Kim Jong-Il’s (Film) Madness


I just watched this documentary about the most insane country in the world, North Korea. It’s made by Vice, a mostly libertarian organization with its own magazine and Internet television channel.

Not only does Vice show Westerners just how unbelievably surreal and downright crazy North Korea is, but the same goes for its “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il. Kim, as the documentary makers explain, “has two primary obsessions: maintaining nuclear weapons capability as a means of protecting his ‘hermit kingdom,’ and thwarting pressure from outside forces like America and the rest of the industrialized world to open his country to modern things like electricity… and he’s obsessed with film.”

Now, in the West we know Kim as North Korea’s insane dictator. But in his own country, he’s considered to be much, much more. “He’s a director, a producer, a financier, a costume maker, set designer, screenwriter, cameraman, sound engineer… and he’s also a film theorist. His masterwork on aesthetics and practice is On the Art of Cinema (written and published in the early 1970s). In it he gives himself the humble title, Genius of the Cinema,” Vice remarks ironically. “He built an extensive film studio in Pyongyang and when he couldn’t find someone to make his film he did what any self-respecting eternal leader and great president would do… he kidnapped one.”

If you watch the documentary, and it will only take you 20 minutes or so, note how they the Pyongyang Studio’s guide and the always-present security guy get into a fight with each other about how many times “The General” aka “the Great Leader” gave “on the spot guidance” when movies were being shot. A normal person, living in a normal country couldn’t care less. But in North Korea everything the precious leader has ever done is of vital importance.

Another great (read: ridiculous) scene is when another guide takes Smith to a guitar saying “he [Kim Jong Il] himself saw this guitar.” The Vice founder thinks he hears the guide, Mr. Pak, wrongly and says “he played this guitar?” “No,” Mr. Pak says, “the actors and actresses use this guitar.” OK, “he saw this guitar?” Smith asks with a tone that says “Um, so?” “Yes, yes that’s correct” Pak answers with a straight face, oblivious to the fact that he’s making a fool of himself.

Smith’s accurate conclusion: “It’s Nero. As Rome is burning, we need the spectacle’.”

Earlier this year, I linked to another, longer documentary of Vice about the communist country. If you didn’t watch it (yet), you should seriously consider doing so now. There aren’t many people who succeed in making a documentary about and in North Korea. It took the people behind Vice 1.5 years of “nagging” to be invited to China, from which they were allowed to travel to its smaller but undoubtedly crazier little brother. The result: great material exposing North Korea as a country where everybody’s afraid of everybody else, where everything is fake, where the people have literally nothing, not even a personality of their own, and where everything is about its “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-Il. If these documentaries don’t convince you that all leftist ideologies are destructive I’m afraid you’re beyond saving.