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A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  3,815 Ratings  ·  518 Reviews
"The 1978 abductions of the South Korean actress Choi-Eun-hee and her ex-husband, the director Shin Sang-ok, in Hong Kong is the true crime at the center of Paul Fischer's gripping and surprisingly timely new book."
-The New York Times

Before becoming the world's most notorious dictator, Kim Jong-Il ran North Korea's Ministry for Propaganda and its film studios. Conceivin
Hardcover, 353 pages
Published February 3rd 2015 by Flatiron Books
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Rating details
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Feb 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book is a strong 3.5 stars, maybe even tilting toward 4. If you're interested in it—read it. It's fun, short, and fascinating. My star-docking is more of a content critique, but (attention spans being what they are these days) I wanted to get that out of the way.

Kim Jong-Il was not always “Dear Leader.” As a child, he was called “Yura.” Though he was the son of Kim Sung-Il , “The Great Leader” and founder of North Korea (aka Democratic People's Republic of Korea, DPRK), it was
Speechless. Nearly wordless. I've been to Oz, but it's Mickey Mouse who rules as a god-like Sun-King, the subjects know their lines perfectly to exalt His Majesty but if they miss a word or don't smile perfectly for the camera it means trouble. Three generations will be sent to prisons with sadistic guards and wormy rice, if lucky, or the degenerate who betrayed the beautiful ruler will be executed publicly. Everyone believes that they are the most fortunate people in the world; they see movies ...more
Aug 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Trish by: Michael Kindness
This work of creative nonfiction will undoubtedly catch many Asia-watchers by surprise. Facts about North Korea are thin on the ground here in America, but this book blasts open a personal history of Kim Jong-Il with a canny, graceful, and wise commentary that seems far beyond what anyone else has been able to manage. It is an enormous feat of research, but more than that, it is so completely and compulsively readable that we are held captive.

It begins detailing the history of two individuals w

Read by Stephen Park

Description: Before becoming the world’s most notorious dictator, Kim Jong-Il ran North Korea’s Ministry for Propaganda and its film studios. Conceiving every movie made, he acted as producer and screenwriter. Despite this control, he was underwhelmed by the available talent and took drastic steps, ordering the kidnapping of Choi Eun-Hee (Madam Choi)—South Korea’s most famous actress—and her ex-husband Shin Sang-Ok, the country’s most famous filmmaker.

Madam Choi vanished fi
Nov 17, 2014 rated it really liked it

Impeccably researched, riveting details of a brazen abduction of prominent South Korean film artists by North Korea’s megalomaniac Kim Jong-Il.

Kim Jong-Il decides film production will bring him acclaim world wide, he orchestrates the abduction of South Korean film industry’s Shin Sang-Ok and Choi Eun-Hee. By sharing the couples story, Fischer allows entrance into inner North Korea. Through the abduction of Shin Sang-0k and Choi Eun-Hee we realize how intricate and nefarious North Korea operated
Apr 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I was aware that North Korea kidnapped English and Japanese language teachers to train its spies, but these late 1970's high profile abductions were only vague in my memory. Through Paul Fischer's gripping narrative you see not only the story of Choi Eun Hee and Shin Sang Ok , but also, how North Korea is run at the very top. The book piqued my interest in the "The Interview", which I saw last night.

South Korea's most famous actress and most heralded director/producer were abducted at the behest
Feb 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Mal Warwick
Mar 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
What do Americans know about North Korea? For even the best-informed among us, the answer is, sadly, not much. What we know, or at least have been persuaded to believe, comes largely from the testimony of the small but growing community of North Korean refugees. Their experiences contributed to the revelations in three remarkable recent books: a work of nonfiction, Barbara Deming’s Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea; a captivating, Pulitzer-winning novel, The Orphan Master’s Son, by ...more
Jul 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
The Kim Jong-Il Production is a short, but captivating account of the 1980's kidnapping of a south Korean filmmaker and his (ex-) wife - a prominent actress - by direct orders of 'dear Leader' and future dictator Kim Jong-Il.

Cities made of cardboard cut-outs, starving people proudly proclaiming, that there are no starving people in North Korea, and a symbolic double rainbow announcing the birth of a Korean messiah, who wasn't born that day:
North Korea is all about the stories told by its governm
So the compelling page-turniness of this book ends up winning it four stars, even though its style detracts from the whole, somewhat. This *is* an amazing story, but insomniacally reviewing it at 3am on the GR iphone app means I can't hide spoilers, so I won't summarise the plot so much here. I've come off reading Barbara Demick's heartbreaking work on N Korea, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, and a big part of me wanted this book to be a bit less rollicking, a bit less fun, becau ...more
Jun 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Let's be honest: North Korea is hilarious. There are few targets more ripe for mockery than the pudgy, egomaniacal, loose cannons who insist on personal beatification, and are every bit as likely to announce the presence of unicorns as they are to host a game of one-on-one with Dennis Rodman.

The surreal and absurdist state has long been ripe for mockery, which is why it's so impressive to read Fischer's brutally frank contextualizing of it. For every "Team America: World Police" reference you ca
Feb 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: north-korea
This is too unbelievable to be true . . . yet it is.

I never knew that Kim Jong-Il was the leading film maker in North Korea. He was a movie fanatic who wanted international recognition for North Korean films so much that he had his henchmen abduct the leading South Korean actress of her time and a little later, the leading South Korean filmmaker, her husband.

The story of their lives before meeting and marrying in South Korea along with their careers are wonderfully detailed. The book takes on a
Dec 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was a very interesting read. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't already known a lot of about the strange culture that is North Korea. If you haven't seen Lisa Ling's documentary on N. Korea (on Netflix), you must see to believe. This book told of Kim-Jong-Il kidnapping the most famous movie couple (he a director and she a movie star) of South Korea to help him enhance his dream of building a movie empire in N. Korea! Yes, that was his most pressing problem as most of N. Korea ...more
Aug 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is the frightfully true story of how the film obsessed dictator's son, Kim Jong-Il, kidnapped South Korea's greatest director and his movie star ex-wife so as to male the communist nations movie industry a force to be reckoned with. An unforgettable read filled with car chases, prison camps, and preposterous plot twists that would seem unforgivably unbelievable were it to occur on the silver screen. Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction!!!!

Christopher Myrick
Feb 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
I thought I would never need to read another escape North Korea story (after Barbara Demmick's "Nothing to Envy", Kang Chol-hwan's "Aquariums of Pyongyang", Blaine Harden's "Escape From Camp 14", Jang Jin-sung's "Dear Leader", etc...) but this one is exemplary in its access to the Dear Leader and its focus on a particularly odd bit of NK, specifically Jong-il's passion for cinema. Engrossing and touching, with a love story that is both brutal and quirky.
Mar 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of non-fiction; movie buffs
Shelves: 2016, asia
3.5 to 4 stars.

A fascinating (& sometimes depressing) look at the cult of personality & power of propaganda & film in North Korea, largely based around the 1970s kidnappings of two of South Korea's most famous movie personalities, actress Choi Eun-hee and director Shin Sang-ok. A unique glimpse into a hermit nation.

Truth surely is stranger than fiction.
Sep 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
Finished: 08.09.2018
Genre: non-fiction
Rating: D
Shin and Choi were kidnapped and forced to make movies for Kim Jong-il
He hoped that the couple's presence could help North Korea's film industry compete on the international stage. After eight years they were able to escape.
I'm taking the high-road with this one..
If you can't say anything good about the book.....keep quiet.
May 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
It's tempting to laugh when you think of Kim Jong-Il, history's tackiest dictator. This gaudy, strange little man with that awful haircut and those silly glasses and all the bizarre myths about double rainbows and actual unicorns. The picture of Jong-Il is at this point that sad, singing puppet in Team America. But laughter ignores the brutality, the totalitarianism and the absolute evil of a man who was also one of history's cruelest dictators. It also ignores the ways Jong-Il's utter incompete ...more
Mar 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites

THE GOOD: What's there not to love about this book? I primarily read about North Korea because, as an anthropology graduate, I love to learn about different cultures. Especially ones that are so extremely unique such as this one (which, as sociopolitical experts keep telling us, won't be able to stick around that much longer.... but who knows. They've been saying that forever). So I was pleasantly surprised to learn about all kinds of stuff I didn't previously know about Kim Jong-Il and the Nort
Brandon Forsyth
Nov 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
A highly enjoyable look at an aspect of North Korea you rarely hear about: its culture. Kim Jong-Il's ambition for North Korean film and its uses as political indoctrination are fascinating, and Fischer does a good job of comparing and contrasting both North and South Korea's film and political scenes, and how interrelated they are. I knew Jong-Il was a movie buff, but hearing about the lengths he went to in order to procure new films for his collection is astonishing. I think you can fault the ...more
Apr 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, politics, prison, asia
A real page turner that seems too fantastic to be true. After reading Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite, I wanted to know more about North Korea and how it functions. The story of a dictator's son ordering the kidnapping of an actress and a director so that his country could make better movies sounds like a plot for a bad comedy but it is true and frightening.
Mar 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
What a great story! Very readable, very interesting. I am weirdly obsessed with reading about North Korea. My only question was how much of this was really added by the author, as much of the book was based on a single source (the memoir of the director and actress), and Fischer didn't really shape the story at all. The asides to the main plot weren't skillfully woven into it, though they did provide helpful context.
Meaghan Odell
Jan 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time! I read it in three long sittings as the facts can be quite dense. However, they are strung together in a way that is enthralling through every chapter. This true story is recorded down like an action-packed adventure--though the kidnappings of both Choi and Shin are both heartbreaking and terrifying. Highly recommended for those who have an interest in the Koreas and the legacy of the Kim family to the north.
Fantastic recounting of the lives of an actress and a director, who lived through the war, stardom, horrific kidnapping, dramatic escape, and struggle to get their voices heard. It could easily be mistaken for the blockbuster creation of one of its narrators, if only it wasn't so painfully true. Recommended to anyone interested in North Korean history, or well-written investigative journalism.
Loring Wirbel
Apr 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Once we dispense with the notion that Paul Fischer is any kind of professional investigative journalist with some deep insight into recent DPRK history, we can appreciate his talents in the film industry, and his adept ability to tell a very odd tale. In fact, the only reason this book warrants three rather than four stars is due to the eclectic nature of the tale being told. Fischer released this book at a time when many serious, probing works on North Korea under Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-Un we ...more
May 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
When I heard a brief snippet about Shin and Choi's incredible story of being kidnapped by Kim Jong Il on This American Life I knew I would want to read the book. I have never been incredibly interested in North Korea, it's dictators, or it's history before except to say to myself "Huh, that guy in North Korea is my age and just inherited a dictatorship. He sounds like an asshole." I've seen an interesting Frontline documentary on Netflix about North Korea and watched the terrible comedy The Dict ...more
Sep 29, 2015 rated it liked it
In 1978 Kim Jong-Il ordered the kidnapping of a South Korean director and actress in Hong Kong and brought them to Pyongyang to make movies in an effort to boast his international standings in the world. True story. Seems preposterous but if you've read anything about North Korea you already know that they can be devious and deceptive at the best of times. I've read a couple of North Korea books thus far and I enjoyed this one because it provided a good background on the history of Kim Jong-Il ( ...more
Nov 30, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: corea

cinematografia totalitaria

vera storia del rapimento del regista sudcoreano, nato però in Corea del nord prima della divisione, Shin Sang-ok e di sua moglie, l'attrice Choi Eun-hee, al momento del rapimento sua ex moglie, a opera del Caro Leader Kim Jong-il, amante del cinema e psicopatico di prima misura...i due lo assecondano, dopo una blanda resistenza fiaccata dalla prigione, e si mettono a produrre film per la sua industria, curiosamente sarà il loro peggiore film, Pulgasari, una scimmiottat
Jana Hill
Mar 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book was fascinating. Since I knew practically nothing about North Korea, it was eye opening, and shocking. It reminded me of Unbroken in many ways, so if you liked that style, give this one a try!
Jon(athan) Nakapalau
Aug 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Reads like a script from Dali edited by Kafka!
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PAUL FISCHER is a film producer who studied social sciences at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques in Paris and film at the University of Southern California and the New York Film Academy. Paul's first feature film, the documentary Radioman, won the Grand Jury Prize at the Doc NYC festival and was released to critical and commercial acclaim. A Kim Jong-Il Production is his first book.

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“Censorship became so stringent that even a scene in which a character complained too strongly about the weather could be considered “antisocial” and ordered removed.” 2 likes
“Sometimes the police would shut down the electricity early, knowing that tapes and DVDs couldn’t be ejected without power, then raid every home in the neighborhood, arresting anyone found with a foreign movie still in their player. DVD smugglers and salespeople were arrested and executed.” 0 likes
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