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North Korea
North Korea knows the power of film
From the Financial Times of Tue, 23 Dec 2014 12:40:43 GMT
James Franco and Seth Rogen in a still from ‘The Interview’, the comedy North Korea does not find funny

James Franco and Seth Rogen in a still from ‘The Interview’, the comedy North Korea does not find funny

At his year-end press conference last week, Barack Obama chided North Korea for feeling threatened by a Hollywood comedy.

The US president and the FBI have blamed Pyongyang for the cyber attack on Sony Pictures which prompted the studio to cancel the release of The Interview, a film which depicts the assassination of Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader.

“I think it says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have the state mount an all-out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen,” Mr Obama remarked.

But North Korea takes films very seriously, using them as a critical part of its propaganda machine, as well as an outlet for its leaders’ artistic expression. In a country where access to information is heavily restricted, myth often becomes reality.

Kim Jong Il, the father of the North Korean leader, is also the father of the Hermit Kingdom’s film industry, which he directed to produce fantastical tales of North Korean triumphs in epic David and Goliath-like battles. North Korea is now commemorating the third anniversary of the elder Kim’s death.

In 1973, Mr Kim wrote a book called On the Art of Cinema. But his greatest hope for North Korea’s nascent film industry came in 1978, when he ordered the kidnapping of Choi Eun Hee, the South Korean actress, and Shin Sang Ok, her director ex-husband.

Mr Kim, a fan of the James Bond and Rambo franchises, hoped the two would help shine a global spotlight on North Korean filmmaking. The 1980s would become the golden period of North Korean cinema, producing numerous epic tales including Pulgasari, a 1985 film similar to Godzilla.

In 1986, during a trip to Vienna, the couple fled to the US embassy to seek asylum and Mr Kim lost his film duo. North Korea’s film industry carried on but was not as prolific as it had been.

In 2000, however, North Korea released its version of Titanic, called Souls Protest, which was lauded even in South Korea for its dramatic special effects.

The film depicted the 1945 explosion that hit the Ukishima Maru, a Japanese vessel that was carrying thousands of Korean workers, hundreds of whom were killed. Japan blamed a US mine for the explosion, while many Koreans believed Japan was behind the attack.

Kim Jong Un has occasionally shown a taste for Hollywood’s output. In 2012, he attended a concert featuring a clip from Rocky, the Sylvester Stallone film, and characters from Disney movies.

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