North Korea Defector Says 'The Interview' Could Push Citizenry to Revolt

Kang Chol Hwan — a defector whose life story is being turned into a film starring 'The Walking Dead's' Steven Yeun — also has been quietly smuggling copies of 'Slumdog Millionaire' into the communist nation for years for its message about poverty.

SEOUL, South Korea — While a debate rages on the Korean Peninsula between those who want to use balloons to drop The Interview on North Korea and those who'd rather not antagonize dictator Kim Jong Un, one defector has been quietly smuggling in copies of Slumdog Millionaire for years.

Kang Chol Hwan says the Oscar-winning 2008 film is popular on the black market because its theme — that poverty can be overcome by opportunity — is riveting to North Koreans, whose lot in life is dictated more by family background than anything else.

But the defector is also supportive of those who are delivering The Interview to North Korea (watch part of the video being dropped into North Korea, which includes propaganda produced by the communist nation, above), because he wants the populace there to see Kim Jong Un be made to look foolish.

Such a movie, he says, could push the citizenry closer to revolt, given that many of them have grown skeptical of the propaganda they are fed and are only pretending to believe the rhetoric that North Koreans enjoy the highest standard of living in the world and have “nothing to envy” due to the wise leadership of Kim Jong Un.

"The Interview will be the first time they see a movie that criticizes Kim Jong Un," he says. "The conditions they see in American movies, they can't imagine. It makes them think, maybe Americans aren't as bad as we are told."

Like every defector, Kang has a dramatic personal story of his life in North Korea, which he recounts in his book, The Aquariums of Pongyang, co-authored with French historian Pierre Rigoulot. Unlike other defectors, though, his story is being turned into a film with The Walking Dead's Steven Yeun set to star and executive produce.

Kang was just 9 years old when he was shipped to a North Korean concentration camp with most of his family because his grandfather was accused of criticizing the Communist regime. The harsh living conditions he describes in his book are unimaginable.

When asked about the worst part of life in the camp, he answers: "Public executions." Most of the time a prisoner's mouth is stuffed with rocks to shut him up, then he is tied to a post with three pieces of rope. The executioners first shoot the rope around the eyes, then the one around the chest, then the waist, causing the victim to bow his head prior to falling into a hole in the ground dug at his feet.

Kang, though, tells me he was scarred most by an execution that deviated from the norm. Two men were hung, and about 3,000 members of the camp, including himself, were each forced to stone the corpses. "Most of us closed our eyes, or lowered our heads, to avoid seeing the mutilated bodies oozing with black-red blood," he writes in his book.

Kang spent 10 years in the camp. I ask him who should play him as a child in the planned movie, and he offers no opinion. But he does bemoan that Hollywood, known worldwide for its human-rights activism, doesn't pay more attention to abuse inside North Korea.

"I wish Tom Cruise would speak out. I like his style. Or maybe Angelina Jolie," he says.

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Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com

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