Friday, October 05, 2007

Kim Jong-Il: Dae-Hard Film Fanatic

"Lights, camera, attrition!": Kim Jong-il loves to shoot people

Everybody has at least one redeeming factor, even North Korean despot Kim Jong-Il, whose Orwellian iron-clad grip on the in-name-only "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" has squeezed the life out of this destitute, starving nation. Going by his ubiquitous gray khaki worksuit and oversized 1970s computer programmer glasses that even Elton John wouldn't be caught dead in, it ain't Fashion or Good Looks. And it sure ain't sparkling personality (has the man EVER smiled? I mean, even Dr. Evil smiles!).

No, Fearless Leader is an avid Film Fanatic. Though his people aren't allowed to see Western films (especially not those South Korean films that show their well-off southern brethen driving Hyundais and stuffing their faces with kimchi and soju in middle class bliss), Kim supposedly has a private library of over 10,000 videos and DVDs, including many foreign films (though probably not Team America!), and is allegedly fond of slasher films and action movies.

In the past, Kim's film fanaticism went so far that he even ordered the kidnapping of prominent South Korean film director Shin Sang-ok and his wife, actress Choi Eun-hi, to produce propaganda films for North Korea. One of those films was Pulgasari (1985), described as a "socialist Godzilla movie," which only got international attention because it was executive-produced by Kim Jong-Il (the Aaron Spelling of North Korea) himself! Shin and his wife eventually escaped North Korea in 1986.

I mention this because whatever hopes the two Koreas have of someday being reunified may be tied to motion pictures. At the first North-South summit meeting in Pyongyang in 2000, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung got a hearty response from Kim Jong-Il when he gave the North Korean leader a huge 60-inch-screen TV set and three video tape recorders.

Kim is a Dae-Hard Fan of Lee Young-ae

And at this week's summit talks in Pyongyang, South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun gave Kim Jong-il 150 DVDs - including Dae Jang-Geum (Jewel in the Palace, TV series 2003-2004), the insanely popular South Korean historical soap opera depicting the hardships of a female cook in the royal palace during the Joseon Kingdom (from 1392-1910, a period when the two Koreas were one).

Kim's allegedly a fan of Dae Jang-Geum star Lee Young-ae, who also starred in Park Chan-wook's JSA: Joint Security Area (Gongdong Gyeongbi Guyeok JSA , 2000) - a DMZ military murder mystery that Roh also presented to Kim at the summit - and Lady Vengeance (Chinjeolhan Geumjassi, 2005).

The DVDs reportedly pleased the North Korean dictator, who smiled and told Roh, "You have given me precious pieces" (whether this was a reference to the DVDs themselves or to comely actresses like Lee Young-ae and her ilk is open to interpretation).

(President Roh also gave Kim two Jindogae - dogs indigenous to South Korea's Jindo Island - but these have probably already been eaten.)

Who knew the diplomatic freeze could be thawed by a South Korean soap opera and the allure of Western consumer goods in the form of Pop Culture? After all, the Korean Times reports that, "according to defectors, South Korea's pop culture products, including movies and songs, are getting popular in the reclusive North despite its strict regulations on their inflow."

Can reunification be far behind? The mind boggles at the thought that someday Kim Jong-Il may go shopping for DVDs at a Best Buy in Seoul or open a NetFlix account.

Related Links:
Roh Presents DVDs to Film-Loving Kim (Korea Times)
Dae Jang Geum/Jewel in the Palace official site


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