- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2005

PYONGYANG, North Korea - In North Korea’s version of Hollywood, there is room for only one star: the nation’s “Dear Leader,” movie buff extraordinaire, scriptwriter and casting agent all rolled into one — Kim Jong-Il.

And just as Mr. Kim is small in stature — he stands 5 feet 2 inches without his reputed 4-inch heels — so is North Korea’s film industry, which churns out about 40 movies a year on budgets that Julia Roberts would not get out of bed for.

North Korea’s state-run Korean Feature Film Studio is a dour 10.7 million-square-foot, military-guarded block of land about a 15 minute drive outside the capital, Pyongyang.

Dominating the main entrance hall is an enormous mural of Mr. Kim overseeing production of one of the North Korean government’s favorite movies, “The Sea of Blood.”

The film is a tale of a woman farmer in the 1930s who rises to become a revolutionary heroine fighting the Japanese, North Korea’s former colonial masters, who remain the target of fierce government propaganda.

“The people who lost their country are no better than dogs, so we should resist the foreign forces that deprive us, especially the Japs,” a soft-spoken middle-aged female studio guide says through an interpreter.

In the mural, a youthful looking Mr. Kim, who was appointed director of the government’s Bureau of Propaganda and Agitation in the 1970s, stands proudly on a hilltop, dressed in a gray suit, with his arms crossed over his chest.

Below him, a film crew records a fierce hand-to-hand battle while smoke and flames rise up out of the carnage. Although a director is in the background, Mr. Kim clearly is the man in charge.

“In order to make ‘The Sea of Blood’ a masterpiece, he gave meticulous guidance from scenario to shooting on 124 occasions,” the government-controlled Korean Central News Agency wrote in 1997.

On another wall of the same room is a plaque that records Mr. Kim’s visits to the studio.

“Between 1964 and 1993, Kim Jong-il gave precious instructions to this film studio 10,487 times and visited 1,724 times,” the guide explains with military precision.

On the next floor is a museum commemorating the finest moments of North Korean cinematic history, but the stars of the movies barely get a mention.

In room after room, larger-than-life-size photographs of Mr. Kim hang over much smaller images of actors, stills from the films and movie artifacts.

The guide explains that Mr. Kim has made two vital contributions to North Korea’s film industry.

“One of his exploits was to put forward a policy of revolution in films, and the other was a policy of making films about our Great Leader Kim Il-sung,” the guide says.

Kim Il-sung is Mr. Kim’s father, the former Soviet-backed leader who guided North Korea into global isolation and through immense national hardship from 1945 until his death in 1994.

The younger Mr. Kim took over in the world’s first communist dynastic succession, although his father remains “eternal leader” and “president for eternity” — during which time he is expected to remain entombed and on public display in his Pyongyang palace.

The Kims are famous for the personality cults they created around themselves and the us-against-the-world spirit of enduring revolution they instilled in their people.

Movies and the arts have been vital tools of population control, and the junior Mr. Kim has ensured that he is officially recognized as the master of North Korean cinema.

While any movie mogul worth his salt will leave no stone unturned in pursuit of talent, Mr. Kim took things to new extremes in 1978, masterminding the kidnapping of one of South Korea’s biggest movie stars, Choe Eun Hee, and her director-husband Shin Sang-ok.

In a tale of international intrigue surpassing anything in a James Bond film, Mr. Kim forced the captive couple to make propaganda films. He kept the actress under house arrest. He imprisoned the director for four years after a failed escape attempt. (Apparently, Mr. Kim does not subscribe to the “auteur” theory.) The couple finally escaped in 1986.

Films that Mr. Kim has created, with titles such as “The Fate of a Self-Defence Corps Man,” “The Nation and Destiny” and “The Sun of the Nation,” leave little to the revolutionary imagination.

He wrote an 83-page book, published in 1973, called “Theory of Cinematic Art” that set the direction for North Korea’s film industry.

Among the leading messages Mr. Kim promulgates are that “cinema has the task of contributing to the development of people to be true communists and to the revolutionization and working-classization of the whole of society.”

However, Mr. Kim reportedly is a fanatical film buff with Western tastes.

According to Western media reports, he has 15,000 to 20,000 movies in his personal collection, many of which are the same Hollywood fare that audiences in the United States have watched over the years.

For the average North Korean, though, the cultural diet remains a strict regimen of revolutionary propaganda.

At Pyongyang’s main theater, the operatic version of “The Sea of Blood” is the only show in town and plays three to four times a week, according to a government translator who is a permanent shadow for visiting journalists.

The heroine of “The Sea of Blood” is etched into the stone facade of the theater, wearing a flowing gray dress and a determined stare while pointing a gun into the air.

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