Secret audio recordings of Kim Jong Il reveal late North Korean leader's frustrations with film

The late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (centre) with actress Choi Eun Hee and director Shin Sang Ok of The Lovers And The Despot.
The late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (centre) with actress Choi Eun Hee and director Shin Sang Ok of The Lovers And The Despot. PHOTO: LUNA FILMS

SEOUL - Audio recordings of the late Kim Jong Il taken secretly by two South Koreans who were kidnapped and held for eight years by North Korea reveal the cult figure's frustrations with his country's propaganda and film production.

In a new documentary that tells the story of how actress Choi Eun Hee and director Shin Sang Ok were seized by North Korean agents in 1978 and forced to make movies during the eight years they were held, Mr Kim is heard speaking freely in a high-pitched voice on recordings that were secretly captured by the South Korean captives, reported CNN.

The recordings were made with a hidden micro-cassette recorder during their meetings with Mr Kim. Mr Kim is heard apologising to the duo for the kidnapping technique. The movie-obsessed leader also complains about the quality of movies his country has been producing and promises money and resources for the film industry.

"Why do all of our films have the same ideological plots? There is nothing new about them," complains Mr Kim.

He also compares North Korean film-makers unfavourably to their more-successful South Korean rivals. "We don't have any films that get into film festivals. But in South Korea, they have better technology. They are like college students; we are just in nursery school. People here are so close-minded," he says.

In the documentary, The Lovers and the Despot, Ms Choi recalls how he made fun of his diminutive stature when they first met. "Look at me," he said, according to Ms Choi. "Aren't I small?" he continued and then made a crude self-deprecating comparison.

At the time, Mr Kim was head of the country's ministry for culture and propaganda. Mr Kim was someone who micro-managed everything, Mr Shin and Ms Choi have said, according to Mr Paul Fischer, who wrote a book about the kidnapping.

"Kim Jong Il was a film fanatic himself," says Mr Fischer.

Ms Choi and Mr Shin eventually escaped Mr Kim's clutches during a trip to Europe in 1986, slipping away from their North Korean minders and defecting, eventually reaching the US.

But they smuggled out the audio tapes even earlier, which reached the US State Department in 1985.

"My jaw dropped," recalls Mr David Straub, a Korea specialist at the State Department at the time. "Hours and hours of recordings of Kim Jong Il speaking relatively freely would be an intelligence windfall for the American government, since we'd never heard him speak before, much less privately," said Mr Straub, reported CNN.