How thousands of copies of 'The Interview' ended up in North Korea

A South Korean Activist has dropped thousands of copies of the Sony comedy 'The Interview' into North Korea. How effective has this balloon campaign been in getting outside media into the hands of North Korean citizens?

Dan Steinberg/FILE/AP
FILE PHOTO - In this Dec. 11, 2014 photo, actors Seth Rogen, right, and James Franco attend the premiere of the Sony Pictures' film "The Interview" in Los Angeles. A South Korean activist has been sending thousands of copies over the border into North Korea via balloon.

A film that North Korea's government fought to have shelved last year may be raining from the sky over the reclusive nation, according to one South Korean activist who has been launching balloons containing DVDs of "The Interview."

Activist Lee Min-bok told CNN he has made four launches of balloons containing thousands of copies of the Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy over North Korea since January. The 2014 film depicts a CIA plot to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, who is depicted as a buffoonish manipulator. In addition to 80,000 DVDs, American cash and leaflets explaining the outside world were included in the latest payload. 

All this despite Mr. Lee, a North Korean defector, not being a fan of the comedy – he found the movie "vulgar" and did not bother to even finish it, he told CNN.

The North has asked the South Korean government to put a stop to the balloon launches, but activists like Mr. Kim usually fly balloons under the cover of darkness. After the North began firing on balloons flying over the border, South Korean authorities have began to monitor balloon launches closely, according to the BBC, though they say that their citizens are entitled to freely disseminate their opinions.

 "The [North Korean] regime hates this film because it shows Kim Jong Un as a man, not a God. He cries and is afraid like us and then he's assassinated," Mr. Lee told CNN. "If you tell the truth in North Korea, you die. But by using these balloons from here, I can tell the truth in safety."

In the lead-up to the film's release, Sony Pictures, parent company of the film's distributor, was hacked. When FBI officials blamed North Korea for the cyberattack, North Korea issued a scathing condemnation of the US. 

The fierceness with which North Korean authorities have resisted these balloons may be an indication that the contents of these packages may be seeping into North Korean society. 

Last year, two Atlantic writers attempted to launch propaganda balloons with the human rights group Fighters for a Free North Korea, and received death threats from the North. “[I]f you so much as haunt [the launch site] with your presence and act as human shields for refugees who have already been sentenced to death, we will kill you,” the threat read in part. 

The threat was taken so seriously by South Korean authorities, 300 uniformed police officers intervened to stop the balloon launch, according to the report.

Paid for in part by South Korean NGOs, laptops, USB drives, and DVDs are ending up in the hands of more and more North Koreans. American television shows, including "Desperate Housewives" and "The Mentalist," as well as films such as "Bad Boys" are all very popular among North Koreans, according to defectors who spoke to the Atlantic. 

Pressure exerted from outside media has ultimately impelled the regime to relax on some outside Western media, such as NBA players and Mickey Mouse, the Christian Science Monitor reported back in January. 

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