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From nuclear threats to dark-horse celebrity ambassadors, North Korea has made a name for itself as a hotbed of severity, secrecy and scandal.

Inside North Korea's movie industry

A new documentary goes behind the scenes at North Korea's only film school, where students learn how to make movies that glorify Kim Jong Un's regime.
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This picture taken on September 22, 2010 shows posters for movies participating at the 12th Pyongyang International Film Festival in Pyongyang. (IAN TIMBERLAKE/AFP/Getty Images)
Method acting it ain't.

North Korean leader's nephew graduates from world peace school

Could Kim Jong Un's teenage nephew teach the supreme leader a thing or two about world peace?
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The United World Colleges (UWC) school in Bosnia, where Kim Han Sol, nephew of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, graduated this week. (ELVIS BARUKCIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Kim Han Sol, 17, is unlikely to bring the ideals he learned at high school back to the North Korean garrison state.

North Korea's food conundrum

Many North Koreans are undernourished, the United Nations says. Can the beginnings of a so-called agricultural reform put food in their mouths?
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North Korea relies on foreign aid to feeds its people, having suffered persistent food shortages since a famine in the 1990s. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Many North Koreans are undernourished, the United Nations says. Can the beginnings of a so-called agricultural reform put food in their mouths?

Is North Korea evil and clownish?

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Adam Johnson tells GlobalPost about the challenges of writing about North Korea.
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North Korea relies on foreign aid to feeds its people, having suffered persistent food shortages since a famine in the 1990s. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

SEOUL, South Korea — You'll learn far more about what’s going on in North Korea when you leave the country, several former residents of the country have told GlobalPost.

With scarce access to foreign media, the government has set up an information cordon for the hundreds of expatriates in Pyongyang. Journalists and tourists can only travel there with two government minders.

So it’s understandable why many reporters have trouble unearthing the real story. Most prefer to gather information from Christian missionary groups at the China-North Korea border, or by interviewing defectors in Seoul and Beijing.

But despite the difficulty of gathering information inside the country, North Korea is full of untold stories that you can hear from around the world, rather than in North Korea, said Adam Johnson, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for his novel, "The Orphan Master’s Son."

The book, released in January 2012, follows the life of a fictional orphan and model citizen from the country. The storyline includes appearances from the late dictator, Kim Jong Il.


North Korea’s latest barking? South Korea had a sex scandal

The sexual peccadilloes of South Korean public servants are now the target of North Korean complaints.
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President of South Korea Park Geun-hye claps while addressing a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill May 8, 2013 in Washington, DC. The alleged groping incident occurred during her trip to the US. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

SEOUL, South Korea — Last week, the administration of the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, fired a spokesman after a Korean American intern called the police on him.

During the president’s visit to Washington, DC, the unnamed victim accused the official, Yoon Chang-jung, of grabbing her buttocks and, later that night, answering his hotel door for her wearing only underwear.

The official, Yoon Chang-jung, quickly escaped on a flight to Seoul.

On Friday, the North Korean state news agency, KCNA, published a version of the events using its own acerbic vocabulary.

"Upset by this scandal, the puppet group sent him back to south Korea [sic] next day. It kicked up much fuss replacing the spokesman and making an apology to the people and the 'president' on behalf of the senior secretary for publicity of Chongwadae."

Notice that the government mouthpiece accused the “puppet group” — a reference to the South Korean presidential delegation visiting the United States — of deliberately sending Yoon home after they learned of this allegation.

The Blue House has not said this is the case.


Bringing The Simpsons to North Korea

North Koreans have a better sense of humor than you'd think.
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How do you say "D'oh" in Korean? (Screengrab)
SEOUL — Foreigners who get to know North Korea say many of our assumptions about the country are wrong.

Gulags? Missiles? Not to fear, Choco Pies are here

Could a marshmallow-filled snack help upend North Korea's regime?
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These sugary snacks could be South Korea's greatest weapon of food diplomacy. (Tomomarusan/Wikimedia commons)
North Koreans are falling in love with South Korea's most iconic snack.

Why was an American jailed in North Korea?

Kenneth Bae could face the death penalty for seeking to "overthrow" the government. Now the US government is urging North Korea to let him go.
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The cruise ship Mangyongbong docked at the Rason port prior to a ceremony to mark the first-ever cruise to Mount Kumgang International tourist zone, from Rason in North Korea on Aug. 30, 2011. (Goh Chai Hin/AFP/Getty Images)
In November, naturalized US citizen Kenneth Bae, 44, was arrested in North Korea on what are so far nebulous allegations that he tried to "overthrow" the government, according to state media. His trial is soon approaching.

North Korea: Possible missile launch?

April 25 is something of a holy day for the North Korean leadership.
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A North Korean soldier at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone on April 23, 2013. (Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images)

SEOUL, South Korea — April 25 is something of a holy day for the North Korean leadership.

It marks the founding of the guerrilla army in 1932 that they — often romantically — claim valiantly fought off Japanese colonials and saved the Korean race from slavery. (In reality, the army played a minor role.)

Every year, the military marks the anniversary with a lavish parade. But this year, some Korean press are reporting that there might not be major festivities tomorrow for reasons still unclear.

A test-fire is possible, following the reported movement of two short-range Scud missiles to the east coast. That's near the area where, in early April, the North also placed two medium-range missiles.

The South Korean defense ministry now claims, on the other hand, that the North could test a mid-range Musudan missile as late as July.

In addition to April 25, they cite two other possible dates: April 30, when the US-South Korea joint Foal Eagle military exercises end, and July 27, the anniversary of the armistice that halted the Korean War of 1950 to 1953.


Can you solve North Korean math?

How many American imperialist bastards does it take to screw in a light bulb?
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North Korean children perform in a primary school on April 2, 2011 in Pyongyang, North Korea. Pyongyang is the capital city of North Korea and the population is about 2,500,000. (Feng Li/Getty Images)

SEOUL, South Korea — I’m now reading an advance copy of Andrei Lankov’s upcoming book, "The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia," due out from Oxford University Press on May 8.

It’s an incredibly detailed and timely insight into North Korean society. The Russian historian, who lived in Pyongyang as an exchange student in the 1980s, lays out how the government established — and continues to maintain — a tentacle-like reach in the everyday lives of North Koreans.

The country, he writes, has even surpassed the level of control that the Soviet Union witnessed under Stalin.

To make his point, Lankov offers sample questions from a math textbook. Can you solve these brain-numbing dilemmas?

Question 1:

During the Fatherland Liberation War [North Korea’s official name for the Korean War] the brave uncles of Korean People’s Army killed 265 American Imperial bastards in the first battle. In the second battle they killed 70 more bastards than they had in the first battle. How many bastards did they kill in the second battle? How many bastards did they kill altogether?