North Korean authorities have detained a number of DVD retailers as they desperately try to track down the source responsible for circulating a sensitive South Korean movie about the Korean War, according to sources inside the country.
The movie, “71: Into the Fire,” relates the story of 71 student-soldiers who were mostly killed on August 11, 1950 during the Battle of P'ohang-dong while defending a strategically-located girls' middle school from an attack by North Korean forces.
Despite the losses, the students—most of whom had never before fired a gun—successfully turned away the attack in what proved to be a turning point for the South in the Korean War.
Sources inside North Korea told RFA’s Korean Service that DVDs of the movie had become widely circulated in North Hamgyeong province’s Chongjin city and that authorities were working hard to track down those responsible for releasing it.
“The marketplaces have been thrown into confusion because of an order to find the people who spread the movie,” a source in North Hamgyeong province said on condition of anonymity.
“It is insane to crack down on a movie that has already spread as far as possible,” he said, echoing complaints from area merchants.
Another source in North Hamgyeong province said that many DVD retailers had been taken in for questioning in connection with the movie.
“Most of the DVD sellers in Chongjin were taken in for investigation and some have not yet been released from the State Security Department,” the source said.
Authorities were tipped off by a “citizen’s report” around June 7 saying that a man surnamed Jo in Chongjin had been burning the DVDs with a copying machine and selling them to the public.
At a subsequent search of the man’s home, authorities confiscated a laptop, a DVD copying machine, USB memory sticks, and around 1,000 discs featuring more than 100 movies from South Korea, the U.S., China, Thailand and India.
The discovery led authorities to bring in several DVD retailers for questioning, the source said, and those who were in possession of "71: Into the Fire" discs have yet to be released.
Authorities ‘too late’
A resident of Chongjin who had seen the movie said that authorities moved too late to stop its spread.
“'71: Into the Fire' was popular, but the craze has died down. Most people have already thrown away the DVD after watching the movie,” the resident said.
“The State Security Department is trying to grasp how wide the movie has spread and an order to catch the first distributor has been relayed by the North Korean Workers’ Party,” he added.
The resident said that although the movie was no longer popular, it had left a lasting impression on those who viewed it.
“Since the movie is based on a true story, some people in Chongjin received a shock. It is very different from what the [North Korean] government tells us had happened,” he said.
“I was touched by the story which shows that South Koreans also value their mother country and its system above their individual lives.”
Reported by Sung Hui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Goeun Yu. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.