Loyal Citizens of Pyongyang in Seoul: Understanding Enemies of the Empire

Loyal Citizens of Pyongyang in Seoul
Pictured here (From Left to Right): South Korean human rights lawyer Jang Kyong-ook, North Korean “defector” Mrs. Kim, and North Korean “defector” Mr. Choi

The Orient and Islam have a kind of extrareal, phenomenologically reduced status that puts them out of reach of everyone except the Western expert. From the beginning of Western speculation about the Orient, the one thing the orient could not do was to represent itself. Evidence of the Orient was credible only after it had passed through and been made firm by the refining fire of the Orientalist’s work.”

Edward W. Said, Orientalism

North Korea exists as the ultimate evil in contemporary culture. The Kim Dynasty rules as a monarchy and the people of North Korea are subject to the whims of the tinpot autocrats. North Korea is notorious for its human rights record, its poverty, and its violent outbursts toward its neighboring countries Japan and South Korea. These are narratives accepted, often uncritically, by the western media. It’s difficult at times, to find articles about North Korea that don’t reinforce these narratives even in writings and videos seeking to disprove some of the more ludicrous notions about the North such as “Every man must have the same haircut as Kim Jong Un”.

It is a difficult task to find news and videos that see and present North Korea, as a country. An actual place where people live and North Koreans as a people, not as a herd of complacent sheep under the thumb of a “despot”.

The film “Loyal Citizens of Pyongyang in Seoul” addresses the common view of North Korea head-on and asks a very simple question, is any of it true?

North Korea, came into existence after the partition after World War 2. Led by Kim Il Sung, they were able to fight off Imperial Japan and establish independence once again for Korea. Until America invaded to create an outpost against Communism. This led to the installation of the dictator Rhee Syngman who was responsible for some of the grossest human rights violations in the country such as the Jeju Massacre, The Bodo League Massacre, and the No Gun Ri Massacre.

Since the war and subsequent armistice, the Koreas have often been framed as experiments between communism and capitalism, between democracy and autocracy, and even between good and evil. A common post online will talk about the underdevelopment of the North in comparison to the South.

In the West, the moniker of the Korean War is The Forgotten War, which is a curious name for any war. Especially one with casualties in the millions. But the ability to forget this war is unique to the aggressor in this case, America. North and South Korea has been at war for the last 70 years, not an active war but a war nonetheless. Men in the South are conscripted to serve in the armed forces for 1 to 2 years with rare exceptions.

For the people of Korea the war is still ongoing and the sentiments of the people on both sides of the “Demilitarized Zone” or “DMZ” are given much time of day.


“Loyal Citizens of Pyongyang in Seoul” or “LCPIS” gives insight into how the war has affected those in the South and those in the North. What’s more important is that the narratives of the two “former” North Korean Citizens is completely alien to what is commonly said about North Korea.

Common narratives about the North are often a bit of hypocrisy from the West. For example, the U.S. still has legalized slavery for prisoners and the largest prison population in the world, but the North is condemned for labor camps.

Human rights abuses are commonly levied at the North, from nations who also often abuse human rights or profit from the abuses of human rights.

South Korean human rights lawyer Jang Kyong-ook, is the first testimonial of the film and speaks to a variety of abuses that the South Korean government has committed and continues to commit. His explanation of the National Security Act, or NSA for short shows South Korea in a much different light than the West presents it.

Often the South is said to be the good half of Korea, it was the one to embrace democracy and economic liberalism after all. The reality is, the South was ruled by numerous dictators, committed dozens if not hundreds of war crimes in the Korean War, and as mercenaries during the Vietnam War is an often “forgotten” fact.

Mr. Jang, speaks to the creation of “spies” by the NSA where they coerce false confessions and testimonials from defectors to continue the narrative of the North being a proverbial hell on earth.

This is not to argue that the North is perfect or even innocent, only to point to the way the North is viewed and how that view can be shaped by misinformation.

After Mr. Jang, the North Korean “defectors” are given time to speak. The most notable thing about both of them is that they both wish to return to the North. With the South so often being portrayed as a land of milk and honey when compared to the North the fact that the “defectors” wish to return, expeditiously, does again speak to the narratives about the North not being wholly accurate.

Mrs. Kim doesn’t discuss much about the North outside of missing her family, most notably her daughter. Her tragedy, being kidnapped, forced to remain in the south, attempting suicide multiple times, and forced to carry on is one of the most heart-rending testimonials from a “defector”.

Mr. Choi is a bit of the opposite, he too is a tragic case, as he’s still extremely loyal to the North. He’s an open and avowed communist and Korean nationalist. He speaks with pride of his country but does acknowledge economic hardship is what drove him to China, which in turn led to him being in the South. His passion for his homeland shines through and stands in stark contrast to the common narrative from other defectors.

The film ends with the director, David Yun tracing the connections of prominent North Korean defectors to right-wing think tanks. He ends the film with a clear call out to those in power who seek to continue the division of Korea and the marginalization of the North. The film speaks to the nature of those in power to hide unwelcome truths that may upset the status quo.

It has become a bit of an open secret that defector testimonials are dubious at best. As reported by the Guardian, many of the stories about the North fall apart with a bit of scrutiny. Many stories about the North come from Radio Free Asia which receives funding from the U.S. government and often publishes the most outlandish stories from the North with little to no pushback in the media landscape. And that’s the big thing about the film.

It speaks to the nature of truth in the face of a machine, an empire, that wants the world to believe one thing. It’s a bit bittersweet upon viewing LCPIS. A common notion in the West is the truth will come out. It may be slow but when it arrives it will win. But the nature of propaganda, especially when it has strong financial backing, shows that truth in the modern age is as valuable as the screens it’s read on.

Works Cited

Nausika. “Loyal Citizens of Pyongyang in South Korea: How South Korea and the US Use North Korean Defectors as Propaganda Tools.” Under Southern Eyes, 5 Feb. 2021, undersoutherneyes.edpinsent.com/loyal-citizens-of-pyongyang-in-south-korea/.

Song, Jiyoung. “Why Do North Korean Defector Testimonies so Often Fall Apart?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 13 Oct. 2015, www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/13/why-do-north-korean-defector-testimonies-so-often-fall-apart.

Yun, David, director. “Loyal Citizens of Pyongyang in South Korea.” YouTube, YouTube, 17 Oct. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkUMZS-ZegM.

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  1. I hadn’t heard of this movie, but now I’m definitely interested in watching it. Being on the internet, I have definitely seen North Korea addressed in strange ways – one that stands out in particular was when pictures were published showing people in NK during their day to day lives, some looking happy and most looking fairly normal, hardly the doom-and-gloom some people seem to indicate. Some people accused them of being actors, pretending that things were good there to create an illusion to the rest of the world. And sure, these pictures didn’t show everything, but this was instead of the more likely explanation – that even though there are some terrible things happening in NK, many people are still able to go on with their lives and at times be happy.

    • Sunni Rashad

      First off, thanks so much for reading the article. It’s always appreciated. Especially since this one didn’t get featured.

      And to your point, I remember an argument I got into a few months ago, where I wasn’t arguing that NK is a utopia only that it isn’t literally hell on Earth and that was an unacceptable premise to the other person.

      I believe the anti-NK propaganda has been one of the best examples of consistently training a population to ignore the humanity of enemies of the state. Because many of the stories about NK strain credulity and yet you’re seen as the outsider in a lot of spaces for questioning them.

  2. While this is not really expertly filmmaking, it might be one of the most effective counter-propaganda tools that i’ve come across.

  3. People get their head washed way too easily bout anything as long as it doesn’t take any active action on their part.

  4. Nice concise and to the point documentary.

  5. I got my mother to sit with me and watch it, and it was worth every minute.

    • Yes. Definitely a really great introductory documentary for those interested in how the west spreads propaganda about the DPRK.

  6. Marquis

    I donno. What I got was North Korean defectors supposedly exaggerating their tales and some genuinely disturbing apologia for the Kim regime.

  7. Kai Bowers

    An amazing modern perspective to begin studying the korean struggle!

  8. Just watched it on YouTube. Honestly i think everyone should watch it.

  9. Good analysis. As a film, its a bit dry. But it reveals a lot and talks about a topic people refuse to acknowledge.

  10. Even the way schools teach about propaganda is itself propaganda.

  11. Essential watching, and just as essential read.

  12. Well the two interviewees are from the most privileged place in NK so it’s not a perfect representation of the country.

  13. Thanks for recommending this doc. I feel as though certain aspects were skated over or only explained to a convenient degree, but in the long run all it’s ended up doing is affirming my own perspective on global geo-politics rather than effectively challenging them. Formally it’s nothing to write home about, basic but I suppose that’s what you get with an independent film. I also wish there had been a greater variety of interviewees as well as more efficient contextualisation.

  14. The documentary does a great job at highlighting how the reason north korea is as messed up as it is, is in large part because of anti-propaganda.

  15. Very important first hand perspectives and i would recommend to anyone.

  16. Jonathan

    Hearing about what really goes on behind the “true stories of North Korea” is a firm reminder that ultimately it is all about enforcing U.S imperialism and manufacturing consent.

  17. Golam Rabbani

    An essential piece of writing that is needed now.

  18. Joseph Cernik

    This is an interesting article. I found the perspective on a movie I knew nothing about something I now want to go into. There was a quote:

    Often the South is said to be the good half of Korea, it was the one to embrace democracy and economic liberalism after all. The reality is, the South was ruled by numerous dictators, committed dozens if not hundreds of war crimes in the Korean War, and as mercenaries during the Vietnam War is an often “forgotten” fact.

    I guess I would have expanded on this to address issues such as the changes in South Korea politically, contrasting with developments or the lack of them, in North Korea. Just the Political Scientist in me thinking.

    • Sunni Rashad

      I would’ve but the problem with doing that is that it’s easy to get dismissed as biased for citing what happened when it contradicts popular canon. I wanted to keep the focus on the film as much as possible and avoid giving people a reason to click away.

    • Adelaide Dupont

      About the dictators of South Korea:

      I especially remember Park who had ruled just before the Seoul Olympics in 1988.

      It is 50 years since Long Tan – I appreciated the reminder of the South Korean mercenaries in Viet Nam.

      The highest amount of dozens under a hundred is 96!

  19. Phoenix

    Never ever believe a damn thing us intelligence has to say about foreign policy.

  20. Charlotte

    That is an interesting little documentary that aims to clear up some untruths about the DPRK and shows how much general perception is influenced by US propaganda. All while the US, as always, is cheerfully destabilizing the DPRK (as they do with Venezuela or Cuba for example) and raising spies and propaganda tools inside of its imperialist colony in South Korea.

    • I felt the film deals with all of this only superficially, but it is enough for a general outline.

  21. Sad to watch, but great information overall.

  22. Oh how the empire of the US has affected relations between North Korea and South Korea!

  23. A lot of the points in the documentary could’ve been fleshed out more, because the explanation seemed to lack at some parts.

    • Sunni Rashad

      That’s fair, I think as a general introduction to questioning common talking points about the DPRK it’s fine.

  24. This is a fascinating addition to the broader discourse about North Korea.

  25. Re-unite Korea!

  26. The worlds perception of the dprk is so skewed it’s genuinely terrifying.

  27. One of my favorite docs ever. Must watch!

  28. Sometimes I get severely depressed about the horrifying degree of political illiteracy in our country.

  29. This documentary is an admirable effort and might play a helpful step in making people unlearn their biases towards the situation. Thanks for covering it.

  30. I have now watched this two days in a row (second watch was with my dad).

  31. Incredible look into the propaganda machine.

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