videographers were accompanied by two members of the National Tourism Administration while filming it.
Its creators say they were given "complete editorial control," but it is worth noting that it reinforces a perception of North Korea that the regime seeks to cultivate: a thriving society despite, or in spite of, its international isolation.
Conspicuously absent: images of the militarized state and the miserable poverty and mass malnutrition that exists in large pockets outside the capital. Nor do we get much of a sense of the pariah state's technological backwardness.
"As is standard for all foreign visitors to the country, we were not allowed to shoot any construction sites, undeveloped locations or military personnel," the filmmakers wrote.
Wondering what that stuff looks like? See this.