Ding, dong, Kim Jong-il is dead. Reading The New York Times obit, one little piece of the dictator’s insane world stood out for us:
Short and round, he wore elevator shoes, oversize sunglasses and a bouffant hairdo — a Hollywood stereotype of the wacky post-cold-war dictator. Mr. Kim himself was fascinated by film. He orchestrated the kidnapping of an actress and a director, both of them South Koreans, in an effort to build a domestic movie industry.
Let’s give you more on this story: In 1978, Shin Sang-ok, South Korea’s famous director, went to Hong Kong to figure out why his ex-wife, actress Choi Eun-hee, went missing. When he arrived, North Korean agents pulled him into a car, threw a bag over his head, then shipped him to Pyongyang wrapped in plastic. (The BBC has more on this.) And so began his eight year imprisonment in North Korea, where the filmmaker had to satisfy the whims of Kim Jong-il, then a young “cinephile” who wrote On the Art of the Cinema in 1973, and The Cinema and Directing in 1987 (read the free PDF here). Shin shot eight films during his “NK period,” the best-known being Pulgasari, a 1985 Godzilla-style movie that played to the tastes of the little dictator. We’re adding it to the Horror section of our big collection of Free Movies Online.
In case you’re wondering, Shin and his wife (they remarried while imprisoned) eventually escaped from North Korea in 1986, during a trip to Vienna. Despite that, Kim Jong-il’s love of cinema didn’t wane. Filmmaking still plays a big role in the manufacturing of North Korean ideology, and below we’re bringing back Al Jazeera’s look at the contemporary North Korea filmmaking scene: