National Geographic - Inside North Korea

Join National Geographic’s Lisa Ling as she captures a rare look inside North Korea - something few Americans have ever been able to do. Posing as an undercover medical coordinator and closely guarded throughout her trip, Lisa moves inside the most isolated nation in the world, encountering a society completely dominated by government and dictatorship. Glimpse life inside North Korea as you’ve never seen before with personal accounts and powerful footage. Witness first-hand efforts by humanitarians and the challenges they face from the rogue regime. (
Year Released
Running Time
52 minutes
Date Released
2007 (DVD)
National Geographic Video (
Average: 3.8 (5 votes)


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Inside North Korea: A National Geographic Documentary

Field of Interest/Specialty: Social Studies 7-12
Posted On: 01/09/2020

In Inside North Korea, a documentary by National Geographic, Lisa Ling travels to North Korea to document the reclusive regime. I was very interested in the film in light of recent events surrounding relations between North Korea, South Korea, and the United States, and the topic is definitely relevant for social studies instruction. Lisa Ling and her camera crew manage to capture rare footage inside the isolated country as they disguise themselves as a medical team. In addition to providing a new inside look at North Korea, the film covers many other topics about the country, such as Kim Jong Il's rule, the situation regarding North Korea's development of nuclear weapons, the military confrontation between North and South Korea along the Demilitarized Zone, ongoing humanitarian abuses by the North Korean regime, and the lives of North Koreans.
Some of the film's strengths are its excellent depictions of the lives of North Koreans and the way that the North Korean regime exercises its power throughout society. The images from inside the country in this film are rare and hard to find. The film succeeds at portraying the many hardships (frequent power outages, lack of food, poor medical care, censorship and totalitarian control by their government) that North Koreans face. It does a particularly good job of showing how important showing reverence for Kim Jong Il is for North Koreans. Since this film was made in 2007, the fact that it's becoming dated is one of its largest drawbacks for its use for instructional purposes. This is not to say that the film is not well made, but since Kim Jong Un has ruled the country for a number of years after the death of Kim Jong Il and the have been a number of new developments in the hostilities between North and South Korea, supplemental materials would be beneficial for educators hoping to use this in their classrooms. However, inside North Korea is a good film for introducing the stark realities of North Korean regime's humanitarian abuses and the military hostilities that persist to this day.

Life Inside North Korea

Field of Interest/Specialty: History
Posted On: 05/13/2019

Lisa Ling travels undercover with a team of doctors from Nepal. They had been invited to Pyongyang to perform 1,000 cataract surgeries in 2 weeks. She shares background information on the Korean War and describes life in North Korea. One emphasized point is the pictures of the Great Leader. In people's homes, they display his picture, not any family pictures. The pictures must be displayed in a certain manner, and always clean. The government minders take the team on a tour of the privileged capital, Pyongyang. Power outages are common. The documentary also interviews a North Korean defector and his traumatizing experience escaping. There is a certain look of horror and guilt in his eyes when asked what would become of his family since he escaped. He breaks down in tears. The last part of the documentary is the uncovering of the eyes after surgery to see whether the surgeries were a success. Lisa Ling makes the parallel that she wants know what North Koreans see with their own eyes. Patient after patient steps to the front of the room praising the Great Leader. One woman proclaims she will work so much harder in the salt mines for his happiness. Lisa Ling wonders, do the people of North Korea actually believe what they are saying, or is it all an act since government minders are always watching.
I recommend this for middle to high school students. It is dated, yet still relevant. It is a great starter for discussion, and a way to provide basic background. I would find more up to date resources to share as well. I would not center a whole lesson around the entire documentary, it would be good to pick clips to discuss with students. I have had some students who I showed parts in class, then went home, looked it up, and watched the whole thing. In conclusion, it is a great supplement, but not a stand alone documentary.

National Geographic Inside North Korea

Field of Interest/Specialty: Asian Studies
Posted On: 12/04/2017

I was very interested in viewing the National Geographic film, Inside North Korea. With all that is happening in 2017, I found it to be a hot topic that I wanted to learn more about. This film was eye opening. A crew of doctors and a news crew, with Lisa Ling, were able to enter North Korea under the premise of helping the many Korean’s that suffer from cataracts. It seems that many children and adults as well suffer from this in North Korea. The surgeon’s mission was to preform 1,000 cataract surgeries in ten days.
Lisa Ling and her crew came with the medical team under the guise of filming the surgeries. Once the crews were in North Korea, they were never alone. They had to be accompanied by a North Korean official. They were shown the hospital area. This was probably the nicest hospital in North Korea, but there wasn’t the needed equipment to help their people. The conditions were not sterile, there was no running water and the people were starving. The few pieces of equipment that were there were brought in from other countries. The medical staff also brought in equipment.
At one point, the crew was permitted (with their chaperone) to tour the areas outside the hospital. They were shown the best of the best. Hidden were the poor areas and the many people suffering. Everywhere they went they saw statues or paintings of Kim Il-Song--the first dictator of North Korea. These people worshipped him. They cried and praised him. Children were taught to sing songs about how the United States are horrible people.
The film also brought to light the concentration camps in North Korea. These were family camps meaning if a family member escaped then their whole family was punished and sent to the camps. In these camps, people were worked to death or died from disease. Once in camp, you never left. Kim ll-Song frightened his people to keep them loyal. They went to school and were brainwashed.
What struck me was when this medical team corrected the vision of the thousand suffering people, the doctors were not thanked. The patients praised their great leader! The brainwashing and leading by fear was quite evident! In their homes they did not display family pictures. Instead, they would have three photos lined up with the leaders of North Korea.
I recommend this film to everyone, especially because of all that is currently happening between the United States and North Korea. What a scary world we are living in.

Inside North Korea review

Field of Interest/Specialty: Japanese art history
Posted On: 11/09/2011

Reed Miller
High School History, Sewickley Academy (Pittsburgh)
National Geographic – Inside North Korea
When a Nepalese doctor travels to North Korea on a charity mission to help teach local doctors how to cure cataract related blindness, a National Geographic film crew is allowed to join on the auspices for filming the surgeries. While the doctor performs more than 1,000 surgeries in ten days, the film crew is allowed a somewhat inside look into life in Pyongyang.
On the surface, this film shows an extremely reclusive, militaristic, and oppressed society. The people are portrayed as brainwashed devotees of the “Great Leader,” Kim Jong-Il, praising his brilliance and help in all aspects of their lives. This indeed may be the true situation, but I left the movie wondering how much of this view was reality, and how much was due to the influence of the ever present governmental observers. Either way, the depiction of life in North Korea was less than pleasant. The control and domination that Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il play in the life of North Koreans is shocking. Their cults of personality are legendary, but I was not aware of how pervasive they are in every day life. If the movie indeed does portray life in the DPRK accurately, it is an eye-opening view into this reclusive society.
The question is how accurate is this movie? Are, as I mentioned before, the governmental observers skewing the actions of the people? Are the film makers portraying the country in a bad light or exaggerated way? While National Geographic is of course a reputable, I was uneasy about the information that was presented in this film. I think that the movie would definitely be beneficial to use in a classroom, but I would also certainly use it in conjunction with a discussion based around the questions of reliability and bias.
National Geographic offers an interesting insight into the “Hermit Kingdom” which would work very well if used in tandem with a book such as Kang Chol-Hwan’s The Aquariums of Pyongyang. While the secrecy that surrounds North Korea will not allow complete knowledge of the authenticity of the life depicted in the film, issues surrounding cults of personality, dictatorial states, secret police, freedom of the press (and lack there of) as well as bias and reliability of sources can all be addressed while using this film.

Inside North Korea, a National Geographic documentary

Field of Interest/Specialty: Social Studies - government and economics
Posted On: 04/28/2011

Shannon Crombie
12th Grade Social Studies: Contemporary American Democracy
Canon-McMillan High School
Inside North Korea, a National Geographic documentary, provides a rare although tightly controlled portrait of life above the 38th Parallel. Traveling with a surgical team from Nepal, American journalist Lisa Ling reveals the extent to which Kim Jong-Il influences the daily life of the citizens of North Korea.
The film begins with an explanation of how an eye surgeon received permission from the North Korean government to enter the country and perform cataract surgery on several hundred patients over a ten day period. Cataracts rarely cause blindness when properly treated, but the lack of properly trained doctors and medical resources in North Korea allow the condition to persist in a large segment of the population. The coverage of this health care issue leads to a broader discussion of the political and economic reality of North Korea today, influenced by the Japanese colonization as well as division of Korea following World War II. One of the most intriguing elements of the documentary includes footage of the American, South Korean and North Korean military personnel at the 38th parallel.
Another striking feature of the video is the extent to which North Koreans appear to worship their leaders. Clips of the funeral procession of Kim Il-Sung shows dramatic displays of grief, and on the streets of cities as well as in the homes of North Korean citizens hang multiple images of Kim Jong-Il. No family photos are seen, but “Dear Leader” is everywhere. Later, as patients emerge from follow-up visits with the surgical team, they thank Dear Leader for their restored vision by chanting, bowing, crying and swearing to attack the American enemy in the name of Dear Leader. The film concludes with the interview of a former boarder guard who escaped from North Korea. His personal account of life as a guard and the intimidation tactics used by the North Korean government to keep citizens in line makes quite an impression on students.
This video provides a stark contrast to the American citizen experience. It demonstrates to students that people around the world do not live with the rights and freedoms enjoyed by citizens in the United States. Mocking political leaders in the United States is a regular occurrence, for example, but such behavior leads to prison in North Korea and perhaps persecution of one’s family.
This video would be appropriate for students in grades 9-12. The film came out in 2006, but the material remains relevant today.