To his fans, Kim Jong Il was not merely the Dear Leader, the general secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea, chairman of the National Defence Commission of the DPRK and supreme commander of the Korean People's Army, not to mention the “father of the nation and lodestar of national reunification.” He was also the Greatest. Filmmaker. Ever.
Sure, the American capitalists have Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and the Farrelly Brothers. But what American director can say he produced a “revolutionary film” of “high ideological and artistic value, which makes an effective contribution to arming people fully with the Party's monolithic ideology and which imbues the whole of society with the great Juche idea."
(A note to aspiring revolutionary filmmakers in Hollywood: The Juche idea is defined as the “philosophical principle that man is the master of everything and decides everything.” Think of the heroic self-determination of Molly Ringwold in her “16 Candles” phase, meets the glorious masculinity of Tom Cruise in his “Top Gun” phase, meets Mao Zedong in his “Speech At The Ninth Plenum Of The Eighth CPC Central Committee” phase.)
Aficionados of Kim Jong-il’s filmmaking genius – and they are estimated to be 24,346,229 people, exactly the population of North Korea – will tell you that the most shining example of Kim Jong-il’s Juche Idea was put to film in 1985 with the classic monster film "Pulgasari."
Called one of the most, well, Kim-Jong-ilian movies of the century, Pulgasari is an allegory of the common man’s fight against tyranny, as hapless medieval Korean peasants team up with a giant iron-eating bull to overthrow an evil king. The fact that the young director Kim had to kidnap a South Korean director, Shin Sang-Ok, and his actress wife, Choe Un-Hee, and hold them captive for eight years in order to produce the film can only be said to add to its visual and rhetorical power.
American film critics Rusty Ward and Kevin Maher, hosts of “So Bad It’s Good” on youtube.com, gave the film a reasonably positive review.
When Kim Jong Il’s death was announced, there were many Western headlines – notably this one from the Guardian’s Luke Harding – attempting to distract the world’s attention to Kim’s genius by warning of Pyongyang’s uncertain control over its nuclear arsenal.
The North Korean government assured the world, however, that while Kim’s death was “greatest loss to the WPK and the Korean revolution and the bitterest grief to all the Koreans at home and abroad,” the North Korean ship of state was in the capable hands of Kim’s son, Kim Jong-un. “No force on earth can check the revolutionary advance of our party, army, and people under the wise leadership of Kim Jong Un,” the Associated Press quoted the government saying on Monday.
Kim Jong-il – he whose birth was announced by a new star, a double rainbow, a talking iceberg; he who attempted to breed giant rabbits to eliminate hunger; he who had disabled people removed from Pyongyang during a youth festival – would have easily understood how to operate in Hollywood, a town with supersized egos and brutal politics. And he was a man that, with a better agent and perhaps a better editor, could have become one of the great B-movie producers of all time.
But Kim Jong Il’s purpose, clearly, was much larger than mere film.
As president, he will be replaced. But his director’s shoes will not be easily filled.