Two Swedish artists (one visual, the other musical) record their impressions of a one-week sojourn in North Korea in 2008.
Originally published in Sweden in 2011, this text has a busy agenda. Not only do the authors tell about their sightseeing (limited as it was), but they also interweave the story of the 1978 kidnappings of popular South Korean actress and filmmaker Choi Eun-hee and her ex-husband, filmmaker Shin Sang-ok, whom Kim Jong-il, then the head of the Propaganda and Agitation Department, brought to the North, where he gave them substantial financial support for their filmmaking. (For more detailed information about this remarkable story, see Paul Fischer’s A Kim Jong-il Production, 2015). Other subjects the authors deal with: the monster-film genre in the region (especially in Japan), the history of the North-South split, impressions of other writers about North Korea, and the mythmaking that political strongmen find essential. During their visit to the North, the authors—and the others with their group—were fiercely restricted: no photographs without prior approval from government officials and no wandering off. The authors speculate that much of what they saw was stage-managed (are those commuters or actors?), and they were deeply skeptical about what they were told—numerous shrines, they believe, are bogus. Near the end, they begin to wonder what the North Korean people really think about their lives. There is, the authors realize, no way to know. The prose is clear, even graceful at times, and the style is seamless. The authors were able to score a long interview with Madame Choi, and from her, they elicit some ambivalence about her tenure in the country. She and her ex appreciated, for example, the substantial state support for their art.
A clear and troubling picture of a country forced to embrace madness.