A Kim Jong-Il Production

  • by Paul Fischer
  • Narrated by Stephen Park
  • 12 hrs and 26 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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, 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.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Absolutely terrifying

The book is fascinating and well narrated, but I am shell-shocked. It's not just the heartbreaking story of Madame Choi and Shin Sang-Ok. Though I am appalled by the way their lives and those of so many others were so tidily snatched away by that despicable despot. My heart really goes out to the ordinary citizens who are held captive and controlled every day of their lives in that backward country. How can this stuff go on? Because you know it does. Excuse me while I go kiss the ground again.
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- Karen Weisneck

Completely riveting and stupefyingly informative.

This incredible work of creative nonfiction will undoubtedly catch many Asia-watchers with surprise. Facts about North Korea are thin on the ground here in America, but this book blasts open a personal history of Kim Jong-Il with a canny, fluent, and wise commentary that seems far beyond what anyone else has been able to manage. It is an enormous feat of research, but more than that, it is so completely and compulsively readable that we are held captive.

It begins detailing the history of two individuals who were instrumental in the South Korean film industry in the 1940s and 50s. Before you ask how relevant that information is to us today, just remember that the author is a film producer who claims these early films have a cult following now, perhaps because of the Gangnam rage that has spread worldwide, and has opened a glimpse into a world never before considered worthy of serious study. We couldn’t have a better introduction to film in South Korea nor have we ever had a more detailed look at the North Korean film fanatic Kim Jong-Il, who kidnapped the two leading lights in the South Korean film industry to bolster his own propaganda machine.

The beautiful and talented South Korean film star Choi Eun-Hee was kidnapped first. Fischer compares her favorably to Marilyn Monroe in terms of star quality and stage presence. Her former husband, the film director and producer Shin Sang-Ok, was taken later, though because he’d tried to escape he was imprisoned for a number of years. Eventually they were reunited in Pyongyang and began producing films for Kim Jong-Il’s ailing film industry. This book is partially based on their memoir of their time in captivity and their successful escape to the West.

Perhaps more importantly, we learn a huge amount about the Kim regimes. This material may be out there somewhere, in a hundred escape memoirs, spy reports, or academic papers but I have never seen so much information about Kim Jong-Il and North Korea in one place before. Besides all this great new information, the writing is absolutely first-rate, the story completely stupefying, and the immersion into film so well-informed that it seems like a trick.

Who is Paul Fischer and how does he know so much about North Korea? The Introduction and Afterward discuss sources, and mostly my concerns about veracity of content were allayed. It may just be possible that no one ever bothered before to gather together the dispersed information in just this way before. I just don’t know. Frankly, it is Fischer’s skill that is simply stunning, besides the vast trove of collected information about the Kim regime and North Korea. The writing is rich and fluent in a way writers only dream of, and the sections pass easily into one another while we readers are led deeper into the intricacies of film lore and the strange and frightening propaganda machine of Kim Jong-Il.

I have no idea whether or not Shin Sang-Ok and his wife Choi Eun-Hee were abducted or if they defected to North Korea. In my mind it is regrettable either way but not particularly relevant now. It is not what I focused on. I have heard some of the details of kidnapping, of prisons, of life in North Korea, but nothing like this detailed look north of the 38th parallel. This book has everything: grandeur, mystery, terror, and a fluency that makes this tremendous storytelling no matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on.

This book absolutely has to be labelled creative nonfiction because of the conversations recounted verbatim and the reconstructions of scenes so completely you would think Fischer created them. I don’t care. If one-fourth of the information in this is book is true we have made great headway in understanding and demystifying a completely obscure regime. You will recall the splash Truman Capote made with his fictional recreation of the nonfiction event he wrote about in In Cold Blood. Let’s call this in the same vein until we can verify, but remember this man Paul Fischer. He has burst on the literary scene with a truly fantastic and important offering. If he can make films the way he can write we are in for a real treat.

I listened to the Random House Audio production of this book, read beautifully by Stephen Park. I have ordered the print edition to look it over more carefully. As I say, books like this don’t come along very often. To think this was a debut is completely unbelievable.
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- BowedBookshelf

Book Details

  • Release Date: 02-03-2015
  • Publisher: Random House Audio