Read Dictator Kim Jong-il’s Writings on Cinema, Art & Opera: Courtesy of North Korea’s Free E‑Library

kim jong il books

Kim Jong-Il (1941–2011), son of North Korea’s despot­ic Kim Il-sung and a tyrant in his own fil­ial right, had as many titles as he did tal­ents, with hon­orifics includ­ing the Sun of the Nation and the Shin­ing Star of Paek­tu Moun­tain. High­fa­lutin nick­names aside, the younger dic­ta­tor was a pret­ty able guy. North Kore­an sources assert that the Dear Leader once shot a 38 under par with 11 birdies (in his first and only game of golf), and could alter the weath­er using the pow­er of his mind. Hav­ing turned his intel­lect to acad­e­mia, Kim wrote 1500 books while study­ing at uni­ver­si­ty. He also the­o­rized exten­sive­ly about art, cin­e­ma, and opera.

Kim once served as the Movie and Arts Divi­sion Direc­tor in North Korea’s Pro­pa­gan­da and Agi­ta­tion Depart­ment, and was a renowned cinephile. As befit­ting a man whose per­son­al video library report­ed­ly housed over 20,000 titles, Kim (or some unfor­tu­nate ghost­writ­ers) pub­lished numer­ous lec­tures and pam­phlets on film, some of which are avail­able in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic of Korea’s E‑Library. In his text The Cin­e­ma and Direct­ing, for exam­ple, Kim shows off his tal­ents for writ­ing stilt­ed aca­d­e­m­ic prose while dis­cussing ide­ol­o­gy:

The ide­o­log­i­cal ker­nel of a pro­duc­tion is the seed which the direc­tor and all the oth­er cre­ative work­ers should bring into flower through their col­lec­tive efforts and wis­dom. It is not only the basis of the inter­pre­ta­tion by the indi­vid­ual cre­ative work­ers, but also the foun­da­tion on which they all com­bine to pro­duce one sin­gle cin­e­mat­ic pre­sen­ta­tion. When all inter­pre­ta­tions are con­duct­ed on the basis of one seed, they form the com­po­nents of one cin­e­mat­ic pre­sen­ta­tion because they are built on the same foun­da­tion [et cetera, ad nau­se­um].

Kim also pon­tif­i­cat­ed on mat­ters of lit­er­a­ture. The trea­tise, enti­tled Life and Lit­er­a­ture, offers the Ever-Vic­to­ri­ous, Iron-Willed Com­man­der’s thoughts on the essence of writ­ing:

Lit­er­a­ture belongs to the domain of human­ics [sic]. The essen­tial char­ac­ter­is­tic of lit­er­a­ture as a human­ics [sic] con­sists of describ­ing real peo­ple and serv­ing man… To say that lit­er­a­ture por­trays peo­ple means that it describes peo­ple and their lives, peo­ple who live, breathe, think and act as they do in real life. That lit­er­a­ture serves man means that it solves urgent and impor­tant human prob­lems through peo­ple and their lives and thus teach­es them what life is and influ­ences them to lead an hon­ourable life. It is only through an accu­rate por­tray­al of peo­ple and their lives that lit­er­a­ture can pro­vide prop­er solu­tions for valu­able human prob­lems, and exert a great influ­ence on peo­ple.

The key words here are “peo­ple” and “lives.” Got it?

Lest you dis­miss these writ­ings as pseu­do-intel­lec­tu­al non­sense, it’s impor­tant to note that some philo­soph­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tion is required. It’s the mean­ings behind the words, and the things that Kim leaves unsaid, that make up the real meat and pota­toes of the piece… Or some­thing.

You can find more of Kim Jong-il’s writ­ings (along­side those of his father, Kim Il-sung) at the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic of Korea E‑Library. Oth­er titles include On the Art of the Dra­ma and On the Art of Opera, which gets some pret­ty stel­lar reviews on Ama­zon. Take for exam­ple: “With over five books pub­lished per year in North Korea, it is a chal­lenge to pick a sin­gle favorite. How­ev­er, this book is a stand­out for North Kore­an opera con­nois­seurs and begin­ners alike.”

Ilia Blin­d­er­man is a Mon­tre­al-based cul­ture and sci­ence writer. Fol­low him at @iliablinderman.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

North Kore­a’s Cin­e­ma of Dreams

A Slo-Mo Look Inside North Korea

Orches­tral Manoeu­vres in North Korea Prove Yet Again That Music is Uni­ver­sal

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Comments (5)
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  • justin says:

    Crit­i­ciz­ing the style of any writ­ing trans­lat­ed from its orig­i­nal lan­guage is rather use­less.
    The cred­it­ing of thou­sands of var­i­ous works to Kim-Jong-Il has to be seen in it’s prop­er cul­tur­al per­spec­tive and can’t be tak­en lit­er­al­ly. Even only super­flu­ous study of North Kore­a’s cul­ture will show that.
    Not to defend Kim-Jong-Il in any ways, but cheap shots do not edu­cate or enlight­en read­ers of ‘open cul­ture’ in any ways. To the author of this arti­cle: why did you write it? What exact­ly is the point. Or, to quote you: “It’s the mean­ings behind the words, and the things that Ilia Blin­d­er­man (sic) leaves unsaid, that make up the real meat and pota­toes of the piece… Or some­thing.”

    Exact­ly ;)

  • Alissa Mower Clough says:

    I have a dream for the divid­ed Kore­as. The two armies will assem­ble at Pan­munjom.

    PSY will sing “Gen­tle­man” and make them laugh.
    He will sing “Swan’s Dream” and make them cry.
    He will sing “Gag­nam Style” and make them dance.

    And then, every­one will eat bulgogi.(Tastiest food in the world.)

    Mass defec­tion towards South. Prob­lem solved.




    movies ? how could movies affects the youth today ? isn’t it because of movies chil­dren become more rude ? became mali­cious at an ear­ly age?
    tele­vi­sion is one of the most com­mon trends in media. and some­how , media became one of the roots why the new gen­er­a­tions are so rude. but it depends upon the indi­vid­u­als.
    thank you.

  • Chandler Kim says:

    Hi, could you tell me the pub­lish­er and year of On the Art of Dra­ma?
    Thank you!

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