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353 pages, Hardcover
First published February 3, 2015
“Between the late 1960s and the end of his [Kim Jong Il's] life he created one vast stage production. He was the writer, director, and producer of the nation. He conceived his people’s roles, their devotion, their values; he wrote their dialogue and forced it upon them; he mapped out their entire character arcs, from birth to death, splicing them out of the picture if they broke type.”Accordingly, there were ways in which “working” for Kim Jong-Il was familiar to Shin and Choi.
“Shin and Choi had both met men like Kim Jong-Il, on a smaller scale: talented but not quite talented enough, powerful, jealous, insecure, and boastful; with an overinflated sense of their own importance in the world, a short temper, and an obsessive need to micromanage. Kim was, they thought, the archetypal film producer.”Likewise, for Shin especially, Jong-Il's unilateral power made his life easier. Need to blow up a train? Sure thing—sorry, you'll have to do it in one take, because it's a real, running train. However, lacking the incentives inherent in capitalism, the same could not be said of the cast and crew.
“Kim Il-Sung’s body was embalmed and put on display for his people to see. The process involved removing all of the Supreme Leader’s organs before bathing his hollow corpse in a formaldehyde bath and injecting liters of chemical balsam, a cocktail of glycerine and potassium acetate, in his veins to keep his flesh lifelike and elastic. Finally makeup and lipstick were applied to Kim’s face to restore the illusion of youth.”I'm no mortician, but that doesn't sound all that different from what goes on at open-casket funerals here in the U-S-of-A (I think it involves formaldehyde and methanol).
"There is a picture of Madame Choi and Marilyn Monroe, taken in Seoul in 1954 during a post–Korean War goodwill tour by various Hollywood stars.
Choi and Monroe were the exact same age, both born in 1926. They started their careers at roughly the same time; Choi’s first on-screen credit is dated 1947, Monroe’s 1948. When that photograph was taken, Marilyn was in her prime, fresh off Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire, with The Seven Year Itch and that famous billowing white dress just a few months away. Choi was years from her most iconic roles, newly married to Shin Sang-Ok, and just emerging from the trauma—rape, abuse, abduction—that she had endured during the war. And yet looking at that photograph, even with Monroe’s iconic face, her hair, her lips, already burned into your consciousness, you would be hard-pressed to tell who is the bigger star, who more draws the eye. Monroe is in a bomber jacket, laughing, eyes half-closed; but even she is looking at Choi, who is smiling but whose eyes have a sharp steeliness. Nothing about her accepts that she is the token Korean picked for a photo opportunity alongside the Hollywood goddess. She is the star.
Eight years after that picture was taken, Marilyn Monroe was dead.
Today, sixty years later, Choi—having suffered scandal, divorce, kidnapping, exile, and widowhood—is still alive, and in her culture no less iconic."