|Author Paul Fischer [Photo: Paul Fischer]|
1) For those of us who aren't familiar with Choi Eun-Hee and Shin Sang-Ok, can you give us the bite-sized version of what your book, A Kim-Jong-Il Production, is about?
Shin Sang-Ok was the biggest filmmaker, and Choi Eun-Hee the most famous actress, in 1970s South Korea. They had been married, had divorced, had had a very dramatic Richard Burton-and-Elizabeth Taylor kind of life when, in 1978, they were both kidnapped by Kim Jong-Il, who wanted them to make propaganda films for North Korea.
2) What initially interested you in this story?
Before I knew all the details I was just fascinated by the idea of the Faustian pact, of an artist given unlimited resources on the condition that their work support a tyrannical regime. When I looked into it more thoroughly, I became obsessed with the setting, the events, the people involved -- and what the story reveals about North Korea today.
3) Your research took you to Pyongyang, a city few outsiders get a chance to visit. What was that like?
It's very surreal. Pyongyang is a city most North Koreans aren't allowed to enter: it's reserved for the elite but really built as a showpiece for foreigners. It's very clean, very quiet. There are very few cars, no businesses, no street names or numbers, no old people, no disabled people, no animals, no chaos. Loudspeakers play revolutionary songs all the time, everyone wears the exact same clothes. It feels very fake. It's as much of a real city as Disneyworld's Magic Kingdom is really a kingdom.
4) It's interesting that A Kim-Jong-Il Production was published shortly after the controversial release of the film The Interview. Was that planned? And are you at all concerned about retaliation from North Korea as a result of your book?
No, it was a complete accident, and I think we had conflicting feeling about it -- whether it would make people interested in that whole world or whether it would create a certain confusion and fatigue by the time the book came out. Luckily it seems to have been the former.
As for retaliation, no, not really. The book portrays them as absurd but mostly it's about their dangerous, dark side -- which they're usually not unhappy to see talked about. It's being made fun of they have a problem with, really. When it comes to books they tend to just try and smear any Koreans involved, as in the case of Escape From Camp 14, for instance, where they didn't go after Blaine Harden but instead put a lot of effort into trying to discredit his subject. They've already tried to smear Shin and Choi, with little success.
5) Any plans to turn your book into a film?
I'm having a few meetings while in LA! I think it's unlikely -- it would be an expensive film, with three Asian leads, and the possible threat of another Sony hack for whoever makes it -- but the possibilities are exciting, at least on paper.
Paul Fischer will sign and discuss A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Director's Rise to Power on Wednesday, February 18 at 7pm.