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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