SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his defense chief executed with an anti-aircraft gun for complaining about the young ruler, talking back to him and sleeping during a meeting presided over by Kim, South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers Wednesday, citing what it called credible information.
South Korean analysts are split on whether the alleged bloody purge signals strength or weakness from Kim Jong Un, who took power after his father’s 2011 death. Some aren’t even sure if it really happened. One expert described the reported development, part of a series of high profile recent purges and executions by Kim, as an attempt to orchestrate a “reign of terror” that would solidify his leadership.
National Intelligence Service officials told a closed-door parliamentary committee meeting that People’s Armed Forces Minister Hyon Yong-chol was killed in front of hundreds of spectators at a shooting range at Pyongyang’s Kang Kon Military Academy in late April, according to lawmaker Shin Kyoung-min, who attended the briefing.
Kim Gwang-lim, chairman of the parliament’s intelligence committee, quoted the spy service as saying Hyon had failed several times to comply with unspecified instructions by Kim. The office of another lawmaker, Lee Cheol Woo, released similar information about the NIS briefing.
The NIS didn’t tell lawmakers how it got the information, only that it was from a variety of channels and that it believed it to be true, Shin said. The agency refused to confirm the report when contacted by The Associated Press.
South Korea’s spy agency has a spotty record of tracking developments in North Korea. Information about the secretive, authoritarian state is often impossible to confirm.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said the U.S. can’t confirm reporting of the execution of North Korean officials, but added that “these disturbing reports, if they are true, describe another extremely brutal act by the North Korean regime. These reports are sadly not the first.”
Analyst Cheong Seong-chang at the private Sejong Institute think tank in South Korea questioned the authenticity of the report on Hyon’s execution because the minister still frequently appears in state TV footage.
North Korea typically removes executed and purged officials from TV documentaries, but Hyon has appeared multiple times in a TV documentary on live fire drills between April 30 and May 11, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry. North Korea’s state media hasn’t mentioned Hyon since an April 29 report of his attendance of a music performance the previous day.
Hyon was named armed forces minister, the equivalent of South Korea’s defense minister, in June of last year. He was made a vice marshal of the Korean People’s Army in July 2012 before being demoted to a four-star general later that year, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry. Kim, the South Korean parliament’s intelligence committee chief, said Hyon was the North Korean military’s No.2 man after Hwang Pyong So, the top political officer at the Korean People’s Army.
Kim’s purges over recent years are seen as efforts to bolster his grip on power. The most notable was in 2013 when Kim executed his uncle and chief deputy, Jang Song Thaek, for alleged treason. Last month, spy officials told lawmakers that North Korea executed 15 senior officials accused of challenging Kim’s authority.
Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul, said Kim Jong Un appears to be using purges to keep the military old guard in check because they pose the only plausible threat to his rule. Koh said Kim could be pushing a “reign of terror” to solidify his leadership, but those efforts would fail if he doesn’t improve the country’s shattered economy.
Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, and Matthew Pennington in Washington, contributed to this report. Featured image courtesy of Yonhap News Agency.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Pictured above: From left to right—Jimmy Lee, Julie Ha, Michelle Woo, John Lee and Ken Lee.
Twenty-five years ago, KoreAm Journal started out as a newsmagazine published on newsprint. “Get Involved!” encouraged the headline on the cover story for the very first issue published April 1990. Featuring news briefs, a profile of Cerritos City Council candidate Charles Kim, restaurant reviews, personal commentary and even a mini-guide to the Korean language, KoreAm boldly announced its arrival in the alternative media space.
In the last quarter-century, the publication, which would eventually evolve into a glossy magazine, has kept a pulse on the issues and people forming the fabric of the Korean American community, as it continues to strive to fulfill the vision outlined by founding publisher Jung Shig Ryu in his inaugural note to readers: “We at KoreAm Journal are dedicating ourselves to cultivating an awareness of the Korean heritage, and informing people of the events happening not only in their homeland, but also in their communities.”
To honor KoreAm’s 25th anniversary, we invited former editors who steered the magazine between 1991 and 2014 to reflect on the milestones over the years. Their recollections touched on the humorous to the heartfelt. We couldn’t print the entirety of the conversation, recorded at KoreAm’s office in Gardena, Calif., due to space and some off-the-record moments, but below is a transcript of the dialogue’s highlights.
You can also watch the first half of the discussion in the video here:
How Each First Came Across KoreAm
Jimmy Lee: When I was working at KYCC (Los Angeles’ Koreatown Youth and Community Center). We would get the magazine at the office.
Ken Lee: My mom was very active in the Korean community, so she was subscribing to it and I would just see it around the house. This was in the mid-’90s. At the time, it was still a newspaper.
Julie Ha:I actually started receiving KoreAm in my mailbox at the UCLA dormitory. I was like, why am I getting this all of a sudden? But it was free. I do remember being surprised I saw it in my mailbox and thinking, “Oh, this is sort of cool.”
Michelle Woo: I don’t know how I first heard about it, but I first heard about the [staff writer] job on journalismjobs.com. I don’t have a great story behind it, but I was living in Phoenix at the time. I’m not Korean—I’m Chinese—but my last name is Woo—W-o-o—so it could be either [Chinese or Korean], so I think that’s what got me the interview.
A March 5, 1991 letter sent by KoreAm publisher James Ryu to potential subscribers.
Most Memorable Cover Issues or Stories
Jimmy: The 10-year anniversary of the L.A. riots. Putting that one together was pretty daunting. I think we tried to tackle more than we probably should have. I think for the most part we succeeded, but we really tried to take a look at the riots in a historically comprehensive sort of way. I think that the end result turned out to be very satisfying.
The riots were a very sort of defining moment for KoreAm, especially for the community, but specifically for KoreAm. It was right there at its infancy, we sort of kind of grew up with it.
Julie: In a way, the [L.A. riots] sort of underscored the whole purpose of KoreAm: to have a voice for Korean Americans in the media. A lot of Korean immigrants especially felt like they had no voice in the mainstream media, and that they were being totally misrepresented, underrepresented, as gun-toting Koreans guarding their stores, at any cost … and not really being humanized. There weren’t all these bilingual reporters at mainstream newspapers and TV stations, so I think that’s when a lot of Korean Americans felt like, “Wow, we have no voice.”
John Lee: [In late 1993, we ran] this photo essay by a Korean American photographer from New York who came to Los Angeles after the riots. He embarked on this mission to meet and photograph Korean merchants in the South Los Angeles area. I met him and got to go out on some of his shoots. He had a really good way of working with the merchants. He seemed to understand their lives and had a real comfortable rapport with them. Some of the images he got were really telling about how kind of mundane life is in the Korean liquor store in South Los Angeles, but they had a good way of giving insight into the motivation of people both behind the counter and in front of the counter. We ran this story in KoreAm Journal around the same time.
He eventually ended up working for the New York Times. Before that, we worked on a similar photo essay for the L.A. Times Sunday Magazine. He took photographs; I did a write-up for them.
“The Hard Life,” a photo essay by Chang W. Lee featured in the Dec. 1993 issue of KoreAm.
Ken: For me, it would be the [Dec. 1998] cover story we did on the North Korea famine. At the time, it felt like it wasn’t really something that was being discussed in the Korean American community, and at the time in the global community, it was known as the “silent famine” because it was largely being ignored. So, what I discovered was that a lot of first-generation Koreans still had very much a Cold War mentality in which they didn’t—they refused—to see past the politics and into the human suffering that was going on there. On that note, there was so much information that was being blocked, so it’s kind of understandable [that] it wasn’t at the forefront of people’s minds at the time.
At the time, it was just me and [KoreAm publisher] James [Ryu] essentially running the magazine. For two guys in a warehouse to make a cover story out of very little means—it was very satisfying to put that up and get a lot of congratulatory letters from people in the community.
The Dec. 1998 North Korea famine issue
Jimmy: That was the infamous phone call issue, right?
Ken:The story, it’s not too tired? I’m just going to pretend you guys aren’t here (motioning to the group), because they’ve heard it over and over. So, as I was saying, it was just me and James working in a warehouse, trying to put this important global issue together. I had managed to get a phone number of human rights workers who were in North Korea. One was a Canadian and the other was an American, and they were working in Pyongyang doing food distribution. I was able to just call them from here in Gardena to Pyongyang, North Korea, and just conduct, like, a two- or three-hour interview.
It felt like I was calling the moon from planet Earth in terms of having that accessibility. So I kind of forgot about it and then about two months later, we were in the office and James is like, “Keeeennnnnn!!!!” He was looking at the phone bill. I wasn’t surprised if it was something like, two dollars per minute. It was pretty bad, it was in the thousands. This was before Skype.
May 2007 Virginia Tech issue
Michelle: For me, this issue here stands out (holds up copy of magazine). So this is May 2007. It’s all about Virginia Tech. The cover is, “Our Country, Our Tragedy,” on the Virginia Tech massacre. It was about a week before we were going to print. We had our cover story all laid out on Sonya Thomas, a competitive eater. She’s holding two hot dogs, and it was just this fun, lighthearted cover. And then, I think it was less than a week before we were going to go to print, there was this tragedy at Virginia Tech.
I was a staff writer at the time, and Corina Knoll was the editor. We had this meeting. We just decided to scratch all of our coverage and go full force with this. We wrote about the community response in Virginia, the Korean American community’s responses here, and how the Korean community felt this tragedy so deeply. Seung-hui Cho … I don’t think anyone could ever forget that name or that photograph.
I remember Margaret Cho in her standup was saying that when we heard that the shooter was Asian, everyone was like … ‘Please don’t let him be Korean.’ And I guess her whole joke was, not only was he Korean, but his last name was Cho. After covering all this, I think the community really appreciated that standpoint.
Julie:I remember people being worried that there might be anti-Asian hate crimes. That was a big fear and I remember being really happy about this issue because it was very proactively getting on top of that current issue and covering it from a point of view that I hadn’t seen in the mainstream. Even Seung-hui Cho was called “Cho Seunghui” for the longest time— last name first, and then his first name, which made him seem even more foreign versus American.
Jimmy:The one issue I’m proud of is our 2002 World Cup story. That was the year South Korea co-hosted with Japan and there was all this excitement within the Korean American community. What sucked for us here on the West Coast was that a lot of games were at 4 o’clock in the morning. There were all these big events going on, and so we were there covering it, and it got to be quite the, you know, hazard to our sleeping health (laughs). But to see the Korean American community rally and get excited [over an event that] brought people all over together was a lot of fun.
July 2002 World Cup issue
On Memorable Moments as Editor
Jimmy: Oh, there were plenty of bizarre moments. Once I got here, we were able to devote a little more [staff] resources. We actually had a photographer. We got to do a little bit more and, I like to say, we sort of experimented. We went to a Korean bathhouse and took photos.
Ken: In the name of journalism, right?
Jimmy: Exactly. Strictly in the name of journalism. I got to see my co-workers naked (laughs). We won’t tell you who those people were.
Julie:Striking resemblance to Jimmy and [publisher] James [Ryu].
Ken:I’ve got one. This guy who used to help out at the magazine, he was so obsessed with ear pickers to clean ear wax out of your ear. I said, “I totally get it, but if you’re gonna do this story, it’s gotta be funny. You can’t do a very hard-hitting, serious story about ear picks.” And he got really upset and he did the story after I left.
Jimmy:Yeah, I read it. I never saw his original story. It became more of a fun kind of story about the different kinds of ear-pickers. [Koreans] are pretty innovative when it comes to some personal hygiene products so, you know, we had some fun with it, I guess.
In Part 2 of the roundtable discussion, former KoreAm editors talk about how they formed fun and creative columns, memorable feedback from readers, KoreAm‘s growing digital presence and what they learned most about the Korean American community during their tenures. Stay tuned!
This article was published in the April/May 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the April/May issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).
Pittsburgh Pirates fans first heard that line from their home team play-by-play announcer back on Sunday, May 3 when Jung Ho Kang the first home run of his major league career. The pressure’s been on Kang to live up to his four-year, $16 million contract before this season, and it hasn’t helped that Kang hasn’t seen too much playing time due to a logjam of infielders.
But as the 28-year-old South Korean has become more accustomed to the major leagues this season, we may hear more of “Jung-Ho-Ho” doing his thing.
“I’m impressed with his make-up,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I’m impressed with the mental strength that he’s shown and the discipline. There’s a lot going on with this guy.”
Kang has emerged as one of the most consistent hitters on a struggling Pirates roster—in particular, third baseman Josh Harrison—while also maintaining a solid presence on defense. This weekend, Kang had his fingerprints all over the Pirates’ series win over the league-best division rivals St. Louis Cardinals.
In game one of the series on Friday, Kang came in as a defensive sub late in the game, getting a hit and scoring a run as the Pirates’ rally fell short. The 8-5 loss was punctuated by a peculiar moment when Kang struck out in the eighth inning while standing outside of the batter’s box. Kang had asked for a timeout and began to back out, but the umpire did not grant him the time. The pitch was over the plate for strike three, and Kang didn’t seem too happy with the situation.
Kang after the strikeout. He isn’t having it. Like, seriously. (Image via Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Things would change on Saturday, though, as Kang got the start and went 2 for 4 at the plate with a run scored. But he also got to be a part of baseball history on defense as the Pirates turned the first 4-5-4 (second baseman to third, back to second) triple play ever. The Pirates would beat the Cards, 7-5. Check out the crazy video below.
Kang was slated into the starting lineup again on Sunday, batting at the No. 2 spot for the first time. Wielding a hot pink bat in honor of Mother’s Day and breast cancer awareness, Kang kept his hot streak at the plate going, opening the scoring with a home run (the second bottle of rum for his career), then driving in the winning run with a single in the seventh inning.
By the way, you have to appreciate how the Pirates broadcasters say “Kang” with the proper Korean pronunciation. The Pirate’s pull-over throwback jerseys also look fantastic.
“As I’ve been playing in more games, getting more at-bats, my confidence is increasing,” Kang said through an interpreterafter Sunday’s game. “The more pitches I see, the more control I have over the game. I’m going to do a better job with runners in scoring position, too.”
Kang has hit .429 in his last 35 at-bats, and he enters Monday’s game with a .333/.337/.521 line on the season. He’s also slated for this third-straight start in tonight’s game, and he’ll look to continue his hot streak 1/5th of the way through the long baseball season.
South Korea’s startup scene is one of the most dynamic and fastest growing in the world, and Google’s “Campus Seoul” is expected to only add fuel to its growth.
Google officially opened Campus Seoul on May 8 after announcing the entrepreneurial center’s launch last August. Seoul is Google’s first Asian start-up campus and third international campus, following two other campuses in London and Tel Aviv. Google also plans to establish campuses in Warsaw and Sao Paulo in the near future.
Campus Seoul will support local entrepreneurs by serving as a “community hub” and foster creative ideas by connecting professionals on a local level. Additionally, the campus gives entrepreneurs access to Google’s extensive international network, which allows them to connect with fellow startups and venture capital firms on a global scale.
South Korea’s Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP) expects that Campus Seoul participants will attract more investment by targeting the global market from the beginning of establishing their startups. Previously, Google and the MSIP joined forces to support the K-Startup program, which attracted more than $23 million (USD) in investment and created 77 startup companies from 2012 to last year, according to Business Korea.
South Korea is quite fitting to house the first Google Campus in Asia. The country already boasts a reputation for being the perfect place to test next-gen IT technology, since it has the highest smartphone penetration rates and Internet of Things (IoT) utilization rates. The government is also pouring money into the startup scene, and the trendy neighborhood of Gangnam has become the brightest spot in the country for new tech businesses.
Doo-ho Choi’s first fight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lasted all of 18 seconds back in November. On July 15, the “Korean Superboy” will have a chance to prove that his striking power isn’t akin to the one-hit wonder type.
The 24-year-old featherweight is set to fight Sam Sicilia (14-5) at UFC Fight Night 71 . Asian MMA confirmed the bout, which was slated to take place one year earlier at UFC 173 but was scrapped due to an ankle injury Choi sustained.
Both Sicilia and Choi are known for their striking power, so look for plenty of flying fists. Choi isn’t a slouch in his mixed martial arts, either, as he boasts some rock-solid takedown defense as evidenced in his previous fights.
Choi made his debut in November 2014 at UFC Fight Night 57 in the opening bout against Juan Puig. It took just 18 seconds for Choi to find an opening, firmly landing a cross on Puig’s chin to drop him. The referee called the fight shortly afterwards, awarding Choi the win by technical knockout (TKO).
You can watch the fight in its entirely on Tudou with Korean commentary. Bruce Buffer introduces the fighters at 6:25.
She may not be decked out in a star-spangled suit or robotic armor, but Claudia Kim in Avengers: Age of Ultron enjoys the superhero treatment as the brilliant geneticist Helen Cho.
The South Korean model-turned-actress had been lauded for performances in Korean primetime, such as the 2011 medical dramaBrain, but she caused quite a stir last year when she first appeared in a trailer for the Avengers sequel and was dubbed by fans as the “mystery woman at the party.” Since then, the red carpet has been rolling out before Claudia with new Hollywood projects on the horizon of her promising career.
KoreAm recently interviewed Claudia Kim as she revealed her thoughts on the blossoming relationship between Asian and American cinema and her high-profile Hollywood debut.
The following interview has been translated from Korean to English and edited for length and clarity.
Claudia Kim as Dr. Helen Cho in Avengers: Age of Ultron (Photo courtesy of Disney)
How was the transition from starring in Korean dramas to a major Hollywood blockbuster?
Claudia Kim: I began auditioning for roles in Hollywood films because I’ve always wanted to be in a film, so I’m extremely happy to be in Avengers. The film itself is a huge project, so I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous to work with so many great actors. The biggest challenge for me lied with myself. There was pressure to both represent Korea and adjust to the culture of the American film industry. I was also working simultaneously on Avengers and Marco Polo. What helped a lot was the support I had in Korea as well as from director Joss Whedon. I enjoyed the atmosphere at the shoot, and I thought I had great chemistry with the actors.
We heard there was fierce competition for the role of Helen Cho, and that Joss Whedon had handpicked you for the part. Can you tell us about the audition process?
The audition process was under heavy security. I first auditioned at Disney Korea, and the tape was sent to the casting director in the U.S. Later on, I met with the casting director as well as Joss Whedon and the producer there. I’ll never forget the final audition. I felt no pressure and just enjoyed being able to express myself in front of Joss Whedon, who was really supportive of me.
Did you get the opportunity to show the Age of Ultron cast and crew parts of your home country outside of the scenes filmed in South Korea?
I didn’t have a chance to meet them in Korea, but I was able to meet them at a promotion event where we hung out over some great Korean food. It was a shame that I couldn’t show them more of Korea due to the tight schedule, but I was happy to see them experience how much they were loved and supported in my country.
You’ve mentioned on Twitter that you’re a fan of Marvel Comics. What is your favorite title? And if you could star as a different character in another Marvel film, what would be your dream role?
I loved X-Men as a child. I was a huge Wolverine fan and loved all the strong female characters like Storm. If the opportunity ever came, I would love to play Storm.
You’re starring in the upcoming season of the Netflix series Marco Polo as Khutulun, as well as another role in Equals, a sci-fi romance starring Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult. How did you prepare for those roles?
During Marco Polo Season 1, I discussed my character with the directors and read a lot of books that were related to Khutulun and Marco Polo. Khutulun was a character that required me to fight male warriors, so I went through intense physical training. I’ve always wanted to be in a historical drama so I was happy to achieve that goal.
With Equals, my interest developed as soon as I read the script. Even though it’s a brief role I was able to work with director Drake. I always picture myself constantly growing with the opportunities that are coming to me.
Asian American actors have been breaking into Hollywood in recent years, but there’s also an increase in international co-productions, such as Snowpiercer and Stoker, in which South Korean directors and actors have worked with Hollywood studios. What are some of your thoughts on this exchange?
It’s only natural. Asia has been producing a lot of high quality films and actors, and I was able to see firsthand how receptive Hollywood has become to Asian American actors. I also feel like the gap between Hollywood and the Asian film industry has closed quite a bit because Hollywood has been trying to recruit quality content and actors from Asia as well, and those things naturally led to a crossover. I believe the reason I’ve had the opportunity to act in Avengers is because of my predecessors, including actors and directors, who have previously worked in Hollywood. I hope more Asian actors and directors continue to work in Hollywood and connect with the rest of the world.
Yeah, we know. Star Wars Day was Monday. But if the Force is with you, Star Wars Day is every day.
South Korea held its first official Star Wars Day earlier this week, highlighted by a number of events in Seoul, including an imperial march through the streets of Myeong-dong that ended up in front of a Uniqlo store. The clothing retailer had been running a “Disney and Family Week” campaign leading up until Children’s Day on May 5, according to Asia Today.
One blogger also attended a ceremony for newly christened Jedi Knights, with lightsabers and all, at the local CGV cinema.
Here are a few key Star Wars terms and phrases in Korean for your reference.
May the Force be with you.
포스가 당신과 함께 하기를
(Pronounced: Poh-soo-ga dang-shin-gwa hahm-geh ha-gee-reul)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
스타워즈: 깨어난 포스
(Pronounced: Star Wars: Geh-uh-nan poh-soo)
These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.
이것들은 네가 찾는 드로이드들이 아니다.
(Pronounced: Ee-guht-deul-eun neh-gah chah-neun deu-roi-deu-deul-ee ah-ni-da)
Also, stormtroopers dancing to the classic “Nobody” by the Wonder Girls.
Seoul recently announced that the demolition of Guryong, the last surviving slum in the glitzy Gangnam district, will begin this summer after years of debate over redevelopment plans, reports Reuters.
In the shadows of Gangnam’s luxury high-rises, Guryong is a grim home to 2,000 residents, mostly elderly living in poverty. Most of the dilapidated homes in the area are made of plywood, metal, sheets of plastic and cardboard boxes. Amenities are sparse, and residents rely on coal to keep warm during the winter.
“I am scared that I will continue to live here and die here,” Kim Ok-nyo, an 80-year-old slum resident, told Reuters.
After her husband died of a heart attack nearly 30 years ago, Kim moved to Guryong, where she uses a shared toilet around the street corner. To support herself, she used to do temporary work at construction sites and clean one of the high-rise apartments that loom over the shantytown. She now depends on a monthly government stipend of 200,000 won ($187).
Last December, city and district officials approved a redevelopment plan that would allow them to build thousands of low-cost housing units as well as subsidized homes for current slum residents.
“We need to develop the area quickly to improve housing security for people there, because these illegal shacks are old, so they are vulnerable,” said Cho Gyu-tae, a Gangnam official handling the redevelopment.
The rise of Guryong slum settlements began in 1988, when the Seoul government chased hundreds of residents from their inner-city slum homes in an effort to “clean up” the capital for the Summer Olympic Games.