Tag Archives: Kim Jong-un

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Behind the Making of ‘The Interview’

Last month, KoreAm spoke with actor Seth Rogen before the Sony cyberattack grew to its current dimensions.

 

by ADA TSENG | @adatseng
ada@audreymagazine.com

In late November, before full details of the Sony hack were revealed, Ada Tseng, a freelance writer for KoreAm, spoke by phone with actor Seth Rogen for the magazine’s upcoming cover story on his co-star Randall Park, who plays dictator Kim Jong-un in the political satire, The Interview.

Rogen is co-director, co-producer and co-writer of the controversial film (in which he stars opposite James Franco), which involves an assassination plot against the North Korean leader.

Right after KoreAm spoke with Rogen, it was revealed that the computer systems at Sony Pictures, the studio that backed The Interview, fell victim to an invasive cyberattack by a group calling itself “Guardians of Peace,” whose affiliations to any group, entity or nation remain unknown. Sony senior executives have seen their private emails leaked to the public, while sensitive data and the studio’s unreleased films have been compromised.

The North Korean government has called The Interview “an act of war” and has threatened “merciless” retaliation against the United States if the movie is released as scheduled on Christmas Day.

The controversy over the film has only ratcheted up in the last 48 hours, with the unidentified hackers making threats against theaters that planned to screen the film.

As of Wednesday morning, one major theater chain, Carmike Cinemas, pulled the film from its theaters while a scheduled New York premiere of the film Thursday evening was abruptly canceled. KoreAm‘s advanced screening slated for tonight, in partnership with Sony, was also called off Wednesday afternoon, followed by the studio’s announcement that it was canceling the film’s Dec. 25 release date, after a majority of distributors said they would not The Interview.

Whether or not the cyberattack is direct “retaliation” against the film and its brazen plotline—or just a cover-up for hackers operating independent of the geopolitical undercurrent—is unclear.

The following is an edited conversation Tseng had with Rogen last month about the producers’ idea for the film, research for authenticity and the casting of Park as Kim Jong-un. KoreAm’s December/January issue, available later this month, will feature Park on the cover.

Why did you choose North Korea as a setting for the film?

Seth Rogen: I think we were just really fascinated with North Korea. It really captured our imagination. Then we started reading more, and the more we read about it, the weirder it was. The stranger, more bizarre facts we uncovered, it fed the fire more and more. Meanwhile, we thought it’d be fun to make a movie about a journalist who’s asked to assassinate the person he’s interviewing, so we kind of combined the ideas.

I heard that the idea came way before Dennis Rodman visited Kim Jong-un in 2013. What did you think when Rodman went to North Korea? Did that help the script in any way?

Yes, our biggest concern was that the script was very far-fetched, [yet] everything we read about [Kim Jong-un] suggested he might do something like that. He loves Western culture, and as a person, he seemed to portray the image that he didn’t take himself too seriously. He was laughing in a lot of the pictures you saw of him. He still is a horrible dictator obviously, but we thought that comedically, it might be interesting if you met him and you kind of liked him. And we were like, “No one will believe us,” and then that was a concern, because the whole thing seemed so ridiculous. But then Dennis Rodman went [to North Korea] and liked the guy! We were like, “Wow, it’s exactly what we wrote, and it came true,” and if anything, it lent credibility to the movie in a way we never expected.

Did you always envision the script featuring Kim Jong-un?

When we originally wrote the script, it was [Kim Jong un’s father and previous North Korean dictator] Kim Jong-il, but then he died. When he died, we re-wrote it with Kim Jong-un.

Doesn’t that work better with the plot?

Exactly. We know less about [Kim Jong-un], and he’s younger and closer to our age.

And the film’s characters can socialize with him …

Exactly. That was the one weird part [in the original version]: Franco partying with a 70-year-old man. So when we re-wrote it with Kim Jong-un, it opened [the script] up a lot, so you believe they’d bond over more things pop culturally. Maybe they’d like the same music and movies.

What did Randall Park bring to the role of Kim Jong-un?

When we wrote [his character], it was a little more formal than how he acted. It was less adorable, for lack of a better world [laughs]. Randall really added a lot of that. As soon as he came into the room and auditioned—we read the scene where he’s at the door [meeting Franco’s character] for the first time, and says, “Hello Dave,” and he’s really shy—that, to us, was just really funny.

It seems like there’d be a difficult balance to strike with that character.

It was a conversation we had a lot and a line we were very careful with. We want to push the audience to a place where we’re like, “I can’t believe it, but I like this guy!” and then have them come back from that. It’s almost as though they’re being seduced [by Kim Jong-un] in the same way that Franco is in the movie.

Is it true that you auditioned Randall in every single scene?

Yes, we read the entire script. I think we said, “If it seems like it’s going well, we’ll keep going,” and then it seemed like it was going well.

Did you have anyone else in mind when you wrote the character?

There was no one else. So, I’m so thankful that Randall did it so well. We didn’t know for sure if it would work, to be honest.

I’m wondering about some of the North Korean scenes, in particular the one that shows kids playing instruments. Where did you get that idea from? A documentary?

That’s exactly where it’s from. Almost everything that is in North Korea that happens to [the characters once they arrive] is based on something we read. The fake grocery stores, the mountain fortress, these guitar kids trained from a young age to be proficient with giant guitars. All the facts about Kim Jong-un are based on real stuff we found.

But what’s funny about the guitar kids—there’s a documentary about North Korea that shows North Korean kids with creepy plastic looks on their faces playing the guitar, and we were like, ‘Let’s find kids that are really good at playing guitar like those kids!’ And what we found was, no kids are good at playing the guitar like those kids! [Laughs.] Only if you live in a dictatorship where you’re forced to learn guitar from a young age are you able to be that good at guitar. So we had to fake it for the movie because no kids except the kids in North Korea are that good at guitar.

What kind of balance did you have to strike for the entire movie? It’s a comedy, but at the same time, these are real-life people in real-life situations.

It was hard. We wanted to make sure we villainized the regime, not the people in North Korea. It was a conversation we had a lot, that we really need to make that distinction—that North Koreans aren’t bad, the people who rule North Korea are bad.

The hardest part about that was to do it in a way that didn’t feel heavy-handed and overdramatic and that [fit] the tone of the movie. There were a lot of conversations, like “Does Dave find a [North Korean] death camp?” Ugh, that’d feel so heavy-handed. And we felt like fake grocery stores were the perfect metaphor for the illusion of what they present versus what’s real.

Also, me and Evan [Goldberg, the film’s co-producer and co-director,] grew up watching Seinfeld and The Simpsons, [which involve] stories that are somewhat existing in the same world as the viewer. To some degree, [those characters] are planting themselves in your world and tearing down the walls that generally separate movies from real life. That, to us, was generally exciting, so that’s why calling [the film’s antagonist] Kim Jong-un to us was an interesting idea. Because it made you, as a viewer, come into the movie with all your actual feelings about Kim Jong-un, and then what’s even more exciting to us is when we undercut and subvert those feelings and make you like him.

Can you discuss the film’s ending? (The Sony hack revealed that the original ending was a source of disagreement between Rogen and Sony’s top executives, who asked for it to be toned down). 

My hope is that by the time you get to the end, it’s not “Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator,” it’s “Kim Jong-un, the guy in our movie.” We try to have our cake and eat it too, to some degree. [The film] is making fun of real life, but then it’s just trying to do what a good movie would do at that moment.

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

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Activists to Drop ‘The Interview’ in North Korea via Balloons

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

The Interview is going to North Korea.

Human rights activists in South Korea plan to fly DVDs of the Seth Rogen comedy into North Korea via hydrogen balloons, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Free North Korea, a South Korean activist group led by defector Park Sang-hak, will use balloons to distribute the film to the entertainment-deprived North Korean masses.

The Interview, which stars Rogen and James Franco, is a comedy centering on the CIA recruiting American journalists to plot an assassination of North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un (played by Randall Park).

Park’s organization has used balloons to drop transistor radios, DVDs and other items into North Korea for years. The Human Rights Foundation, a New York-based organization, has been funding the balloon drops for the past two years. The Interview won’t likely be available on DVD for the next scheduled balloon drop in January, but the organization’s plan is to smuggle the film into North Korea as soon as possible.

“North Koreans risk their lives to watch Hollywood films,” said Thor Halvorssen, who founded the Human Rights Foundation. “The Interview is tremendously threatening to the Kims. They cannot abide by anything that portrays them as anything other than a God. This movie destroys the narrative.”

With funding from Halvorssen’s group, Free North Korea has also sent leaflets, books and other educational materials to the totalitarian state via balloons, which are launched from secret locations in South Korea. To drop the materials in targeted locations, the balloons are designed to break open with acid-based timers.

When asked by Deadline.com about whether he thinks sending The Interview to North Korea would be a good idea, Rogen said: “It would be really interesting. I wonder what a North Korean citizen would think of the movie.  And, they are not bad. They are the victims of horrible situations. Part of me thinks they themselves would really enjoy the movie.”

Photo courtesy of Lee Young-Ho/Sipa USA and AP. 

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Kim Jong-un’s Sister May Visit South Korea

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

North Korea has offered to send Kim Jong-un’s younger sister as an envoy to a Seoul food festival in March, an organizer told Reuters on Thursday.

The Association for South-North Economic Cooperation, a private South Korean business group with ties in the North, submitted an application to South Korea’s Unification Ministry for the joint festival, according to the Korea Economic Daily. The group claims that its North Korean counterparts provided them a list of officials to participate in the event, and Kim Yo-jong was listed as a participant.

However, there is some skepticism over the group’s application. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Unification Ministry said it could not “confirm the existence of the North Korean entity” and noted inconsistencies in the association’s proposal, including Kim’s official position in the communist state.

Kim, who is presumed to be 27, was identified by North Korea’s state media last month as the vice department director of the ruling party’s central committee, but the South Korean association’s application named her as the director.

The group was also not listed in business directories and its website could not be found on Naver, South Korea’s leading search engine. In addition, North Korea had not mentioned Kim’s visit through its state media.

The food festival is scheduled for March and is set to celebrate the Korean peninsula’s 70th anniversary of independence from Japanese colonial rule, said the organizers.

If Kim is approved to attend the event, then it would mark the first visit made by an immediate member of North Korea’s ruling family.

Photo courtesy of Wikitree

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North Korea Refuses to Deny Hacking Sony Pictures

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

New evidence suggests that North Korea may have been behind the cyber-attack that crippled Sony Pictures last week. The tools the hackers used are very similar to those used to attack South Korean television stations and ATMs in 2013, according to the Wall Street Journal.

North Korea was one of the initial suspects in the hacking, which disabled the Sony Pictures computer network and forced employees to work with their cellphones, pen and paper. Before screens went dark, they displayed a red skull and the phrase “Hacked By #GOP,” which reportedly stands for “Guardians of Peace.” A message also threatened to release sensitive data stolen from Sony servers if certain demands were not met.

The threat apparently didn’t include five Sony movies, including Fury and the unreleased Annie, as they were leaked to torrent sites over the weekend. Investigators and Sony executives have assumed the leaks were connected to the attack, although there is no evidence of that yet.

So far, North Korea has refused to deny their involvement in light of what has only been circumstantial evidence. BBC News reported that when asked, a North Korean spokesman for the government replied, “Wait and see.”

If North Korea is indeed behind the attacks, the Verge noted, it would be the first time a Hollywood studio has come under attack from a foreign power.

Investigators believe that Sony’s upcoming movie, The Interview, would explain a connection to North Korea. The comedy film that involves two journalists (James Franco and Seth Rogen) on a mission for the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong-un (Randall Park). North Korea has not held back in expressing their distaste over the film. Back in June, a Foreign Ministry spokesman promised a “merciless counter-measure” if The Interview becomes released and also denounced the movie as “the most undisguised terrorism.”

The Interview

“A film about the assassination of a foreign leader mirrors what the U.S. has done in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine,” read a statement by Kim Myong-chol, North Korea’s executive director of the Center for North Korea-U.S. Peace. “And let us not forget who killed [John F.] Kennedy—Americans.”

In the statements from the hacking group behind the attacks, the Verge found that one of the recent messages singled out The Interview in a similar manner:

“Our aim is not at the film The Interview as Sony Pictures suggests. But it is widely reported as if our activity is related to The Interview. This shows how dangerous film The Interview is. The Interview is very dangerous enough to cause a massive hack attack. Sony Pictures produced the film harming the regional peace and security and violating human rights for money. The news with The Interview fully acquaints us with the crimes of Sony Pictures. Like this, their activity is contrary to our philosophy. We struggle to fight against such greed of Sony Pictures.”

Another portion of the message reads, “We won’t give up this attack unless Sony Pictures collapse to the end.”

theinterview01Randall Park as Kim Jong-un.

Since August, Sony had already planned to edit out a few controversial portions of the movie, including a Raiders of the Lost Ark homage where Kim Jong-un’s face melts off in slow motion. They also digitally altered the buttons worn by multiple characters because they “depict the actual hardware worn by the North Korean military to honor” Kim Jong-un and his late father, Kim Jong-il.

The Interiew is still set to hit theaters on Christmas Day, at least in the U.S. It will not be screened in South Korea, however, as a Seoul-based Sony Pictures official cited concerns of inter-Korean relations.

Photo courtesy of The Verge

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Kim Jong-un Sings Katy Perry in Final Trailer for ‘The Interview’

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Sony Pictures has released its final trailer for the upcoming action-comedy film The Interview, starring Seth Rogen, James Franco and Randall Park.

Written and directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the feature centers on Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen), who run a popular celebrity tabloid TV show. After discovering that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a fan of the show, Dave and Aaaron prepare to travel to Pyongyang to interview him in an attempt to legitimize themselves as real journalists. Their plans, however, are derailed when the CIA recruits them to assassinate the North Korean dictator.

While previous trailers have only shown glimpses of the film’s iteration of Kim Jong-un, the new trailer highlights Park’s strong comedy chops, as seen in the short scene of him singing Katy Perry’s “Firework” with Franco.

This year has been a particularly busy one for Park as he is currently filming for the upcoming ABC family comedy, Fresh Off the Boat, which is slated to air in early 2015. In addition, Park will also be featured on the cover of KoreAm‘s December/January 2014 issue! You can read Park’s final column for KoreAm here.

The Interview will hit U.S. theaters on December 25.

Kim Pumpkin

All Hail the Pumpkin King, Kim Jong-un

by JAMES S. KIM

What’s big, round, weighs 374 lbs and looks like Kim Jong-un?

Why, it’s a giant celebrity pumpkin created by noted “pumpkinizer” Jeannette Paras, of course! Unlike most other pumpkin enthusiasts, who mutilate orange flesh for their creations, Paras paints her pumpkins in likenesses of celebrities. She’s been doing this since 1988, and her portfolio includes Miley Cyrus, President Obama, Prince Harry, Santa Claus, Kanye West and the Hulk.

You can check out all of Paras’s creations at her Facebook page, Paras Pumpkins.

Image via Paras Pumpkins

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The Mystery of Kim Jong-un’s Disappearance May Be Solved

by REERA YOO

South Korea’s spy agency claimed Tuesday that it has solved the mystery behind Kim Jong-un’s six-week public absence, reported Yonhap.

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) told legislators in a closed-door briefing that Kim underwent an operation between September and October to remove a cyst from his right ankle, according to Lee Cheol-woo of the ruling Saenuri party and Shin Kyong-min of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy.

“Give his obesity and excessive activities, the trouble could recur despite the surgery, said Lee, referring to Kim’s frequent inspection tours of military units, factories and construction sites.

The NIS added that a European doctor was specially invited into the communist country to perform the operation.

North Korea has a long-standing relationship with a small group of French doctors, according to the New York Times. These doctors have previously treated top North Korean officials and have even treated Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il.

After disappearing from public view on Sept. 3, Kim reappeared on Oct. 14, supporting himself with a cane, ending wild speculations about Kim’s critical illness and a possible military coup.

The NIS also disclosed that North Korea has expanded five of its political prisoner camps, including the Yodok camp, said Lim Dae-seong, Lee’s aide who also attended the briefing.

Lim added that the NIS also believes that North Korea recently executed several people who had been close to Kim’s uncle, Jang Song-thaek, who was suddenly executed in December 2013 for treason.

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Kim Jong-un Reappears in Public for the First Time in 40 Days

by REERA YOO

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has made his first public appearance in about 40 days, giving a “field guidance” to a newly built residential district, according to state news agency KCNA on Tuesday.

KCNA reported that Kim visited the Wisong Scientists Residential District and the Natural Energy Institute of the State Academy, adding that the leader had a photo session with scientists. However, the news agency did not publish these photos or any videos of his visit. KCNA also did not specify when Kim made his visit, although it’s presumed that the visit occurred on Monday.

According to Reuters, there were also several pictures of Kim walking with a cane published on the front page of Tuesday’s edition of North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun.

However, U.S. National Security Council spokesman Patrick Ventrall said he could not confirm the KCNA report at this time.

“We have seen these breaking reports but have nothing for you on their authenticity at this time,” he said.

Kim has not been seen in public since his attendance at a musical concert with his wife on Sept. 3. His disappearance has spurred peculations and rumors ranging from gout to a military coup, despite the U.S. debunking rumors of a coup as “false.”

Earlier this month when senior officials of the North Korean delegation met with South Korean representatives, South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae asked Kim Yang Gon, secretary of North Korea’s ruling Worker’s Party, about rumors of Kim Jong-un’s ill health. The secretary at the time responded that there were “no problems at all.”

Photo courtesy of Rodong Sinmun and BBC