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Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s Supreme Leader from July 1994 until his death in Dec. 2011, was credited with many far-fetched accomplishments during his lifetime, from inventing the hamburger to curing dwarfism to shooting 11 holes-in-one the first time he played golf to never having had a bowel movement. But one remarkable thing that he actually did do, according to reliable reports, is watch more American movies than most people who work in Hollywood.
And it was under this man’s roof that North Korea’s current dictator — Kim Jong-il’s son Kim Jong Un, the man lampooned in the comedy The Interview and suspected of authorizing a cyberterrorism attack on Sony Pictures in retaliation — came of age.
Kim Jong-il’s obsession with the movies began at a young age. As a boy, he regularly visited Pyongyang’s main film studio. As a young man, he spotted and fell in love with an actress at the studio, whom he forced to leave her husband and child and later impregnated out of wedlock. And, as an adult, he accumulated a collection of 30,000 movies on VHS and DVD, according to GQ — among them, every Oscar winner (he would boast to foreign dignitaries that he had watched them all, The New York Times reported) and a significant amount of pornography — which were “believed to be sent to Pyongyang in diplomatic pouches from North Korean missions in New York and Beijing” and which he kept in an air-conditioned vault.
Friday the 13th, Godzilla and Rambo were all apparently favorites of the “Dear Leader,” who also really liked Elizabeth Taylor, but, according to people who knew him who talked to the BBC, he was particularly obsessed with all things James Bond, screening every installment of the franchise and worshipping Sean Connery — but later feeling very hurt upon watching Die Another Day (2002), in which 007’s nemesis was a North Korean leader.
Kim Jong-il wrote numerous books and essays about film, several of which non-Korean scholars have deemed quite impressive. (“The cinema occupies an important place in the overall development of art and literature,” he asserted in one. “As such it is a powerful ideological weapon for the revolution and construction.”) He apparently produced or consulted on 11,890 films — almost none of which have been seen outside of North Korea. And he kidnapped South Korea’s most famous film director, Shin Sang-ok, in order to have Shin make propaganda films for him, holding him against his will from 1978 until the filmmaker escaped in 1986.
His was a life that revolved largely around the movies. It is unclear, however, if his son, who grew up worshipping him, shares his passion. (Did Kim Jong-il’s massive movie collection go into a dumpster? Is it collecting dust? Or might Kim Jong Un also be studying America through its movies?) What is certain is that three years — to the day — after Kim Jong-il’s death, actions involving his son directly led to one fewer American movie ever seeing the light of day.
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