The late Kim Jong-Il was a notorious film fanatic, but did you know that in the 70s he kidnapped a movie director called Shin Sang-ok, brought him to North Korea and forced him to make feature films? The most successful of these films is Pulgasari from 1985, a Godzilla-inspired monster movie-cum-allegory for capitalism run wild.
I was unaware of this incredible story until details of Kim’s life started emerging after the announcement of his death on Monday, but in 2003 Shin Sang-ok spoke to the Guardian about his ordeal:
In 1978, he fell foul of the frequently repressive government of General Park Chung Hee [South Korea], who closed his studio. After making at least 60 movies in 20 years, Shin’s career appeared to be over.
What followed, according to Kingdom of Kim, Shin’s memoir, was an experience that revived his career in an unbelievable way. Shin and his wife were kidnapped by North Korea’s despot-in-training, Kim Jong-il, who sought to create a film industry that would allow him to sway a world audience to the righteousness of the Korea Workers’ Party. Shin would be his propagandist, Choi his star.
Shin’s story is as fantastical as many of his movies. He writes of being caught trying to escape, and spending four years in an all-male prison camp as a result, left to assume that his wife was dead.
Then, just as suddenly, he was brought into the inner sanctum of Kim Jong-il, the would-be successor to his father, Kim Il-sung, who ruled the country for nearly 50 years. Shin’s talents then officially fell to the service of North Korea, and he made seven movies before he and his wife made a breathtaking escape in Vienna in 1986.
That entire piece is well worth reading, it’s fascinating! For those of you wondering what Pulgasari is like, here is the full, 94 minute film (in 9 parts, with English subtitles.) The story of a doll made of rice that comes alive after contact with human blood, and feasts on raw metal, the production values actually aren’t that bad - it’s certainly not the worst obscure B-movie I have ever seen (although admittedly I didn’t make it to the end.) But we will let you decide for yourselves, dear readers, whether Pulgasari is the crowning achievement of the Supreme Leader’s legacy:
Pulgasari, part one
Thanks to Simone Hutchinson!
Pulgasari parts two to nine are after the jump…