'The Interview': North Koreans, Defectors Don't Get the Joke

James Franco The Interview Still - H 2014

Northerners find it difficult to see Kim Jong-un, a godlike figure in Pyongyang, portrayed as a laughingstock

North Korean authorities have tightened border control to keep The Interview out, but civilians as well as defectors from the communist state have already seen — and have begun reacting to — the film about assassinating its leader, Kim Jong-un.

Kim Seong Min, a North Korean defector in Seoul, told South Korean media that residents in Sinuiju, a North Korean town near the Chinese border, have seen The Interview. Kim runs the Seoul-based, anti-Pyongyang broadcaster Free North Korea Radio.

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"North Korean defectors living in South Korea have helped North Korean citizens see the film online, through Kakao Talk [a South Korean mobile messenger service], and we were able to hear some of their reactions," Kim told South Korea's CBS. A handful of North Koreans are known to be able to use South Korean telecommunications services through mobile phones smuggled in through China.

Many North Korean viewers were disappointed, according to Kim.

"Some North Korean viewers found it offensive that Kim Jong-un was being ridiculed and that the North Korean culture was portrayed in a very inaccurate way," he said. Pyongyang has a tradition of idolizing its leaders for the public. "Some have asked us if [Kim Jong-un] really was being mocked overseas," he added.

One North Korean resident expressed heartbreak, however, over the human-rights issue the film touches upon. "One viewer felt brokenhearted by the scene where the foreign journalist asks [Kim Jong-un] why he won't distribute food to the people," said Kim.

Meanwhile, some 100 people gathered in a Seoul bar recently to watch The Interview. The crowd included many North Korean defectors, among a community of some 20,000 living in South Korea. One complaint was the lack of resemblance between Korean-American actor Randall Park and the dictator.

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"The actor did not look like Kim Jong-un at all," Lee Han-Byul, one of the defectors who attended the screening, told AFP. "In North Korea, actors in films are almost exact lookalikes of the heroes they are playing."

The dissimilarity provided some ironic humor, however, for another viewer. "One North Korean resident found the actor's appearance and absurd behavior so disparate from North Korean culture, rather comical," said Kim.