You probably read about this in the newspapers. An ultra-strange story of how famed South Korean actress, Choi-Eun-hee and her husband, the film director Shin Sang-ok, were kidnapped by Kim Jong-Il and the North Korean regime, held for eight years and forced to make movies. It’s a tale of international espionage, skulduggery, defections, escape attempts and naked propaganda. This is a story of bizarre intrigue which is much more Fleming than le Carré, although I think even Ian Fleming would have thought some of the plot twists a bit out there.
Paul Fischer relates it in a charming, breezy style, which works well at this intersection of the bright lights of show-business and an ultra-hard secret service of a dictator. But the style doesn’t trivialise the content, indeed it makes those passages where we delve into life in North Korea have an even harsher slap – for example, the hardships and drudgery the average North Korean; or the fact that North Korea’s largest prison camp is bigger than the city of Los Angeles (and the various tortures which take place within). This is a story told for entertainment and Fischer makes it as entertaining as possible, but he pointedly refuses to ignore the grim realities.
Kim Jong-Il himself comes across as something of a paradox – yes, he is your standard overgrown spoilt child, and the point is made late in the book that in his egotistical, capricious, short-tempered, demanding way, he was just like the other film producers Choi-Eun-hee and Shin Sang-ok knew – but he also struck me as a man who lived inside a bubble of his own creating. The hermit kingdom he and his father ran kept the outside world away from its populous to preserve the mystique that they were living in the greatest country on Earth. North Koreans were for a long time unaware of the luxuries which existed as a matter of course elsewhere, but Kim Jong-Il was a man who actually consumed mass-media from that outside world and knew that wasn’t the case, yet he seemed to believe in the bubble anyway.
It’s A fascinating book. Utterly recommended. It makes me want to go out and track down some of the films of Shin Sang-ok, and the performances of Choi-Eun-hee, just to see what all the fuss was about.
My debut novel, THE WANNABES – which has been out of print for a little while – is now available for free. A supernatural thriller of beautiful actresses and deadly ambition in London town, it’s well worth your time. You can get your copy here!