In a survey of 250 North Korean refugees and overseas travelers in 2010, 48 percent said they had watched foreign DVDs while inside the country, up from just 20 percent two years earlier, the study said."
The study's principal author Nat Kretchun, associate director of the InterMedia consulting group, said that South Korean dramas - popular across Asia - their northern neighbours a welcome break from their usual diet of stern, humourless propaganda.
"When you get very well-produced, compelling South Korean dramas - a picture into a place that you've been fascinated with your whole life, because so much North Korean propaganda revolves around South Korea - that's extremely powerful," he said.
In recent years, bootlegged South Korean dramas have been flooding into the northern neighbor — part of a recent explosion across Asia in the popularity of South Korean TV shows and music known as the Korean Wave. On the black market in North Korea, American DVDs go for about 35¢; South Korean ones go for $3.75, because of the higher risk of execution for smuggling them in, according to two recent defectors from Pyongyang.
The nation's films and dramas have become so widespread across North Korea that the regime launched a crackdown this fall on North Korean university students, the movies' biggest audience, and smugglers at the Chinese border, charging some with promoting the ideology of the enemy state. "The government is terrified of the ideas North Koreans are getting about the outside world," Myung says. "The people are starting to ask, 'Why are we poor?' And they point to South Korea."The number of defectors from North Korea has increased over the past decade. As Melanie Kirkpatrick documents in her new book, Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia's Underground Railroad, there are approximately 24,000 North Koreans that have managed to flee their country to seek refuge abroad. Countless thousands are also hiding in enclaves in China, fearing discovery and deportation by Chinese authorities.