Which World Leader Kidnapped A Filmmaker To Remake Godzilla?
Answer: Kim Jong-il
Kim Jong-il—Supreme Leader of North Korea from 1994 until his death in 2011—was a dictator who seemed bent on showing the world exactly how a Bond-movie grade dictator would run the show if unleashed on the real world. His notoriety began even before he ascended to power, working under his father in the various ministries of the Communist regime. Among the many bizarre exploits and activities attributed to the late leader, one particularly bizarre “truth is stranger than fiction” moment involves North Korean agents kidnapping a movie director to recreate Godzilla and produce other movies.
Jong-il had a long history as a film aficionado that preceded his rise to power. Prior to succeeding his father as the ruler of North Korea, he was in charge of the Motion Picture and Arts Division of the Propaganda and Agitation Department where he oversaw the production of many local films and propaganda reels. The North Korean movie industry was, as you can imagine, given the cultural and financial isolation the country has been under since the 1940s, lackluster. To shore up the quality of the films produced by North Korea’s movie industry, Jong-il resorted to kidnapping well-known South Korean director Shin Sang-ok and his ex-wife actress Choi Eun-hee.
The future dictator kept the two isolated for years before reuniting them in 1983 and tasking them with creating movies for North Korea. After completing over 20 movies, the final film that they made was a remake of the movie Godzilla (one of Kim Jong-il’s favorites). The result was a campy film known as Pulgasari—a Godzilla-esque film heavy on criticism of capitalism and the West.
In 1986, a year after the release of Pulgasari, Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee traveled to Vienna to attend a film festival where they managed to flee their North Korean bodyguards, run to an American embassy, and make a plea for political asylum. North Korea denied any involvement (despite the two having audio tapes of Jong-il outright explaining why he had kidnapped them) and claimed that the two had willingly defected from South Korea in exchange for large sums of money.
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