"There is substantial demand" for things like South Korean movies and television programs, said Kretchun. "And there are intensely entrepreneurial smugglers who are more than willing to fulfill that demand."
For now, though, times are tough along the border, with smugglers saying North Korean guards have become far stricter about searching for contraband.
In a country where one family has held absolute control for more than 60 years, a communist enclave that survived the downfall of the Soviet Union and a devastating 1990s famine, the notion of allowing knowledge of the larger world is deeply feared.
"Even a hint of illusion or submission to the enemy is the shortest road to death and self-destruction," Kim said in his October speech, according to the state news agency KCNA.
The enemy works out of places like Hunchun, a brutally cold, money-hungry border town of car parts shops, cavernous indoor markets piled with shiny polyester clothing and off-brand electronics so cheap it seems almost impossible. Just a few miles from both North Korea and Russia, it's a town where nearly all signs are in three languages — Chinese, Korean and Russian — and where you can find a smuggler in just a few phone calls. Even if they rarely give a name, and are often identified only by their mobile phone numbers.
"Let me worry about how to do it," laughed one smuggler, asked how he gets his goods into North Korea. He is a friendly man, dressed business-casual in black corduroys and a black sweater.
Asked what he could get across the border, he made clear that business was thriving. Televisions, including ones able to pick up foreign stations? No problem. DVD players? Sure. Chinese movies? Yes.
But when asked about South Korean DVDs, the man shifted uncomfortably in his chair. His partner spoke up. No South Korean items — not DVDs, thumb drives, cosmetics or food.
"Nothing," the partner said firmly.
Soap operas, at first, might not seem like conduits of underground information. But they are threats nonetheless, offering windows into worlds that North Koreans both lack and desire.
North Korean viewers living in tiny two-room homes and struggling to feed their families can see houses with bedrooms just for children, and dinners with endless food. They see everyday people casually complaining about policemen and politicians. Scenes like that are provocative in a country where defectors say criticizing the ruling family can send entire families to sprawling prison camps, and where bicycles are considered luxury items for many.
Plenty of other smugglers are willing to carry what the man in Hunchun is not.
Millions of foreign TV and movie recordings are thought to be floating around North Korea, though they are most easily available in cities near the Chinese border. With the crackdown, analysts say smugglers appear to have shifted to new techniques, at least for videos: carrying recordings on tiny thumb drives, and then transferring the programs to DVDs inside North Korea.
Because once information starts to flow, information cannot be turned off like a spigot. At most it can be slowed.
In many ways, Kim is facing an authoritarian contradiction.
North Korea has been trying — albeit haltingly and slowly — to revitalize its barely functioning economy and crack open a door to the outside. Foreign tourists are now commonplace in Pyongyang, though on tightly controlled trips, and Kim has told his people that they should never go hungry again. Western movies occasionally are shown on state television. North Korean officials now actively court foreign investors.
As a result, North Korea has found itself flirting with modernity — more than a million of the 24 million North Koreans now have mobile phones, for instance, though they can only place and receive calls domestically — while trying desperately to keep a tight grip on the public.