Kim Jong-Il and the North Korean Film Industry

Author Paul Fischer Describes His Journey to the Hermit Kingdom in Search of the Truth About The Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Il

Paul Fischer

Paul Fischer

Kim Jong-IlSwiss author Paul Fischer made a rare appearance at Book Soup to discuss his new book about the mysterious films of Kim Jong-Il and his huge production company in North Korea.  The “Dear Leader”, was quite a film buff, with a reported library of over 20,000 video tapes.  He immersed himself in film lore, even as he rose through the ranks to become the “ruler” of his country.  Rumor has it that the Dear Leader ordered stacks of films every week from a Berlin film exchange in the 1980’s, sending couriers from North Korea to pick up and return the films.

The Dear Leader must have had a love for movie director Busby Berkeley, who devised musical and dance routines with complex geometric forms, usually seen spectacularly from above.  Kim Jong-Il took these types of dance and movement routines to the max, using thousands of performers in massive stadiums.  These awesome events could not be done in the west, due to the huge financial costs if nothing else.  In North Korea, things were different, and Chairman Kim somehow found ways to encourage thousands of performers.



But the most baffling thing of all was embodied in a major film that Chairman Kim produced.  This was the movie “Pulgasari”, about a Godzilla-type Monster who is anti-war and anti-military.  The Monster eats swords and weapons of all kinds, and fights to protect the poor peasants from an evil ruler.  Think about it, the Dear Leader is, by western standards, the head of a strict authoritarian State, yet he makes a strongly anti-militaristic movie.  A strange contradiction.  Was he deep down a pacifist, but trapped by his position and family to fulfill his duty as the head of a militarized government?  We will probably never know, but these contradictions surface even in western culture.  President Obama comes to mind.  He got the Nobel Peace Prize and then poured more troops into the Middle East, also flooding the area with hundreds of millions of dollars of weapons to “moderate” groups and regimes.  He launched a devastating attack on Libya, driving out the ruling government, and then flooded the skies of the Middle East and Africa with drones, killing a large number of civilians in the process.  At the present time he is bombing parts of Syria into rubble in an undeclared air war.  The difference in contradictions is only one of degree.  The Dear Leader, until the time of his death, had not engaged in warfare in another country, although his record in his own country on human rights is much discussed in the press.  So who has the biggest contradictions, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, or the filmmaker of a great anti-war epic, who makes atomic bombs in his spare time?


Paul Fischer’s book is a look inside the North Korean culture and the unexpected rise of a large movie production studio, run by the country’s Leader, Kim Jong-Il.  Fischer went to North Korea and other places to try to get a handle on a very big, but very strange story.  It seems that the Dear Leader wanted to make great movies, especially the kind of propaganda films that would make his regime look good.  But he did not have a reserve of talent to draw from.  The new film production had no backlog of directors or actors.  So the story goes that some secret agents were sent out to kidnap a famous actress from South Korea, and her ex-husband director.  These were to be the core of the new film industry. Fischer’s book is really a detective story of sorts.  Many in South Korea said that the actress and director defected to North Korea to work with the Dear Leader.  There’s a lot of strange politics here, because when the pair returned to the west, they defected to the CIA, not South Korea.  Fisher’s book covers all this in detail, as well as discussing as much as could be gleaned about Kim Jong-Il, North Korea’s enigmatic, mysterious movie -loving “Dear Leader.”

To view the event with Paul Fischer on youtube, click here.

To order a signed copy of his book (only a few left) from Book Soup click here.

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