North Korea's underground nuclear test site, Punggye-ri, is set amid terrain appropriate for its purpose: The mountainous, northeastern province of Hamgyong, which borders China and Siberia, is one of the most inhospitable winter landscapes in Asia.
But this grim, forbidding province, which is also home to the notorious Yodok labor camp, seized the attention of the wider world half a century before Pyongyang's nuclear tests and claims of human rights abuses made headlines.
Hamgyong witnessed arguably the most harrowing battle fought by American or British troops since World War II, a forgotten epic that offers every ingredient for the perfect war movie: an embattled force, towering odds, murderous combat and treacherous weather.
Yet 60 years after the Korean War ended, and with the number of surviving veterans rapidly dwindling, the dramatic story of what took place at Chosin Reservoir has so far eluded the silver screen.
"It's an amazing story," said Brian Iglesias, a former U.S. marine, Iraq veteran and independent film producer. "It's unbelievable what they did, from both a military and a human standpoint."
In November 1950, a United Nations force -- including U.S. Marines, U.S. Army units and British Royal Marine commandos -- deployed around the strategic Chosin Reservoir, a frozen, man-made lake high in the Hamgyong mountains that supplied hydroelectric power to the industrial cities on the coastal plain.
They were preparing for what they believed would be the Korean War's final offensive. The North Korean Army teetered on the brink of defeat; men expected to be "home for Christmas."
What they did not know was that China, in a brilliant feat of mass infiltration, had intervened to support its North Korean ally, then led by Kim Il Sung, late grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un. As a Siberian cold front descended over the highlands, the 30,000-strong U.N. force found itself surrounded by eight Chinese divisions with an estimated 80,000 men.
Around 65 miles from the sea, in temperatures of minus 37 degrees Celsius (minus 34 degrees Fahrenheit) and winds of 60 knots, the British and American troops' only hope of escaping annihilation was to hack their way through massed enemy in a fighting withdrawal.
Combat and cold claimed a gruesome toll: Of the 15,000 U.S. troops involved, more than 3,000 died during the 17-day struggle. But the Chinese forces paid a much greater price forcing the allied troops from their positions -- some 60,000 replacements were required to replace men lost to firepower and cold.
The fight remains seared into veterans' memories.
"Six decades later, it's still vivid," said Warren Wiedhahn, a retired U.S. marine. "The biggest part of the battle in my mind was not being able to evacuate our wounded; if they couldn't walk to keep warm, it meant almost certain death."
It was a brutal campaign featuring a range of near-unbelievable events.
An Anglo-American force battled 9-1 odds in an ambush in "Hellfire Valley." A marine company somehow held off a Chinese division for five nights at a strategic pass. Chinese soldiers blew up a bridge over a 4,000 feet deep valley, forcing the U.S. to carry out an unprecedented operation: The airdropping of a replacement bridge.
Lyle Bradley, a marine fighter-bomber pilot, recalled that during one strafing run, he could only use the cannon in one wing, as Chinese and U.S. troops were fighting so closely.
On one freezing night, embattled marines watched in awe as a single star appeared through the clouds above their base. (That star later became the veterans' emblem.) And as Chinese advanced and U.N. forces evacuated North Korea, a single ship, the SS Meredith Victory, carried 14,000 desperate refugees to safety in the South, earning the title "Ship of Miracles."
Such scenes demand cinematic treatment. In 2010, New York-based Iglesias produced an award-winning documentary, "Chosin," and has since been working on a feature film: "17 Days of Winter."
Two years ago, all looked rosy. Oscar-winners signed on: Eric Brevig (Best Effects, Visual Effects for "Total Recall") as director and Frank Pierson (Best Writing, Original Screenplay for "Dog Day Afternoon") as scriptwriter.
Then tragedy struck.
After finishing the script, Pierson died last year, complicating revisions. The project then hit a funding gridlock, leaving the movie in indefinite limbo.
But Iglesias remains philosophical.
"Obstacles are not uncommon for these kinds of projects," said Iglesias. "Sometimes, it takes a year; sometimes a decade; sometimes they never happen."
If the project never happens, it would be par for the course for the Korean War. The conflict left such little mark on popular culture that it is dubbed "The Forgotten War."
"Korea was not a war like the Spanish Civil War, that intellectuals went to fight in," said Mike Breen, author of "The Koreans." "There are books and movies about it but no classics; it needs to be revisited in modern times."
Despite its near invisibility in art, the Korean War marked numerous Cold War milestones.