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Kim Jong-Il: Movie Buff, Supervillain

By 1978, Shin Sang-ok, South Korea’s most celebrated filmmaker, was 51 years old and washed up. He had bankrupted his studio, run afoul of the censor board, and been divorced by his wife and collaborator, actress Choi Eun-hee. And then he and Choi were kidnapped by North Korea. The story of how the couple’s careers were forcibly revived, as told in Paul Fischer’s book, A Kim Jong-Il Production, provides not only a riveting look inside a murky state, but a glimpse into North Korea’s movie obsession, and a lens through which to see the current regime’s outrage at the Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy The Interview. The book’s titular “production” is North Korea itself, which Fischer depicts as “a theatre state” propped up by symbols and spectacles, its ideological cornerstone a film treatise: Kim’s 1973 book, On the Art of Cinema.