An Infamous Dictator Kidnapped A Director To Make A Godzilla Rip-Off
Kim Jong-Il kidnapped a South Korean director named Shin Sang-ok, so he could make a Godzilla rip-off movie.
Long before Kim Jong Un was blasting rockets across the screens of every television station in the nation, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was run by a real film buff. As the story goes, the late Kim Jong-Il was a huge film fan and even commissioned a few movies of his own, including a bonkers Godzilla rip-off. As detailed in a write-up on Incluvie, the film’s backstory is actually a lot more fascinating than the film itself, involving a tale of international espionage, kidnapping, and one of the greatest real-life Bond villains in history.
In modern cinema, South Korean films have dominated the marketplace, with Bong June-Ho even winning the best picture in 2020 for the hit film Parasite. Train to Busan, Squid Game, and a host of other South Korean cinema have inspired a wave of film fans to venture into international markets for their next viewing experience. Such was the case back in the 1980s when Kim Jong-Il attempted to create his own brand of North Korean films, beginning with a knock-off Godzilla project.
Kim Jong-Il was the father of current DPRK leader Kim Jong Un, and the creative mind behind 1984’s Pulgasari, a film better known as North Korea’s Godzilla. Pulgasari follows a group of peasants in rebellion against their cruel monarchy. Pushed to their limits, the peasants release a monster figurine called Pulgasari (which translates to Impossible-to-Kill) that becomes a giant monster, destroying everything in its path.
The film is based on the folktale of Pulgasari which warns against material greed. In this instance, the irony of an evil governing force driving its citizens into a rebellion seemed completely lost on the reviled dictator, who kidnapped and enslaved the director in order to have the film made. Kim Jong-Il loved cinema from across the world, amassing a vast library of films such as Godzilla and James Bond films, that led to the pursuit of film production, like some kind of coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs Stephen Spielberg.
After attempting to shoot with a series of local crews, Kim Jong-Il resolved that only one man could create the Godzilla film of his dreams, a famed South Korean director named Shin Sang-ok. In order to bring Sang-ok to the heavily guarded country, Kim Jong-Il instituted a plan to kidnap his wife, and use her as live bait in order to corner the director, chloroform him, and drag him unconsciously into the hermit kingdom. After imprisoning the filmmaker for over four years, the dictator finally felt that he had broken Sang-ok’s spirit enough to trust him with a camera, and the film began production.
In a highly dangerous operation that makes the Rust film look like a day at the park, Kim Jong-Il proceeded to kidnap and enslave a team of Japanese visual effects artists to edit the Godzilla rip-off into its final product. After releasing the film to North Korean audiences, Kim Jong-Il attempted to market the film to foreign nations, using an Austrian distributor. Luckily for Shin Sang-ok and his wife, they were sent to Europe to meet with the distribution team and were able to ultimately escape to freedom once free from the grasp of a North Korean guard.
Pulgasari was subsequently pulled from theaters and was unable to be viewed until very recently, becoming a cult hit online with history buffs and film fans alike. The film itself is known to be a bit underwhelming, and even a little boring, but the tale of Kim Jong-Il’s dollar-store Godzilla film is one for the ages, reminding us all that pressure makes diamonds, and threats of physical violence make acclaimed directors want to get away from you as soon as humanly possible.