Some frequently asked existential question about Pyongyang’s famous subway system.
Is the Pyongyang Metro real? Is the Pyongyang Metro fake?
Stephen Hawking once said “Reality is not a quality you can test with a litmus paper.” His comments were about the quantum state of Schrödinger's cat. Perhaps in this sense the “reality” of the Pyongyang Metro is debatable.
However, for all intents and purposes in the Newtonian world most of us inhabit, the Pyongyang Metro is real. It is a real and functioning subway system as much as any other functioning subway system is real.
It is truly fascinating how persistent existential rumours about the Pyongyang Metro have been over the decades. Tens of thousands of foreign visitors (and millions of North Koreans) have rode the metro and yet still the rumours persist that this extremely deep and cavernous system of public transport is somehow fake or the riders are actors.
This writer is searching for the “original sin” of Pyongyang Metro rumours — my theory is that at some point in the 1970’s or 1980’s some foreign visitor to North Korea, mentioned that the metro seemed “like” it was full of actor or “like” it was not real. These doubts have been passed down from generation to generation, although I doubt in Augustinian fashion.
Whenever I hear such doubts about the metro, I’m always reminded of the scene from The Life Aquatic where the reporter, Jane, confronts Steve Zissou about his latest film. “I thought aspects of it seemed slightly fake,” she says. To which the captain pulls out his glock, replying “Does this seem fake?”
The Pyongyang Metro is very real. Pyongyang is very real. Yet it still does remind us of a Wes Anderson film set, which lead us to our next question:
Is the Pyongyang Metro a set?
Generally no. But it has been in the past. The Pyongyang Metro appears in a number of North Korean films, and the 1988 Italian-North Korean cult classic Ten Zan — The Ultimate Mission. See 37:32 for the metro scene.
And so what is the Pyongyang Metro really like?
Check our Koryo Tours' two-part short film on the Pyongyang’s subway.