Kim Jong-il was a insane, a pathological narcissist who resorted to platform shoes and an intrepid backcombing to make his 157 cm height appear more, and a despot who brought his entire country to its knees. During the 1990s, at a time when 20% of North Koreans were starving, he had an army of personal assistants constantly traveling across Europe to provide him with refined delicacies, a chef brought in from Japan to satisfy his sushi cravings and another from Italy who prepared the pizzas for him; his personal cellar totaled 10,000 bottles and he spent about $700,000 a year at ‘Hennesy’which made him the best client of the coñaquera firm.
He had a bad temper capable of bringing down buildings and was apparently just as adept at taking out internal rivals as he was. planning assassinations abroad; He is credited with the explosion of Korean Air Flight 858 in 1987, which killed 115 people, and the 1983 Rangoon bombing, which killed three South Korean ministers. Besides that, he was in love with movies.
Fan of James Bond and Daffy Duck
Long before he rose to power in North Korea in succession to his father, Kim II Sung, Kim Jong-il saw film as a way to improve his nation’s image in the eyes of the world. And, while he locked up in the gulag all those subjects who dared to consume foreign media, he accumulated a personal collection of films coming from all parts of the planet, but above all from Hollywood, which came to add 20,000 titles. He was a fan of James Bond, sagas like ‘Rambo’ and ‘Friday the 13th’ and classics like ‘Gone with the Wind’ (1939) and ‘The Godfather’ (1972), and anything starring Elizabeth Taylor. It is said that also he was excited about Daffy Duck.
He became a supervisor of all the films that were produced, and he used to visit the shootings to give detailed instructions about the costumes, the editing and the acting work.
His fixation with cinema became official in 1967, when he joined the Propaganda and Agitation Department of his father’s regime, and especially years later when he was appointed director of the Cinema and Arts Division. Since then, he has set out to bring the country’s film industry out of the lethargy in which it had been sunk for decades. he became supervisor of all movies that were produced, and he used to visit the shootings to give detailed instructions on issues such as the plot, music, costumes, editing and acting work. And he wrote a book called ‘On the art of cinema’ which is ideal for all lovers of audiovisual beauty or the most brutal authoritarianism Or, if possible, both at the same time.
A ‘treatise’ on cinema
The volume, whose publication has just been 50 years old, functions as an instruction manual for making films according to the dictates of the Korean Workers’ Party; in it, in addition to constantly repeating the idea that art should serve the regime in an absolutely didactic way, they offer a collection of extremely valuable advice for any aspiring filmmaker. Here are some of them: “Creative work must always be original& rdquor;. “Music and sound should be used in the best possible way.” “Makeup is a noble art & rdquor ;. “Success in acting must be sought through persistent effort & rdquor ;. Likewise, their 329 pages include priceless teachings such as “cinema is a visual art & rdquor; and “when the images are attractive to the eye, they can instantly draw the viewer into the world of the film & rdquor ;. Obvious? Maybe, but surely no one let the author know.
Since ‘On the art of cinema’ came to light, all those North Koreans working in the film industry are required to read it, even though most probably haven’t because, frankly, it is an unbearable book, and that is something that even Kim Jong-il himself must have realized. That would explain why, given that his rhetoric failed to improve the quality of North Korean cinema, he decided to opt for more expeditious methods to achieve the goal: if there were no talented filmmakers in North Korea, one would be brought in from the enemy neighboring country.
In 1978, the famous South Korean actress Choe Eun-hui kidnapped her husband, the filmmaker Shin Sang-ok., “South Korea’s Orson Welles” to make movies in Pyongyang.
a movie kidnapping
In 1978, a famous South Korean actress named Choe Eun-hui disappeared in Hong Kong. Her husband, filmmaker Shin Sang-ok-hyperbolically nicknamed “the Orson Welles of South Korea” -, he then went to the city to find it, but shortly after arriving he was assaulted by some henchmen who put his head in a sack and used gas to render him unconscious. When he wanted to realize he had already been transferred to Pyongyang, where he was given a mission to make movies for the North Korean people. He soon tried to escape, but was caught and imprisoned.
After five years, he was released and reunited with his wife, with whom he began making films for North Korea. He got a budget of 3 million dollars a yearand came to invoice seven feature films until, in 1986, the couple managed to escape the clutches of Kim Jong-il while they were in Vienna, at a film festival. Undoubtedly the most prominent of them all is ‘Pulgasari’ (1985), a film of the ‘kaiju’ subgenre conceived in the image of Godzilla, in whose credits the Supreme Leader appeared as executive producer. The story of a small doll that magically comes to life when touched with blood and turns into a giant monster that devours metals, a thinly veiled metaphor for capitalism, it was released in several countries over time and has become a cult work.
‘Titanic’ in North Korean version
Some of the films sponsored by Kim Jong-il later also had international repercussions -such as ‘Souls Protest’ (2000), a spectacular imitation of ‘Titanic’ (1997)-, but we have not heard from North Korean cinema since the romantic comedy ‘Comrade Kim Goes Flying’, which was presented at the Toronto Film Festival a year after the dictator’s death in 2011. Whereas his love for movies seems to have been inherited by his son and current leader of the country, Kim Jong-un -who, moreover, spends more or less the same as his father-, it would be better for South Korean filmmakers like Bong Joon-ho or Park Chan-wook to hire a bodyguard.