Many believe the propaganda and wild mythology surrounding North Korea’s leaders has kept the population unaware of some of the corrupt actions carried out by their rulers. The bizarre claims included that Kim Il-sung, who founded the nation in 1948, was able to “turn pinecones into bullets” and “grains of sand into rice”. The latter claim was held in contradiction to a United Nations report that the state had battled with famine for decades. In recent times under Kim Jong-un, hermit state officials sought to correct that record, highlighted when they rejected the notion that the Kim family were masters of “chukjibeop” – a belief that they could bend space and time, similar to time travel. Many of the long-held beliefs, bolstered by decades of outlandish claims from the government and isolation from the outside world, have created an ‘alternate reality’ for many North Koreans. Expert Chris Mikul believes that the future realisation that leaders have lied could be devastating, when the Kim dynasty eventually ends and they see conditions in the outside world clearly. Due to North Koreans being exposed to minimal media from outside the socialist state – other than highly censored reports – few have been able to expose the inequalities and lies created by the propaganda. Apart from one defector, Shin Sang-ok, who tried to highlight the consequences of the Kim regime in his 1985 film ‘Pulgasari’ but it’s believed many within the state and even their leaders missed the subtle snub.
Shin Sang-ok was a prominent South Korean film director in the Sixties and Seventies, who had made over 150 films, before he was employed in North Korea.
The film director claimed he was kidnapped by Kim Jong-il’s officials in 1978, during the reign of the state’s founder Kim Il-sung.
After he eventually escaped in 1986, he alleged that the regime had smuggled him out of Hong Kong to North Korea, while he searched for his ex-wife Choi Eun-hee who had been taken by them months before.
While there, Shin was put to work creating propaganda films for Kim Jong-il in a bid to impress his father by preserving his legacy.
Chris Mikul, who published ‘My Favourite Dictators’ last year, wrote that the future leader, who rose to power in 1994, was the “unlikeliest successor” of his family until he usurped his brothers with his cinematic creations.
He employed a “simple tactic” of proving himself to be “the most loyal follower of his father in the country”, which led him to win favour and respect within the nation – with viewers reportedly “bawling their eyes out” at his films.
Mr Mikul wrote: “Kim Il-sung loved them, too, which isn’t surprising as they portrayed him as the greatest man who ever lived.”
Shin was also permitted to make a romance, thriller and martial arts film – genres that North Korean audiences had never previously been exposed to.
Mr Mikul claimed they “couldn’t believe their eyes” and hadn’t seen a “realistic depiction of the world outside North Korea” until those movies.
The final movie Shin made was ‘Pulgasari’ in 1985, which Kim Jong-il was so “keen to be a success” that he imported the Japanese film crew who made ‘Godzilla’.
Mr Mikul added: “The result is a wonderful piece of schlock which has attained cult status among connoisseurs of bad films.”
‘Pulgasari’ told the story of a village in the middle ages who were threatened with starvation after an “evil governor” demanded they surrender farming tools to be forged into weapons.
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Their “salvation” came in the form of a “tubby, dragon-like monster” who grew to an enormous size after eating iron and was impervious to their oppressors attacks – which eventually culminated in the corrupt ruler being vanquished.
In the final scenes, the beast remained hungry and villagers were forced to feed it their farming tools, which put them “back where they started”.
They noted the monster’s insatiable appetite had “no end to it” but they could not “let it starve to death” even if it meant they would die.
One of the characters pleaded with the giant creature only to be looked down upon with a dissatisfied menacing look, where it flashed its sharp teeth and yellow eyes.
She said: “If you eat even our farming tools we can’t make a living, can we? Just exercise a little self-control. You’ll be our ally forever, right? Help us out until the end please.
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“[Who knew] our saviour, would become our enemy! When this country’s iron is gone, the people will have to take you and invade other countries. Then the whole world would be at war and humanity will fall.”
Mr Mikul commented that the film was a “typical socialist fable about poor people rising up against an oppressor” but there was also a deeper level that attacked the state’s regime.
He wrote: “Pulgasari can be seen as representing the Kim dynasty which has supposedly saved North Korea from the evils of capitalism only to offer it starvation.”
Despite the “subversive” messages, the author believed Kim Jong-il “didn’t notice” and instead was “so pleased” that he allowed the director to launch a Vienna production office.
It was there that Shin and his wife, who he was forced to remarry while they lived under the dictator’s rule, “gave their bodyguards the slip” and fled to the US Embassy.