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Why North Korean TV viewers learned to Bend It Like Beckham

North Koreans got a rare treat this week: the first-ever state TV broadcast of a Western film -- Bend it Like Beckham.

The 2002 movie starring Keira Knightley and Cork native Jonathan Rhys Myers aired in a break from the regular programming of news, documentaries and soaps in North Korea, where Western films are largely off limits.

"This was the first Western film to be broadcast on North Korean TV, and as well as football covered issues such as multiculturalism, equality and tolerance," British Ambassador Peter Hughes said.

Football is extremely popular in North Korea, which sent its men to the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 and whose women's team is a regional powerhouse.

Britain has been seeking to reach out to North Koreans through football, a sport that has connected the two nations since North Korea first sent a team to the World Cup in England in 1966.

Hughes said he watched the film in Pyongyang, and journalists monitored the broadcast in Seoul. The film that aired appeared to be an edited version.

Bend it Like Beckham, by director Gurinder Chadha, tells the story of an Asian teen struggling with family pressures and cultural expectations as she plays the sport she loves and works to fulfill her dream of competing in the US.

"Apparently the people were amazed that a Western film was shown, and there has been a buzz around the country as the people have talked about the film and its content," Hughes said.

In a tweet, the British Ambassador to South Korea, Martin Uden, praised his counterparts at the British Embassy in Pyongyang for arranging the broadcast.

"Happy Christmas in Pyongyang. Bend it like Beckham was 1st ever western-made film to air on TV. Well done to UK Embassy 4 arranging," he wrote.