Lisa Ling’s National Geographic documentary Inside North Korea or Undercover in North Korea, is an undercover attempt to gain a look at the secret goings-on in the “hermit country” that has cut itself off from the world for the last 60 years. The documentary was shot in 2006 and aired on National Geographic 27 February 2007. The premise of the documentary shows Lisa Ling as a medical coordinator helping Dr.Sanduk Ruit as he provides the people of North Korea with medical help and teachings as he performs hundreds of cataracts surgeries under his mission with doctors without borders. With the tenth anniversary around the corner let’s look at this documentaries approach to its portrayal of North Korea as a negative, oppressive and controlling government in regards to its interactions with its people, the crew, and other countries, and the final judgement it passes over the country and its people. By using the rare footage, they shot in combination with their and other peoples accounts of the nation they paint a strong picture of dictatorship and hollow facades that both use and portray the scare tactics of that nation.
While nothing pushed the making of this documentary, it was the overall silence and mystery of North Korea that spurned Lisa Ling to take this opportunity and give the rest of the world a look into the country that has treated the rest of the world with a cold shoulder for the last 60’s years. From the onset of the documentary it becomes clear that the secrecy of the country goes beyond the transfer of information outside of the country, inside the country is just as regulated. This film was intended for American Audiences as well as those who have access to National Geographic and its channel. National Geographic is a trusted source about when it comes to coverage of the world. It’s magazine and channel contain first-hand accounts about plenty of non-traditional cultures, third world countries, and little people or places. North Korea fits perfectly into these categories, so they know how to cover these types of stories and the people who were going to watch the documentary are looking for this first-hand account into the country. The target viewers are an audience of males about 35 years of age. This group of people tend to be more conservative, they also have may have a few preconceived negative views of North Korea. Inside North Korea represents the country as an awful place to live where the people fear the government. The documentary starts with Lisa telling the audience North Korea is "mysterious, terrifying" followed by a South Korean and American military mission to evoke fear and danger through pathos. As Lisa Ling and her camera man experience the country the over regulation and control the North Korean government is not only a suffocating and scary procedure it has created a culture and society in North Korea that looks more like adystopian novel than a real-life place. I watched this when I was a Sophomore in high school because my then 32-year-old English teacher showed this in conjunction with our lessons about George Orwell's 1894 and the concept of “Big Brother.” While living in the land of the free, this idea of freedom in all things stands in stark contrast to the images painted by this documentary of a place where it’s so dangerous to be free the people lovethe control. One of the excursions the camera crew is taken on shows a family that the documentary states is a typical family. Ling provides us with evidence that this is untrue and the whole interaction is staged and controlled. The biggest point this segment added was the idea that the people love their leader and they are completely unknowledgeable about what life is like outside their culture. The overall perspective this creates through pathos is that North Korea is scary. On top of the experience of Lisa Ling they add in logos with Dr. Ruit’s knowledge about the people’s poor heath and minimal medical care and goes into multiple stories of North Korean refugees who had to flee the country as a means of ethos. Even though the documentary adds other appeals somehow, they always make it the strongest claims with pathos. Dr. Ruit talks about the poor health and we see and hear about hungry, malnourished babies. When they talk to the staged family they show one of the party officials who is only there keep an eye on the crew begins crying over the respect and love she has for Kim Jung Il and the music underneath is a low rumbling sound. The explanation of how twisted their love for their leader is accompanied by strenuous and ominous noises to get the viewers terrified.
This documentary is very well done. It provides many different outlets to prove its point, and even allows the people of North Korea to show their ideas of their country both good and bad. It does have a heavy handed streak when it comes to moments when North Korea is painted in a good light. The documentary will either overlay music or voice over to contrast to the positive portrayal or it will immediately go into a new segment that shows a new atrocity of North Korea. It is very informative, and was one of the first representations from that country not skewed by the government of North Korea unlike some other more recent ones...*cough**cough* As my personal favorite documentary I give it 5 stars, because even today the information and footage this film holds is rare, unknown, and dangerous. Now if only we could get the North Korean people to watch it!