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Hither and Yon

This film’s no joke to North Korea

Special to WorldTribune.com
By Donald Kirk, East-Asia-Intel.com
The North Koreans could not have come up with a better way to publicize a movie.
Can anyone imagine a Hollywood comedy causing a diplomatic storm involving United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and threats of “resolute and merciless” retaliation against the country that spawned this slapstick nonsense?
The North Korean propaganda blitz against “The Interview,” a movie telling the tale of CIA plot concocted by a pair of journalists to knock off Kim Jong-Un, is enough to put the movie on everyone’s holiday must-see list. The film debuts in the U.S. on Christmas Day — a Hollywood gift of comic relief for audiences inured to reports of North Korean nuclear threats and human rights abuses.
[Meanwhile, Reuters reported on Dec. 3 that: "Hackers used tools in a devastating cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment that were based on ones used in similar attacks conducted against South Korea by North Korea, a person familiar with the company's investigation said.....The attack launched on Nov. 24 came a month before the entertainment unit at Sony Corp. is due to release "The Interview," a comedy starring James Franco and Seth Rogen."]
Sorry, South Koreans won’t be able to share in the fun, at least right away. While foreigners are chortling over what would appear, from the trailer at least, to be a heavy-handed, hackneyed attempt at humor, South Koreans will have to settle for fragments from the Internet and DVD’s smuggled in from overseas, at least initially.
That’s because South Korean authorities won’t approve the film for local screens. They figure that they’ve already got enough problems with the North. No point in making matters worse by showing a movie that’s not even made by Koreans.
In fact, “The Interview” might have been just another pastiche of Hollywood hokum as intimated in the trailer by tanks and explosions and marching troops. North Korea’s billing, however, elevates it to another level — that of a political attack that’s hit the supreme leader’s funny bone.
That’s assuming that Kim Jong-Un himself is personally responsible for the campaign to persuade the U.N., the U.S. and everyone else that the film is not merely an affront to North Korean dignity, but an assault so serious as to warrant a shock attack to wipe it off screens. The fury of Kim and his handlers would seem to reflect the underlying insecurity of a man surrounded by potential enemies.
Too bad the North Koreans can’t appreciate, or at least ignore, a movie that may project Kim Jong-Un as a jovial, decent guy.
The image from the trailer, accompanying stories about the North Korean response to the film, is that of a rotund figure smiling broadly at the two conspiring television journalists, played by Seth Rogan and James Franco. Korean-American actor Randall Park looks pretty much like the real-life Kim whom we’ve seen so often in official shots inspecting military units, farms and factories, dispensing happy words of advice and encouragement.
Oh yes, the mission of the TV guys is to kill Kim Jong-Un, but we’re talking comedy, not tragedy here. The joke, however, has escaped North Korean politicos, whoever they actually may be, despite a cinematic tradition fostered by Kim Jong-Un’s father, Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il.
Let us not forget that movie-making, in the years when the founder of the dynasty, grandfather Kim Il-Sung, was in power, was a special interest of his son Kim Jong-Il. He even went so far as to organize the kidnapping 27 years ago in Hong Kong of the South Korean filmmaker Shin Sang-Ok and his actress wife so they could spread their professional talents among North Korea’s novice film community.
Over the years, North Korean movie people, some of them beautiful young women favored by Kim Jong-Il, have worked in a large movie-making complex that I’ve visited at least twice on standard tours of Pyongyang. Various sets were designed to show such scenes as a dissolute GI bar district or a shady Seoul hostess club or a Japanese colonial-era home. North Korean movie-makers have churned out dozens of films showing just how awful the Americans and their South Korean “puppets” really are.
These films are serious stuff, no room for satire, but occasionally the humor comes through unwittingly in portrayals of the evil Americans. They even had two or three American GI defectors play roles — Joe Dresnok, who walked across the mine-infested Demilitarized Zone into North Korea more than 50 years ago, is still there.
The North Koreans, though, can’t take it when the joke’s on them. Think of the heads that will roll if the video gets smuggled into North Korea and, despite all precautions, people are caught watching it. No joke.
Heavy though the satire may appear, “The Interview,” is hardly the first film to capture the North Koreans’ attention. “Die Another Day,” produced in 2002, showed Pierce Brosnan as an unflappable James Bond, captured and interrogated by fiendish North Koreans. Two years later, “Team America: World Police” satirized Kim Jong-il as a terrorist and an idiot.
North Koreans invective against those films, however, never reached the level of outrage heaped on “The Interview.” Maybe the lesson is North Korea has more to fear from this one — Kim Jong-Un is too easy a target as a fat man living in the fear that some day someone may want to get rid of him in a convoluted plot concocted by foreign agents.
Columnist Donald Kirk, kirkdon@yahoo.com, has been following events in North and South Korea for decades.
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