Tag Archives: North Korea

Peter Hahn School

China Formally Arrests Korean American Aid Worker

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Chinese authorities formally arrested Peter Hahn, a Korean American aid worker who lived near the country’s border with North Korea, on Friday, according to the Associated Press and Reuters.

Hahn, 74, was being held by authorities since November when they detained him on charges of embezzlement and possession of fraudulent receipts. A formal arrest, however, means a more serious situation than criminal detention.

Hahn’s lawyer, Zhang Peihong, told Reuters he believed Hahn was being targeted due to his Christian faith and because he ran a non-governmental organization. He maintained that the charges were “just excuses” but that the formal arrest would make the case difficult.

“I am not optimistic about the case’s prospects now that he has been arrested,” Zhang said. “The charges clearly have no merit.”

Hahn’s staff is also under investigation, including two U.S. nationals and three South Koreans. Chinese authorities have been expelling hundreds of Christian missionaries this year, according to Reuters, along with trying to curb the flow of North Korean defectors. Hahn helped defectors more than a decade ago, according to Zhang, but no longer did so.

Hahn and his wife, Eunice, ran a vocational school, located in the border town of Tumen, and a Christian aid agency that provided supplies and a local school to North Korean poor across the river. Other aid projects in his Tumen River Area Development Initiative included plans to build factories for food processing, fertilizer and bean paste.

Since the detainment, the Chinese police have allowed Hahn to see a doctor regularly, and U.S. consular officials have been able to meet him as well. Eunice Hahn had tried to deliver a letter to her husband through a U.S. diplomat with Christian messages, but Hahn had not been allowed to read it.

Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Economic Journal


South Korea Bans Leftist Political Party

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

South Korea chose to disband a pro-North Korean party on Friday, marking the first time the country has outlawed a political party since it adopted its constitution in 1948.

The 8-1 ruling in the South Korean Constitutional Court effectively ordered the Unified Progressive Party (UPP), established in 2011, to dissolve. According to the National Election Commission (NEC), the UPP has been forced to forfeit all of its state subsidies, and its assets have also been frozen. Furthermore, an alternative party with similar policies as the UPP will be prohibited from being founded.

“The genuine goal and the activities of the UPP are to achieve progressive democracy and to finally adopt North Korea-style socialism,” Chief Justice Park Han-cheol said in a nationally televised broadcast of the landmark ruling. “The UPP, with a hidden agenda to adopt North Korea’s socialism, organized meetings to discuss a rebellion. The act goes against the basic democratic order of the Constitution.”

Several members of the UPP, including Rep. Lee Seok-ki, were convicted of plotting to overthrow the South Korean government in the event of a war and were found guilty of conspiring with North Korea’s communist regime.

Before the landmark ruling, no other political party has been banned in South Korea’s modern history.

Eight justices who ruled in favor of the UPP’s dissolution agreed that the ruling was made to protect democracy in South Korea. Kim Yi-su, the only justice who opposed the ruling, maintained that only a few UPP members were involved in the recent scandal.

The ruling also dismissed five UPP legislators from their seats regardless of whether they were elected through popular vote or the proportional representation system.

Photo courtesy of YTN


Steve Carell’s North Korea-Based Thriller Scrapped

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Another Hollywood film has suffered from the Sony Pictures cyberattack. According to Deadline.com, production company New Regency has scrapped another film that was to be set in North Korea, immediately after major theater chains canceled screenings for The Interview.

Pyongyang, a thriller based on a Guy Delisle graphic novel, was being developed by Director Gore Verbinski and had Steve Carell attached to the project. Written by Steve Conrad, the script tells the story of a Westerner in North Korea who is accused of espionage. Principle photography for the film was slated to begin in March, but was soon canceled in the wake of terrorist threats against movie theaters playing The Interview, reports The Hollywood Reporter.

Following these these threats, the top five theater circuits in North America — Regal, AMC, Cinemark, Carmike Cinemas and Cineplex Entertainment — all opted to not screen the Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy. Earlier today, Sony Pictures announced the cancellation of the film’s Christmas release.

Photo courtesy of The Wrap



bts interview

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

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.

fox fail

Fox News Gets the Wrong Kim Jong-un for ‘The Interview’

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Fox 411 failed big time on Tuesday when they mistook Charles Rahi Chun as the actor who plays Kim Jong-un in Sony’s comedy, The Interview.


To be fair, Chun is actually in the film. He plays General Jong, Kim Jong-un’s right-hand man. Chun has a unique background as some members of his family are of North Korean descent. His uncle fled the North during the Korean War and later successfully extradited his family members from the brutal North Korean dictatorship.

In addition, Chun is no stranger to North Korean threats. His father worked as an advisor for South Korean presidents, including President Kim Dae Jung, from 1980 to 2003, so the threat of a North Korean attack on South Korean government premises was always looming.

Despite Fox mistaking his role in the movie, Chun gave them an eloquent interview about the film’s controversy and the recent cyberattack against Sony. You can watch the clip below.

Los Angeles News | FOX 11 LA KTTV


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

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

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. 



Korean American Questioned over Alleged Pro-North Talks

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

A Korean American writer faces another round of questioning over allegations that she made pro-North Korea remarks during a series of on-stage talk shows, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Shin Eun-mi, 53, has recently been under fire for making sympathetic comments toward Pyongyang and praising the North’s communist regime. After she was given a 10-day travel ban, Shin was questioned on Sunday by the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency (SMPA) for seven hours after conservative groups and North Korean defectors accused Shin and her co-host, Hwang Sun, of violating the National Security Law, which prohibits encouraging North Korea’s political ideals.

The writer is also under scrutiny for her memoir titled, Korean-American Ajumma Goes to North Korea, which chronicles three of her six secret visits to North Korea. While her book positively portrays the daily lives of North Koreans, Shin has told reporters that she has “never glorified or encouraged North Korea.”

The SMPA is currently considering charging her for violating South Korea’s immigration control law, which bars tourists from participating in any for-profit activities. According to investigators, Shin was visiting South Korea under a tourist visa.

Earlier today, President Park Geun-hye voiced her concerns over Shin’s alleged pro-North talk shows.

“It has become a problem as certain people who have made several visits to the North have closed their eyes to the appalling living conditions of the North Korean people or the human rights violations and distorted and exaggerated their certain biased experiences as if they are the real state of affairs in the North,” Park said to her senior secretaries during a meeting, according to Yonhap.

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Suki Kim Tells Stories from NKorea on ‘The Daily Show’

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Suki Kim, the author of the memoir Without You, There is No Us, appeared as a guest on The Daily Show last night and described her experience teaching English at a private university in Pyongyang for six months.

Once Kim sat down for the interview, Jon Stewart asked her how she found out about the teaching position, joking if it was a “Craigslist situation.” The Korean American journalist admitted that she had pursued the topic of North Korea since 2002 when she first visited the reclusive country. When she heard about the all-male boarding school for North Korea’s elite, she seized the opportunity and applied for the job.

“I always wanted to humanize North Korea because we don’t really get any real pictures. We only get stories from defectors, ones that fled North Korea,” said Kim. She added that the only things the world knew about the hermit kingdom were nuclear threats, jokes about Kim Jong-un and Dennis Rodman.

“Is he the only thing they know about us?” Stewart jested, regarding Rodman.
“I think possibly, yes,” Kim said, laughing.


After she explained that her students at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), the “M.I.T. of North Korea,” were unaware of the existence of the Internet, Stewart asked her a pointed question: What will happen to her students now?

“These are the future leaders of North Korea,” said Kim. “They were the crème de la crème of North Korea, and they were just so lovely because I think they were also so sheltered from the world. But their system was not lovely. Their system was the most inhuman system in the world.”

As the interview winded down to an end, Stewart asked Kim if she believed her students “felt like something was wrong” with their country’s system.

“How could they not know, you know? They’re never allowed to travel within the country without a travel pass. None of them have been to anywhere, basically outside of Pyongyang. And certainly not allowed to leave the country,” Kim responded. “A part of them must have known. But if they did, they could never show it to me because it means death in that country.”

You can watch the extended interview on The Daily Show‘s website.