A Storyville documentary: the bizarre story of how North Korea's movie-loving dictator Kim Jong-il arranged for the Hong Kong kidnap of South Korea's leading lady, Choi Eun-hee.
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Ladies and gentlemen of the press.
Come on! Out of the way! Down! Give somebody else a break!
I have been provided with the following background information.
Mr Shin and Ms Choi are both nationals of South Korea
and are married.
Mr Shin was a well-known director, and Ms Choi a famous actress in the
South Korean film industry.
Some eight years ago, Ms Choi appeared in North Korea
after having been in Hong Kong.
Subsequently, Mr Shin travelled to Hong Kong
and later appeared in North Korea.
Today's conference is held at the request of Mr Shin and Ms Choi.
The Shin couple will have opening statements
after I finish my remarks.
Mount Baekdu, the mountain that chimes with the history of the
Korean revolution, tells the great history of the leadership of Korea
by Kim Jong-il.
Inheriting the qualities of President Kim Il-sung,
a peerless hero of Korea, and Kim Jong-suk, a woman hero
of the anti-Japanese revolution, Kim Jong-il has led a Korean
revolution for several decades.
In the mid-1960s, when the situation in Korea and the world
was complicated, Kim Jong-il started working at the Central Committee
of the Workers' Party of Korea,
the General Staff of the Korean revolution.
Whenever the US imperialists resorted to highhandedness with
regard to Korea, they put them to shame,
displaying the wisdom and mettle of an iron-willed commander.
In the 1960s, I was working in a military intelligence organisation
in South Korea.
But I didn't have any connection with the film business.
I was just the audience.
My job was to interrogate North Korean defectors
and arrested North Korean espionage agents.
In 1970s, the North Korean Workers' Party recognised Kim Jong-il
as his father's heir apparent.
So he started to build up his own power base.
During that period, there was a very severe power struggle
to protect Kim Jong-il's power
and his succession of power from his father.
Many, many people were killed and purged.
All of them are brainwashed. All of them are brainwashed.
An interrogator's job is to crack it,
to make him understand the true story,
true facts of what's going on.
Can you describe what you heard on the tapes?
Because you told us before that you have heard Kim Jong-il's voice.
Not many people have.
-I cannot do that.
-I know you can't explain how you heard it.
Can you explain that you knew they were real,
and this is really Kim Jong-il?
-I cannot say the circumstances.
-Yeah, of course.
OK. Let's start. OK.
I mentioned about five tapes that were released
to South Korean authorities, and I recognised Kim Jong-il's voice.
We received a phone call from the Furama hotel,
that one of their guests had left the hotel without paying
in circumstances which they were unfamiliar with.
I think it was a Sunday.
I was just about to come off my particular shift,
and because Hong Kong is such a massive place, with so many people,
missing people, missing persons' cases were,
as you can imagine, happening quite frequently.
But because this person involved a foreign national,
ie, not a local Hong Kong person, we had to pay particular attention.
When we got to the hotel, everything was in its place.
All her suitcases, her personal belongings,
the bathroom had all the cosmetics
that you would expect from someone who is staying there
and had no intention of leaving in a hurry,
so we soon realised that we're onto something here
which wasn't just a missing person.
Why has she come to Hong Kong?
Who asked her? Why was she there?
And why had she mysteriously just disappeared, as it would seem,
off the face of the Earth with no trace?
Choi was divorced...
..with a big bank debt.
One Korean lady had approached Choi Eun-hee
and she said, "We have a very, very rich person in Hong Kong.
"She is also doing film business."
Her name was Lee Sang-hee.
At the time, the South Korean government didn't know,
Choi did not know, I did not know,
nobody knew she was a North Korean agent.
On 30th February 1978,
we searched Lee Sang-hee's apartment in Queen's Road East.
It was quite revealing what we found.
A used North Korean airline ticket,
and also a film script called Woman Slave Ship,
which was one of Shin's film scripts.
I remember the first time I met Shin.
There was something quite distinctive about him,
he had a bit of a swagger, good-looking and very confident.
It's difficult to articulate instinct,
but we felt there was something about Shin
that it didn't sit comfortably with us.
His answers were somewhat inconsistent,
and he appeared to be very evasive.
He was quite clear that he had nothing to do with it,
but wanted to have police protection.
He felt that Choi had been abducted by the North Koreans.
He was obviously quite concerned
about what was going to happen to him.
Many different stories spread. Speculations.
Shin contacted Kim Kyu-hwa.
He was Shin's old friend and business partner.
But Shin did not know...
..he was also a North Korean agent.
I was in Hong Kong for the film festival
because I'd heard about Shin Sang-ok.
I wanted to meet him and to see some of his films.
I do not remember exactly how it came about.
I remember that I found out that he was at this hotel,
I was surprised that it was such a cheap hotel.
Clearly, he was not doing well.
the South Korean government decided to stop his activities,
he was not authorised to make films.
He was an outcast in Korea.
He had to try to find work somewhere else.
The suspicion was that he was dead.
The suspicion was that he could have been killed by the Korean CIA.
SHE SINGS IN KOREAN
THEY SING IN KOREAN
Kim Jong-il had a most bizarre childhood.
He was clearly an awful leader, an awful person as an adult,
but one has to feel a little sympathy for this boy,
unable to live anything like a normal childhood.
Apparently the decision was made that Kim Jong-il could not play with
other children and so he had only a tiny number of playmates.
He was put in an enormous house to live,
given a huge room stuffed with toys.
Undoubtedly, being raised that way must have contributed to
the very odd personality that Kim Jong-il developed.
And as early as the early '70s,
Kim Il-sung was having his son Kim Jong-il groomed to succeed him.
And yet the people's respect for Kim Jong-il was much less
than it was for his father, Kim Il-sung.
Kim Jong-il was not the founder, he was the son,
he inherited his position, he was much shorter than his father.
And his father was quite outgoing, he looked like a politician.
He laughed, he slapped people on the shoulder.
And Kim Jong-il was clearly, in ways, self-aware,
and knew that he was not charismatic.
He was introverted, shy,
he never really spoke publicly to his people.
Kim Jong-il thought of himself as an artiste.
But the late 1970s,
Kim Jong-il was actually running the country for the most part.
Kim Il-sung probably had the last word,
but he was very much in many respects the retired grandfather,
and I don't think he was watching very closely
what Kim Jong-il was doing.
SHE SINGS IN KOREAN
Jong-il Peak soars high in Mount Paektu.
The dear leader comrade Kim Jong-il was born in this historic house in
the secret camp below the peak.
The mountain is a mysterious one, where wonders are made.
HE SPEAKS IN KOREAN
He was shooting a picture in Prague.
It was a kind of sensation.
Shin Sang-ok had surfaced in Prague, shooting a film for North Korea.
He was full of ambition,
speaking of a studio which he was building,
bringing new equipment with him to make films and producing films.
I guess he was close to...
the man he was in the '60s, when he was so successful.
He was suddenly very happy.
I suppose you're from Korea, aren't you?
-I came here on some business.
They were accompanied by about at least 20 heavies
whom I gathered were, I thought, North Korean security people.
They were definitely guarding these people.
All in the same suit. It was very strange,
they were all in exactly the same dark suit.
I don't know, they seemed sort of friendly.
It did seem as if there's something slightly odd going on.
They went to the Berlin International Film Festival
and there they met South Korean friends attending this festival.
Shin and Choi showed very cold shoulder to them.
"OK, we're doing very, very good in North Korea.
"You cannot even imagine how much the Party is supporting us.
"We are freely making films as we want.
"We are perfectly OK in North Korea.
"There is no country better than North Korea to do film business."
North Korean watchdog security guards reported to Kim Jong-il
when they went back to Pyongyang,
"Oh, now, don't say anything.
"Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee are absolutely loyal to North Korea.
"They are loyal to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il."
And they started to obtain more confidence from these two leaders
and they gave them better treatment.
That is the beginning point that Shin and Choi started to think of
escape from North Korea.
Out of the blue, I received a telephone call
from a lady saying that
she was associated with Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee
and she needed to talk to me.
Her father had met Shin Sang-ok when travelling in Europe.
She said that Shin had asked him to pass a message to the US government,
that Shin was being held under duress,
that he had not defected to North Korea,
that he wished to escape and come to the United States.
And we have a bag full of rattling microcassette tapes,
like we used to use in those days.
Well, at that point, I nearly jumped off my chair and said,
"Tapes? Of Shin talking with Kim Jong-il?"
Now, at that time...
no-one had ever heard Kim Jong-il say anything,
we didn't know what his voice sounded like.
My wife is originally from Korea.
I thought it would be useful if she could help me
listen to a few of these tapes to see if they sounded authentic,
so, for some silly reason, we were sitting in bed
and we actually covered our heads with the sheets
while we were listening covertly to these tapes.
On March 13th, Shin Sang-ok,
a former South Korean movie producer who has been working in North Korea,
and Choi Eun-hee approached the US government and sought assistance.
We have given them assistance, but I can't give you anything further.
In Vienna, we would expect that any defector that's going to walk in
is either an East Bloc military person,
an East Bloc intelligence officer or a diplomat.
Film people from North Korea, that's interesting,
that's not something you see very often on the radar,
that's not what you would expect.
They spent considerable time sitting down talking to
the intelligence authorities about every single aspect of that story.
This story could sound funny if we were the suspicious kind of people.
When I met Shin and Choi the first time,
they were so uneasy, they were so ill at ease.
Some people said Choi was really kidnapped,
but Shin was not kidnapped, but he walked into North Korea.
That was the story, widespread.
Everyone was convinced in South Korea
that he had gone willingly, for whatever it means.
Every single person at that time thought that.
In the tape, Kim Jong-il...
..confessed that he had to kidnap Shin and Choi to North Korea
to improve the North Korean film business.
The truth about the kidnap, I think,
except if really there is a solid source in North Korea,
a trustable source,
I think we shall never know.
Anyway, they were brought to the United States,
the United States government accepted their asylum in
the United States.
The bizarre and sensational story of the despot who stole a film star. In 1978, North Korea's movie-loving dictator Kim Jong-il arranged for the Hong Kong kidnap of South Korea's leading lady, Choi Eun-hee. Choi had left South Korea in search of a new start. Her marriage to Shin Sang-ok, her long-term collaborator and one of the country's most successful filmmakers, had collapsed when Choi found out about his affair and second family with a younger actress.
After her disappearance Shin, retracing her last known steps, also fell into the hands of Kim's kidnappers. Kim Jong-il had his prize. The golden couple of Korean cinema made movies at his command for seven years until, on a trip to Vienna, they eluded their minders and made a break for the American Embassy.