North Korea and why you should support the ‘Nothing To Envy’ film project

Here at Beyond Hallyu we focus on all aspects of South Korea, from it’s media and arts to culture and travel. Over the past 50 years South Korea has emerged as one of the world’s leading economies and is one of the dominating forces in East Asian pop culture, gaining a bigger and bigger influence all over the world. Today, however, I want to take a look at it’s often forgotten neighbour to the north and the struggles it faces.

Nothing to Envy Book CoverEarlier this year I came across the book ‘Nothing to Envy’ by journalist Barbara Demick which chronicles the lives and stories of several North Koreans who managed to defect to the South. It looked fascinating to me so I bought the audiobook and began to listen. I was enthralled immediately and I think I listened to the whole 12 and a half hour recording in 3 or 4 days. Although they were all fraught with tragedy beyond what I could ever imagine, the stories also had a universality which made them easy to relate to. Tales of lost young love, family breakdown, falling into hardship and the loss of loved ones are narratives which we are all familiar with and, through telling the stories of individuals, the book allowed me to gain a much deeper understanding of the true extent of the horror of life in North Korea than pages of facts and figures ever would.

Most people know that North Korea is a very secretive country with a totalitarian regime which exerts almost total control over it’s citizens. What many people are not aware of is just to what extent the actions of the regime have devastated the lives of every single North Korean.

nothing to envy concept imageFrom the time when the Korean peninsular was split in two in 1948, North Korea has gone from being a shining example of the successes of Soviet-style communism with good industry and employment, food and electricity for almost everyone, substantially better off than it’s southern cousin, to a country whose economy is in ruins. The government cannot even provide reliable electricity to it’s show capital Pyongyang, the only part of the country ever made visible to foreigners. Famine in the 90s caused deaths which are estimated at somewhere between 0.5 and 3 million and the country still relies largely on international food aid. It is estimated that between 150,000 and 200,000 people are being held in concentration camps. There are few governments anywhere in the world which show as much brutality and as little compassion for it’s citizens. As far as South Korea has risen, North Korea has fallen even further.

As awful as these numbers are, it is stories that really engage people with important causes. Through this book, Demick lets us understand the plight of the North Koreans, who are usually shown on TV as mindless, uniformed masses, by telling the story of individuals and allowing us to understand their suffering on a human level. This book is one of the best resources for insight into North Korea around and I think these stories should be shared with as many people as possible.

Thankfully, there is a new film on it’s way to being made that plans to do just that! A British team of documentary makers, Mosaic Films, are working on making an animated documentary which explores the stories from the book to bring them to life on screen. They chose animation for the project due to the fact it is almost impossible to film in North Korea as well as to protect the identities of the defectors. You can find out more about this film here:

Nothing to Envy Teaser from Mosaic Films on Vimeo.

But they need your help! They are looking to raise $80,000 to fund the making of the film. If you are able to give them any money I would urge you to do so. As someone who has gained so much from learning about South Korean culture over the past few years, I feel it is very important to also remember the struggle of North Korea, lost in the dark beside it’s brighter, shinier southern neighbour. This film looks like it will be a great way of raising awareness. Plus the animation looks fantastic!


If you want to find out more and donate you can go to the Nothing To Envy film website and if you want to read the book you can visit it’s website here. Let us know what you think of the film!

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