A movie, a director, a book

hereHow do you play in a story which is produced by a political strongman, willing to steal, kidnap, or even kill, for whatever goal is being chased?

IMG_0006Read the book A Kim Jong-is Production, and you will not be blamed to think that it is taken straight from an action movie, or probably a thriller. It is filled with excitement, action, kidnapping and running away, imprisonment, torture, and even glory. The plot seemed to good to be true not to be a movie from Aaron Sorkin. All were true, however, happened under the watchful eyes of a bespectacled authoritarian.

Long story made short: A film couple by the name of Shin Sang-ok, a movie director, and Choi Eun-hee, a famous actress, both from South Korea. As their marriage ended in divorce, Choi was suddenly abducted by the North Korean regime, plotted to play in a movie under a propaganda campaign led by the then-heir apparent of the country’s leadership Kim Jong-il, son of one of the world’s communist dictators Kim Il-sung. Not stopping there, Shin, who was looking for Choi following her disappearance, followed Choi’s track only to be kidnapped as well.

Choi and Shin, separated and reunited.

Unbeknownst to Shin, Choi was also kidnapped to North Korea, only for Shin, sensing something wrong, tried to escape on his own, captured, and imprisoned. Years after, both were reconciled, and got married once again—only now under the auspice and officiated by the Great Leader himself. They were blessed and asked to make movies for the regime, with a carte blanche to gain international acclaim.

Initially, acclaim they got.

Only, their consciences were not gone totally. Even after months of ‘ideological reeducation’ they realized they really longed for freedom. A few films after, they bolted by using loopholes in immigration and by metering their chances well, to freedom.

Even if you think the story was not real, think that it is true.

Eerily, this story seemed like a recount of history being repeated. “History is bound to repeat itself”, said the good ol’ wisdom, and apparently, history of the strongmen does tend to repeat itself. Consider the fact that authoritarian regimes always favorite arts to build support and agitate the masses—in essence, a massive propaganda engine to put everyone under control. Hitler used movies (Olympia) and architecture. Mussolini used architecture as well—to turn the modern Rome into the glorious ancient city. The same penchant was there in the Kims as well.

The book itself was wonderfully written. Only when I came to the end of the book then I realized that Paul Fischer, the author, was more of a movie guy—he was actually a movie producer—than a memoir writer. The book itself was not an Isaacson-style of what-you-can-learn-from-him book. Nonetheless, Fischer packaged the book more like the excitement of the story itself: Just like an action movie.

Whether the semblance looked more like a Hollywood box office or a B-class flop, the jury is out, and I have no idea. Nonetheless, this is a book unlike any other—if you have read enough books about North Korea, of which I have read a quite a few, you know something different is on the offering here. Take a look, and enjoy the story.  It is more thrilling than you think.

(Photo from here)

A Kim Jong-in Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator’s Rise to Power
Paul Fischer
384 pages
USD 17.99 (paperback)
November 2015
Flatiron Books

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