Paul Fischer Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Paul Fischer

Paul Fischer

An interview with Paul Fischer

Paul Fischer discusses the background to his debut book - A Kim Jong-Il Production, and how the events in the book still resonate today in North Korea.

How did the almost unbelievable story of Shin and Choi's abduction first come to your attention?
I'd read about the bare bones of the story - "Kim Jong-Il is such a film nerd he once kidnapped his favorite filmmaker" - here and there, and always thought it would be a good concept for a play: dictator has hugely successful filmmaker brought to him, they both debate power and creation and so on. When I finally looked into it in more detail I found there was so much more to the story.

Why did Kim Jong-Il coordinate their kidnapping?
It was warped but simple logic: A) Our filmmakers aren't good enough, B) We can't send them abroad and no one will come here voluntarily, so C) I must force someone who's good enough to come here.

What sort of research were you able to do? Did you go to North Korea? I did, for a week or so, and to all the places the story takes place. I stayed in Shin and Choi's hotel room in Vienna and went to the studio they worked in for Kim. I tracked down their North Korean and South Korean films and read everything I could find – in English, Japanese, Korean – and interviewed any defectors who had any information.

Did Shin and Choi's time filmmaking there have a lasting effect on North Korean cinema?
More on society than the cinema, I think. Their films looked likely to revolutionize North Korean filmmaking in the long-term, but then they escaped and Kim Jong-Il went back to the safe, highly propagandistic material he had been making before. But short eight year window the people saw films that opened up a larger world for them, saw footage of the outside, saw stories different from the strict Party line; and that made them hungry for more.

What was the most surprising thing you found in your research?
I found Kim Jong-Il fascinating. It's hard for me to remember now that my image of him used to be the Team America, "Kim Jong-Il Looking At Things" pop culture caricature. I never expected the complicated, dangerous, Tony Soprano-meets-Sammy Glick figure I found.

North Korea seems to be in the news constantly these days. How does this story fit into the larger narrative of the country's history?
It's a stage. That's what we most forget about North Korea: it's a human tragedy on a national scale, concealed inside a performance of national unity and Cold War belligerence as complex and layered as any movie or Broadway show. A Kim Jong-Il Production is the story of how Kim Jong-Il created the illusion that still – flimsily – holds the country together today.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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Books by this Author

Books by Paul Fischer at BookBrowse
The Man Who Invented Motion Pictures jacket A Kim Jong-Il Production jacket
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Readalikes

All the books below are recommended as readalikes for Paul Fischer but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
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  • Katherine Boo

    Katherine Boo

    Katherine Boo is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a former reporter and editor for The Washington Post. Her reporting has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur "Genius" grant, and a National Magazine Award for ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    A Kim Jong-Il Production

    Try:
    Behind the Beautiful Forevers
    by Katherine Boo

  • Scott Carney

    Scott Carney

    Scott Carney is an investigative journalist and anthropologist, as well as the author of the New York Times bestseller What Doesn't Kill Us. He spent six years living in South Asia as a contributing editor for WIRED and ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    A Kim Jong-Il Production

    Try:
    The Vortex
    by Scott Carney

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