North Korean Kidnap: The Lovers and the Despot Storyville


North Korean Kidnap: The Lovers and the Despot

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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Transcript


LineFromTo

Ladies and gentlemen of the press.

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Come on! Out of the way! Down! Give somebody else a break!

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I have been provided with the following background information.

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Mr Shin and Ms Choi are both nationals of South Korea

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and are married.

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Mr Shin was a well-known director, and Ms Choi a famous actress in the

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South Korean film industry.

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Some eight years ago, Ms Choi appeared in North Korea

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after having been in Hong Kong.

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Subsequently, Mr Shin travelled to Hong Kong

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and later appeared in North Korea.

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Today's conference is held at the request of Mr Shin and Ms Choi.

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The Shin couple will have opening statements

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after I finish my remarks.

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Mount Baekdu, the mountain that chimes with the history of the

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Korean revolution, tells the great history of the leadership of Korea

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by Kim Jong-il.

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Inheriting the qualities of President Kim Il-sung,

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a peerless hero of Korea, and Kim Jong-suk, a woman hero

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of the anti-Japanese revolution, Kim Jong-il has led a Korean

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revolution for several decades.

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In the mid-1960s, when the situation in Korea and the world

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was complicated, Kim Jong-il started working at the Central Committee

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of the Workers' Party of Korea,

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the General Staff of the Korean revolution.

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Whenever the US imperialists resorted to highhandedness with

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regard to Korea, they put them to shame,

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displaying the wisdom and mettle of an iron-willed commander.

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In the 1960s, I was working in a military intelligence organisation

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in South Korea.

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But I didn't have any connection with the film business.

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I was just the audience.

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My job was to interrogate North Korean defectors

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and arrested North Korean espionage agents.

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In 1970s, the North Korean Workers' Party recognised Kim Jong-il

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as his father's heir apparent.

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So he started to build up his own power base.

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During that period, there was a very severe power struggle

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to protect Kim Jong-il's power

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and his succession of power from his father.

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Many, many people were killed and purged.

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All of them are brainwashed. All of them are brainwashed.

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An interrogator's job is to crack it,

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to make him understand the true story,

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true facts of what's going on.

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Can you describe what you heard on the tapes?

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Because you told us before that you have heard Kim Jong-il's voice.

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Not many people have.

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-I cannot do that.

-I know you can't explain how you heard it.

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Can you explain that you knew they were real,

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and this is really Kim Jong-il?

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-I cannot say the circumstances.

-Yeah, of course.

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OK. Let's start. OK.

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I mentioned about five tapes that were released

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to South Korean authorities, and I recognised Kim Jong-il's voice.

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We received a phone call from the Furama hotel,

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that one of their guests had left the hotel without paying

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in circumstances which they were unfamiliar with.

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I think it was a Sunday.

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I was just about to come off my particular shift,

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and because Hong Kong is such a massive place, with so many people,

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missing people, missing persons' cases were,

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as you can imagine, happening quite frequently.

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But because this person involved a foreign national,

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ie, not a local Hong Kong person, we had to pay particular attention.

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When we got to the hotel, everything was in its place.

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All her suitcases, her personal belongings,

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the bathroom had all the cosmetics

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that you would expect from someone who is staying there

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and had no intention of leaving in a hurry,

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so we soon realised that we're onto something here

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which wasn't just a missing person.

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Why has she come to Hong Kong?

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Who asked her? Why was she there?

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And why had she mysteriously just disappeared, as it would seem,

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off the face of the Earth with no trace?

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Choi was divorced...

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..with a big bank debt.

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One Korean lady had approached Choi Eun-hee

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and she said, "We have a very, very rich person in Hong Kong.

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"She is also doing film business."

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Her name was Lee Sang-hee.

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At the time, the South Korean government didn't know,

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Choi did not know, I did not know,

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nobody knew she was a North Korean agent.

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On 30th February 1978,

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we searched Lee Sang-hee's apartment in Queen's Road East.

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It was quite revealing what we found.

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A used North Korean airline ticket,

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and also a film script called Woman Slave Ship,

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which was one of Shin's film scripts.

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I remember the first time I met Shin.

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There was something quite distinctive about him,

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he had a bit of a swagger, good-looking and very confident.

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It's difficult to articulate instinct,

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but we felt there was something about Shin

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that it didn't sit comfortably with us.

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His answers were somewhat inconsistent,

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and he appeared to be very evasive.

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He was quite clear that he had nothing to do with it,

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but wanted to have police protection.

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He felt that Choi had been abducted by the North Koreans.

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He was obviously quite concerned

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about what was going to happen to him.

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Many different stories spread. Speculations.

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Shin contacted Kim Kyu-hwa.

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He was Shin's old friend and business partner.

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But Shin did not know...

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..he was also a North Korean agent.

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GUNSHOT

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I was in Hong Kong for the film festival

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because I'd heard about Shin Sang-ok.

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I wanted to meet him and to see some of his films.

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I do not remember exactly how it came about.

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I remember that I found out that he was at this hotel,

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I was surprised that it was such a cheap hotel.

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Clearly, he was not doing well.

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From 1974,

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the South Korean government decided to stop his activities,

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he was not authorised to make films.

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He was an outcast in Korea.

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He had to try to find work somewhere else.

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The suspicion was that he was dead.

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The suspicion was that he could have been killed by the Korean CIA.

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SHE SINGS IN KOREAN

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THEY SING IN KOREAN

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APPLAUSE

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SHE CHUCKLES

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Kim Jong-il had a most bizarre childhood.

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He was clearly an awful leader, an awful person as an adult,

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but one has to feel a little sympathy for this boy,

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unable to live anything like a normal childhood.

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Apparently the decision was made that Kim Jong-il could not play with

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other children and so he had only a tiny number of playmates.

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He was put in an enormous house to live,

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given a huge room stuffed with toys.

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Undoubtedly, being raised that way must have contributed to

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the very odd personality that Kim Jong-il developed.

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And as early as the early '70s,

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Kim Il-sung was having his son Kim Jong-il groomed to succeed him.

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And yet the people's respect for Kim Jong-il was much less

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than it was for his father, Kim Il-sung.

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Kim Jong-il was not the founder, he was the son,

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he inherited his position, he was much shorter than his father.

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And his father was quite outgoing, he looked like a politician.

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He laughed, he slapped people on the shoulder.

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And Kim Jong-il was clearly, in ways, self-aware,

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and knew that he was not charismatic.

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He was introverted, shy,

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he never really spoke publicly to his people.

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Kim Jong-il thought of himself as an artiste.

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But the late 1970s,

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Kim Jong-il was actually running the country for the most part.

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Kim Il-sung probably had the last word,

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but he was very much in many respects the retired grandfather,

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and I don't think he was watching very closely

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what Kim Jong-il was doing.

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SHE SINGS IN KOREAN

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Jong-il Peak soars high in Mount Paektu.

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The dear leader comrade Kim Jong-il was born in this historic house in

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the secret camp below the peak.

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The mountain is a mysterious one, where wonders are made.

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HE SPEAKS IN KOREAN

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He was shooting a picture in Prague.

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It was a kind of sensation.

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Shin Sang-ok had surfaced in Prague, shooting a film for North Korea.

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He was full of ambition,

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speaking of a studio which he was building,

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bringing new equipment with him to make films and producing films.

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I guess he was close to...

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the man he was in the '60s, when he was so successful.

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He was suddenly very happy.

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I suppose you're from Korea, aren't you?

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-I came here on some business.

-Welcome.

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They were accompanied by about at least 20 heavies

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whom I gathered were, I thought, North Korean security people.

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They were definitely guarding these people.

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All in the same suit. It was very strange,

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they were all in exactly the same dark suit.

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I don't know, they seemed sort of friendly.

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It did seem as if there's something slightly odd going on.

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They went to the Berlin International Film Festival

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and there they met South Korean friends attending this festival.

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Shin and Choi showed very cold shoulder to them.

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"OK, we're doing very, very good in North Korea.

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"You cannot even imagine how much the Party is supporting us.

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"We are freely making films as we want.

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"We are perfectly OK in North Korea.

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"There is no country better than North Korea to do film business."

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North Korean watchdog security guards reported to Kim Jong-il

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when they went back to Pyongyang,

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"Oh, now, don't say anything.

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"Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee are absolutely loyal to North Korea.

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"They are loyal to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il."

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And they started to obtain more confidence from these two leaders

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and they gave them better treatment.

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That is the beginning point that Shin and Choi started to think of

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escape from North Korea.

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Out of the blue, I received a telephone call

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from a lady saying that

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she was associated with Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee

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and she needed to talk to me.

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Her father had met Shin Sang-ok when travelling in Europe.

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She said that Shin had asked him to pass a message to the US government,

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that Shin was being held under duress,

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that he had not defected to North Korea,

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that he wished to escape and come to the United States.

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And we have a bag full of rattling microcassette tapes,

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like we used to use in those days.

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Well, at that point, I nearly jumped off my chair and said,

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"Tapes? Of Shin talking with Kim Jong-il?"

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Now, at that time...

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no-one had ever heard Kim Jong-il say anything,

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we didn't know what his voice sounded like.

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My wife is originally from Korea.

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I thought it would be useful if she could help me

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listen to a few of these tapes to see if they sounded authentic,

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so, for some silly reason, we were sitting in bed

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and we actually covered our heads with the sheets

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while we were listening covertly to these tapes.

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On March 13th, Shin Sang-ok,

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a former South Korean movie producer who has been working in North Korea,

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and Choi Eun-hee approached the US government and sought assistance.

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We have given them assistance, but I can't give you anything further.

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In Vienna, we would expect that any defector that's going to walk in

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is either an East Bloc military person,

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an East Bloc intelligence officer or a diplomat.

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Film people from North Korea, that's interesting,

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that's not something you see very often on the radar,

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that's not what you would expect.

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They spent considerable time sitting down talking to

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the intelligence authorities about every single aspect of that story.

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This story could sound funny if we were the suspicious kind of people.

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When I met Shin and Choi the first time,

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they were so uneasy, they were so ill at ease.

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Some people said Choi was really kidnapped,

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but Shin was not kidnapped, but he walked into North Korea.

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That was the story, widespread.

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Everyone was convinced in South Korea

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that he had gone willingly, for whatever it means.

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Every single person at that time thought that.

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In the tape, Kim Jong-il...

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..confessed that he had to kidnap Shin and Choi to North Korea

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to improve the North Korean film business.

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The truth about the kidnap, I think,

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except if really there is a solid source in North Korea,

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a trustable source,

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I think we shall never know.

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Anyway, they were brought to the United States,

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the United States government accepted their asylum in

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the United States.

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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.


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