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A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary…

A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped… (2015)

by Paul Fischer

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North Korea is one of my reading obsessions, so I am very much the target audience for this book. And it did not disappoint. The story of how two of South Korea's most famous entertainers were kidnapped in order to invigorate North Korea's film industry is crazy and mesmerizing and tragic and, as best we can tell, pretty much true. (North Korea being what it is, it's nearly impossible to verify everything; but I am willing to give director Shin Sang-Ok and actress Choi Eun-Hee the benefit of the doubt.) ( )
  gayla.bassham | Nov 7, 2016 |
This was incredibly interesting because it's a part of history you never, ever, hear about in school or any common history (well, if you're a native US American student). Totally Asian, totally NOT about a world war, and possibly not totally true. So... I don't know know what to think - it was a good story but if it's not totally true, then it might be just a commonly good fictional adventure. It's such a wild story it's kinda hard to think of it being a nonfiction history. Anyway, the descriptions of North Korea life are fascinating, as was the descriptions of interactions between the Koreans with each other and with outsiders. ( )
  marshapetry | Oct 14, 2016 |
The Korean history overview in the beginning makes for a slow start but once the real story gets underway this is absolutely fascinating and at the same time horrifying. There's nothing I can say but that truth truly is stranger than fiction. Ian Fleming (James Bond) had nothing on Kim Jong-Il. Neither did George Orwell or Aldous Huxley for that matter. My only quibble is that the book did not include an index; I would have used it. ( )
  wandaly | Jun 30, 2016 |
Joy's review: I would say that this book was really fun, but that seems totally the wrong adjective to apply to the horrible things that Kim Jung-Il visited upon his country, it's citizens, and the kidnapped Madam Choi and her ex-husband Shin Sang-Ok. A completely enthralling peak into the hermit kingdom, this is exactly the kind of thing people mean when they say "truth is stranger than fiction". Jung-Il wants to improve North Korea's film industry so he kidnaps an actress and a director; and that's only the beginning of the strangeness. ( )
  konastories | May 18, 2016 |
This work of narrative non-fiction is part of the very small body of knowledge that people in the west have of that most reclusive nation of North Korea. Using the lens of the film industry in North and South Korea the author uses what little information is available to tell the story of Shin Sang-Ok and Choi Eun Hee and North Korea's leader in the later part of the Twentieth Century Kim Jong-Il. The fact that North Korea used political kidnapping for reasons known only to them is well known and documented by the Japanese government among others. These kidnappings appeared to be random except for the kidnapping of the South Korean movie director Shin Sang-Ok and his estranged wife Choi Eun Hee. These two were specifically targeted because of what they could do for the North Korean propaganda machine. For eight years they produced movies for the Kim Jong-Il government before they were able to escape back to the West and tell their story. This very readable book tells about their lives and along the way sheds some light on the functioning of the North Korean regime.

I read this book after reading the Pulitzer Prize winning "Orphan Master's Son" by Adam Johnson. That work of fiction might lead readers to believe that kidnapping as a political means was also fiction. It wasn't and "A Kim Jong-Il Production" does much to clarify points made in the earlier book. I rated this book as average because there was nothing outstanding about the writing. It is a fairly standard work of narrative non-fiction, but in interest level and subject matter I would give this a five star rating and recommend it to non-fiction readers everywhere. ( )
  benitastrnad | Jul 13, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Paul Fischerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Humphreys, GrahamCover designer and artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Introduction: August 1982
The last thing Shin Sang-Ok remembered was sitting in his cell, unable to feel his own heartbeat, to weak to move or stand.
On May 16, 1962, Shin Sang-Ok was standing at the center of a party at the South Korean Presidential Residence.
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Before becoming the world's most notorious dictator, Kim Jong-Il ran North Korea's Ministry for Propaganda and its film studios. Conceiving every movie made, he acted as producer and screenwriter. Despite this control, he was underwhelmed by the available talent and took drastic steps, ordering the kidnapping of Choi Eun-Hee (Madam Choi)—South Korea's most famous actress—and her ex-husband Shin Sang-Ok, the country's most famous filmmaker.Madam Choi vanished first. When Shin went to Hong Kong to investigate, he was attacked and woke up wrapped in plastic sheeting aboard a ship bound for North Korea. Madam Choi lived in isolated luxury, allowed only to attend the Dear Leader's dinner parties. Shin, meanwhile, tried to escape, was sent to prison camp, and "re-educated." After four years he cracked, pledging loyalty. Reunited with Choi at the first party he attends, it is announced that the couple will remarry and act as the Dear Leader's film advisors. Together they made seven films, in the process gaining Kim Jong-Il's trust. While pretending to research a film in Vienna, they flee to the U.S. embassy and are swept to safety.A nonfiction thriller packed with tension, passion, and politics, author Paul Fischer's A Kim Jong-Il Production offers a rare glimpse into a secretive world, illuminating a fascinating chapter of North Korea's history that helps explain how it became the hermetically sealed, intensely stage-managed country it remains today.


Introduction: August, 1982 -- Reel one: a sense of destiny. A photograph on the blue house lawn -- Director Shin & Madame Choi -- Shrimp among whales -- A double rainbow over Mount Paekdu -- Kim Jong Il's first loves -- Fathers and sons -- Inside the Pyongyang picture show -- A three-second kiss -- Repulse bay -- Reel two: guests of the dear leader. The hermit kingdom -- Accused -- Musicals, movies, and ideological studies -- Taken -- The others -- Escape from Chestnut Valley -- Shin Sang-Ok died here -- The torture position -- Division 39 -- The hunger strike -- Director Shin is coming -- Intermission: the people's actress Woo in-Hee -- Reel three: produced by Kim Jong-Il. Together -- The tape recorder -- Lights, camera -- Out of the North -- Like a European movie -- The press conference -- Same bed, different dreams -- A full shooting schedule -- The rubber monster -- Vienna -- From Kim to Kim -- The stars and stripes -- Epilogue: 2013 -- Afterword.
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