ALL THE COUNTRY’S A STAGE
Having recently read a book on culture in South Korea and enjoyed the information it was a fitting time to read a book on intrigue, spy craft and, yes, culture in North Korea or, as it is officially known, the Democratic People’s Republic Of Korea. This book also has a major connection to the US dominated South Korea or Republic Of Korea.
A Kim Jong-Il Production’s subject-matter and its particular story are completely novel to me, but one both learns much about both Koreas and finds himself engrossed in a fantastic tale.
The book centres on two icons of Korean cinema, Choi Eun-Hee and Shin Sang-OK, a couple who were kidnapped and taken north to feed the lunacy of Kim Jong-Il and his perverted fake communist country. At the time of the events, Jong-Il’s father Kim Il-Sung was the ruler of North Korea, but the son was in effect second-in-command and seizes the South Korean pioneers and this story.
As many know, North Koreans have abducted Japanese nationals off Japan’s soil and illicitly repatriated them to the former country across the water. What is less known is how the ‘hermit kingdom’ had done the same to other nationals including their kin in the south. Two victims of the north’s thuggery are the subjects of A Kim Jong-Il Production. The book’s title refers to the dictator’s love for film, the occupation of the kidnapees and the country as a whole. The former dictator was a lover of movies. According to the book, he likely had the world’s biggest private film collection, had a staff of 250 take care of them, had North Korean embassies duplicate films for him and decided North Korea shall enjoy its own silver screen exports for monetary and propaganda purposes. Japan’s success with a film like Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon was one instigator.
The book’s actors and its accounts have come under suspicion – this being North Korea fool proof independent verification is impossible – and the author recognizing this goes to some length to verify and check the story independently. Unbelievably Choi and Shin were even permitted travel to London, England, West Berlin and elsewhere following their kidnapping and claim they did not gain the opportunity to make their escapes. Having said that, much of his source material comes from first-hand communication with Madame Choi and the book The Kingdom Of Kim Jong-Il by the actors. Author Paul Fischer is not an expert on Korea, but is a good writer. Moreover, Choi’s memory is so good – evidently.
As the cliché has it life in North Korea is stranger and more esoteric than fiction. In fact, the tales are so strange that one does not know whether to laugh or cry at the absurdity of the human condition. Indeed, the book could be read as a novel of intrigue and espionage, but is a tale of two talented individuals caught in the world of sham communism-turned-nationalism-gone-berserk.
The author has disdain for the North Korean rules and rulers and, as he exposes their crimes, one wonders whether he should not have kept a more dispassionate stance. He calls Jong-Il “Yura,” which is his Russian birth name more often than warranted as if out of spite and for long after is necessary for instance. In another, movie-related circumstance the author reports that up to one-third of North Korea’s population either directly worked as an informant for the government or acted in the service of the same, but with ‘progress’ groups of up to thirty citizens would come together to watch films on illegal VCRS and DVDs away from the prying eyes of the government. Notwithstanding Kim’s debauchery, lust for the girls of the Pleasure Brigade, owning his own train, which ran partly on exclusive tracks his numerous idiosyncrasies are something else. Having said that, despite being a psychopath Kim Jong-Il the author, via his interlocutors, reports the man to be aware of the sham his kingdom was and to not have been personally deluded by the grand show around him.
The few photographs included in the film are interesting – especially one of Choi being greeted by the water upon arrival by Kim himself. A bibliography is present. Other than that the book is chockful of fascinating tales from the other side of the world.