Kdrama Deep Dive: How accurate is Crash Landing On You in its portrayal of North Korea?

Published on May 11, 2021 05:20 PM IST  |  1.9M
The official poster of Crash Landing On You
The official poster of Crash Landing On You, courtesy of Netflix and Studio Dragon

You might have watched 2013's highest-grossing South Korean film, Secretly, Greatly starring Kim Soo Hyun, about North Korean sleeper cells. If not, you might have enjoyed the romance between an unruly prince, who later became the king in an alternate-reality South Korea which has a constitutional monarchy, and a North Korean Special Forces (female) officer. The series King2Hearts, starring Lee Seung Gi and Ha Ji Won is considered a turning point in the actor's career. If you haven't watched these very popular productions, you definitely might have watched the very recent drama series Crash Landing On You featuring actors Hyun Bin and Son Ye Jin as the lead couple.

What do they have in common? The main leads or the storyline of these South Korean productions is connected to North Korea in one way or another. Of these, the latest series, Crash Landing On You (CLOY), is much praised for being a lot accurate in its depiction of North Korea. According to reports, extensive research was put into the making of the script. It was then reviewed by many North Korean defectors so as to be as close to reality as possible. Some changes are expected as the main aim of the production is entertainment. But 60 percent accuracy, as revealed by the defectors, is very high when considering the aforementioned reason.

When you land the rich heiress of a South Korean conglomerate in a village, it is bound to result in some humorous instances. The cultural difference between her origin and where she crash-landed is very aptly depicted in CLOY. One of the defectors, Kang Ha Na, in an interview with The Washington Post, revealed that she felt like she was watching her hometown in the series. Referring to certain scenes from the drama, she said that she made kimchi out of seawater and, in winters, showered in a makeshift steam bath under plastic sheets.

The drama's portrayal of Pyongyang elites is also not very different from reality. It is very rare that people are able to go abroad. In such cases, it is obvious that their families might want to boast about it. It is something that is not restricted to North Korea only. It diminishes the misconceptions about North Korea a lot.

Talking about people, we would like to address some stereotypes and misconceptions. North Koreans like to keep themselves updated about what is going on beyond their borders; including entertainment. They might not be allowed to listen to K-Pop music or watch South Korean dramas; of course, American entertainment is included. But that doesn't stop them from illegally purchasing these from black markets, another thing CLOY got right. This also does not mean that they don't have fun openly. Pyongyang has a water park, arcades, fast food restaurants, internet cafes and even a bowling alley for teenagers to hang out in. However, they have to be home by a certain time due to curfews.

The capital, Pyongyang, is a place with electricity available 24/7 as compared to rural areas. So there are quite a few North Koreans who are not used to the electrical shortage. And electrical shortages are the cause for trains almost never arriving on time, yet another element CLOY got right. According to defectors who read the script, they were shocked to notice that trains arrived on time when they first entered South Korea.

The series made the general life of people in North Korea very relatable. How about life in the military? Conscription/Enlistment takes place at the age of 14, wherein service starts at the age of 17 and ends at the age of 30. Children of political elites are exempted, as are people with bad ascribed (assigned at birth) social status, referred to as songbun.

In the series, Hyun Bin's character enjoys a close and informal relationship with four soldiers under his command. Defector Jung Ha Neul joined the Korean People’s Army as a 17-year-old and was stationed as a guard along the heavily militarized southern frontier, just like the characters in the show. He said it paints a rosy picture of life in the North Korean army. The border guards are much more rigid and hierarchical. He hardly has any happy memories in the 15 months he spent in the army. According to him, if the army was as warm as portrayed in the series, he would not have risked his life to run away. He points to one aspect to be very accurate - the soldiers' reactions when they first went to Seoul.

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What do you think of the picture Crash Landing On You paints about North Koreans? Share your thoughts with Pinkvilla in the comments section down below!