Justin McCurry wrote in The Observer: He has an expensive taste in cognac, an obsession with films and seeks comfort in the company of his Pleasure Brigade, but as he demonstrated” many times, Kim Jong Il still lives for the politics of brinkmanship” and in the process has become “one of the globe's most recognisable leaders... in his trademark Mao suit and oversized Elvis sunglasses, applauding his million-man army, the fourth biggest in the world. [Source: Justin McCurry, The Observer, The Guardian, July 9, 2006]

“As hermit-in-chief of the Hermit Kingdom, what little is known about Kim's personality has been pieced together from a combination of official propaganda and testimony from defectors and the exclusive group of outsiders who have spent time in his company. Had Kim not been groomed to succeed his father as ruler of North Korea, he might well have ended up making movies. Indeed, it is his obsession with films and his love of good food that have given us the most satisfying snippets of life chez Kim.

“Kenji Fujimoto, a Japanese sushi chef employed by Kim in 1982, wrote of the leader's violent temper and of banquets lasting four days, at which he would order women belonging to his private entertainment detail (the Pleasure Brigade) to dance naked. Fujimoto managed to escape by claiming he needed to return to Japan to buy prized sea urchins; he now wears a disguise because he is convinced Kim's agents are out to kill him.”

Kim has a “gargantuan” appetite for food, drink and women. A habitual imbiber, he reportedly spends more than US$650,000 a year on Hennessy VSOP cognac (the average annual North Korean wage is US$900).He once knocked back 10 glasses of wine during a landmark meeting with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung in 2000.

“When he isn't delving into a vast library of films, reputed to number around 20,000, Kim's home entertainment is provided by the Pleasure Brigade, handpicked young women, some from overseas. He is petrified of flying, preferring to travel to Russia and China on his private train, although earlier this year he is thought to have taken his one and only recorded flight, from Pyongyang to Shanghai.

“The idolatry surrounding Kim has produced some extraordinary claims. According to the propaganda, not only is he an expert horseman, but he has a photographic memory and superhuman powers of recall, and shot 11 holes in one during his first-ever round of golf. But Kim has cleaned up his act in one respect: the 64-year-old gave up smoking in 2003 and promptly encouraged his people to do likewise. Smokers, he pronounced, are one of the 'three main fools of the 21st century', along with people ignorant about music and computers.

Kim Jong Il's Appearance and Height

Kim Jong Il wore Mao suits and his trademark zip-front blue and gray jump-suit-style uniforms that looked a bit like something a gas station attendant would wear. He was also quite chubby and had a droopy lower lip. His a beer belly that clearly protruded from his jump suits. After his stroke in 2008, he walked in a stiff, shuffling manner.

Associated Press reported: “Kim cut a distinctive, if oft-ridiculed, figure. Short and pudgy at 5-foot-3, he wore platform shoes and sported a permed bouffant. His trademark attire of jumpsuits and sunglasses was mocked in such films as "Team America: World Police," a movie populated by puppets that was released in 2004.” [Source: Associated Press, December 19, 2011]

Some have said that Kim is only five fet tall and that his hair at least two extra inches and his platform shoes, three inches more. When he Il met Madeline Albright, the short, pudgy former U.S. Secretary of State, they stood eye to eye. To make up for his short stature Kim Il Jong wore platform shoes and has hair styled into a poofy perm.. When the kidnapped South Korean acctress Choi Eun Hee first met Kim he reportedly said, "Well Madame Choi, what do you think of my physique?...Small as a midget's dropping aren't I?"

Kim Jong Il's Hair Style

"He may be the Dear Leader, but he is not such a tall man," said Nam Sung Wook, professor of North Koreanology at Seoul's Korea University, told the Washington Post. "So he needs to look bigger, look greater, so the people in North Korea and the world will know his true stature. He does that with the hair. You know...he perms it. You must know those curls are not natural. He's a Korean; he has straight hair like most all of us. If he didn't perm it, that hair would be all flat over his forehead." [Source: Anthony Faiola, Washington Post, May 2, 2004]

Anthony Faiola wrote in the Washington Post: “To be sure, it is thought that Kim was not born with curly hair. His big-hair bang began in the 1980s as the Dear Leader was being groomed for the throne by his father, Kim Il Sung...Shin Ju Hyun, co-author of the book "Funny Kim Jong Il," says his research showed that traditional North Korean society was initially shocked by "the Kim-do". Shin and others say the high hair is meant to give Kim the larger-than-life, movie-star quality befitting a leader who North Koreans are taught was born on a mountaintop, his arrival from the heavens heralded by a double rainbow. "Kim Jong Il wanted to prove that his rule would be more fresh and Westernized than that of his father with that new hairstyle," Shin says.

“Kim once lobbed a test missile over Japan in 1998. But he nevertheless has become an underground fashion icon in Tokyo's teenage subculture. Various Web sites in Japan and around the world celebrate Kim's hair. In specialty stores selling North Korean memorabilia, lapel pins of Kim Jong Il spirited out of North Korea outsell those of Kim Il Sung. Especially sought after are the pins showing an extra-poofy Kim Jong Il, which sell for more than US$80 each. A comic book about Kim, with close-ups of him and his ever-expanding hair, has sold more than 500,000 copies in Japan. In its sequel, Kim is a tights-wearing, big-haired "Superman of Darkness."”

Theories on why Kim Jong Il wears his hair the way he does abound. “ "It is possible that [Kim] wants to express his romantic inner self by pursuing such a bizarre hairstyle," said Jeong Yeon Ah, one of South Korea's top image consultants, who formerly advised Nobel Peace Prize winner and former South Korean President Kim Dae Jung on his style. "He seems to believe that it is the best style for him regardless of what others might think." His style suggests "he just ignores other people's thoughts or opinions," Jeong said. "Moreover, by always wearing a soldier uniform, he implies that communism still remains strong in this world and makes fun of the capitalistic world. In that sense, I can say that he remains a dictator of image."

Big Deal Made of Kim Jong Il's Bald Spot

Anthony Faiola wrote in the Washington Post: Kim Jong Il's surprise summit in China in April 2004 “took the top off at least one of the Pyongyang government's best-kept secrets: The Dear Leader is losing his famed big hair. The familiar profile of Kim, 62, has long been characterized by his luxuriously piled bouffant. But in a photograph taken during his trip to Beijing Kim turned his back to the cameras in a fateful moment to embrace Chinese leaders. Then, boom, it came into focus — the shiny patches of the Dear Scalp glistening between strategically combed curls. [Source: Anthony Faiola, Washington Post, May 2, 2004]

“That this image of Kim's thinning hair — quickly scooped up by international media outlets — got past Chinese censors appeared to be a humorous coincidence at the least. At the most, it showed a Chinese lack of sensitivity to the role of Kim's hair in North Korea's body politic. For any another totalitarian leader, a collapsing coiffure might raise nary an eyebrow. Who would have noticed if Pol Pot or Augusto Pinochet needed Rogaine? But Kim's mighty mane, teased into a mushroom cloud and appearing capable of doing equal damage, has become the defining symbol of his dictatorial style. Here is a despot who has ruled with not only an iron fist but dynamic hair.

“Living up to the more than 1,000 lofty titles bestowed on Kim by his subjects — including "Guardian of Our Planet" — has taken a lot of hair spray over the years. So not surprisingly, those rare shots of Kim's thinning locks in China landed in newspapers and television stations across Asia, especially in South Korea and Japan, where Kim's hair has become an object of obsession in certain circles.

“In the search for greater meaning in Kim's hair are people such as Pyong Jin Il, editor of the Korea Report and an unofficial expert on the Dear Leader's locks. Pyong has spent years poring over photos of Kim and insists he first noticed those thinning tresses one or two years ago. For the past several years, however, Kim's hair has been soaring to greater heights, Pyong says. Reportedly suffering from heart problems, Kim is looking for ways, Pyong surmises, to make himself look more robust through hair — or now, like many an older man, to cover up the lack of it. "Only in these past four to five years has he come to show a strong tendency to ... have his hair look all fluffy and balloonish," Pyong said. "Every time he disappears for a long period of time — it is said that he is sick — he reappears and his wrinkles stand out and his hair is thinner. That makes him pull his hair up higher and higher."

Kim Jong Il's Character and Personality

Choi Eun Hee and Sang Ok — the actress and movie directed kidnapped under Kim Jong Il’s orders in 1978 — described Kim as a "cranky, unpredictable, self-righteous , reckless, narrow-minded, cold-hearted, suspicious, aggressive and excessive." They also said he had "intelligence, good judgement, leadership, audacity, fast-decision-making, and driving power." On top of this, they said, he was a man of action well-versed in world affairs. Other have said he likes to tell stories.

Italian businessman Carlo Baeli, whose company sold North Korea US$120 million of gold and marble mining equipment, told the New York Times that Kim was a "gentle soul, solicitous to his guests, curious about business and politics and eager to have good relations with he United States." Describing a five-hour dinner with Kim aboard a yacht in 1992, Baeili said, "The thing that struck me the most about him was his simplicity. He was very simple in how he met me, simple through the meal we had, simple when he said goodbye. He was very versatile and has a good sense of humor. Once the world meets the man, they'll realize that he's not the man described up to now."

There are many stories about Kim Jong Il’s indulgences and weird habits. There is no doubt some truth to these stories but they also have tended overshadow his true character. One thing that separates from Kim Jong Il from other dictators his lack of links with violence. Unlike say, Saddam Hussein, he is never known to have picked up a weapon or personably hurt anyone.

“Bradley K. Martin, author “Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty”, described Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in exhaustive detail, backed by many first-person accounts. “There might be two sides to the story,” he wrote. Kim Il Sung possessed “considerable personal charm that only increased with age and experience.” The same goes for his son: “I would describe him as an often insensitive and brutal despot who had another side that was generous and — increasingly as he matured — charming.”

'Pleasure Brigade' Defector Sheds Light on Life of Kim Jong il

An account published online by a young woman who said she was a member of Kim Jong Il Pleasure Brigade revealed a wealth of information and details about the Dear Leader’s lifestyle and character, including that he could be sentimental when drunk, and even shed tears. Sunny Lee wrote in The National: “His favourite delicacy contains the reproductive organ of sharks. He has a number of private residences around the capital city, some equipped with a 50-metre-long underground swimming pool. Mr Kim is known to be irascible towards his aides, but is surprisingly caring towards his private female attendants. He likes listening to Russian and Japanese music, but he is not a very good singer. He is good at hunting and often cooks the pheasants that he shoots. [Source: Sunny Lee, The National, January 28, 2010]

“Mi Hyang, who goes only by her first name, served in one of Mr Kim's Pleasure Brigades for two years before fleeing to the South and defecting after her family was accused of treason, for reasons not yet revealed. She now resides in Seoul. The fate of her family has not been publicly disclosed. Her story was published on the well-known blog Nambuk Story, which literally means "the story of North and South Korea", in the form of an interview with the blog's owner, Joo Sung-ha, a North Korean who defected.

“"When I first met Kim Jong Il, he looked so normal … like a next-door neighbour. He has many brown spots on his face. His teeth were yellowish. My previous fancy about the great leader was shattered at that very moment," Mi Hyang says in the interview. "But he was very considerate towards me." Stories about life in North Korea by defectors are often published in the South, but Mi Hyang's one is unusual in that it deals directly and intimately with the life of Mr Kim. Few people have access to the leader.

“Analysts say the account is a valuable source of information on Mr Kim. "I believe it's quite credible. There are also many new things about Kim Jong Il in her story that were not previously known," said Kim Sung-min, a former propaganda officer for the North Korean army and now the head of the Seoul-based Radio Free North Korea. The existence of Mr Kim's harems has long been known by South Korea's intelligence community.

Madeline Albright on Kim Jong Il

Albright called Kim Jong Il “a very good listener,” “decisive and practical,” and “jovial, forthcoming and interested and knowledgeable.” Her delegation spent 12 hours with Kim Jong Il, half of the time in negotiations and the other half at dinners and ceremonial functions. He was adept at talking about meaty foreign policy issues as he was about NBA basketball and the Academy Awards. Instead of handing off technical questions of missiles and weapons to his aides he answered them himself. Albright gave Kim Jong Il a regulation NBA basketball signed by Michael Jordan. At one dinner, her delegation was served shark fin soup in coconut shells, suckling pig and mung bean pancakes. She sat with Kim Jong Il at mass games sport spectacle in which among other things an image of missile being fired was made by people in the seats with cards.

Peter Maass wrote in the New York Times Magazine: “In October 2000, an unprecedented visit to North Korea by an American delegation led by Secretary of State Albright. This was in the waning days of the Clinton administration, before the 1994 nuclear agreement fell apart, and Albright wanted to sound out Kim on a plan for ending his missile-production program; Kim, in return, wanted Clinton to visit Pyongyang. [Source: Peter Maass, New York Times Magazine, October 19, 2003]

“The Americans were in for some surprises. The North Koreans had promised that Albright would see Kim, but when she arrived in Pyongyang, her schedule did not include a meeting with him. Her delegation was whisked into the city in the early morning, to the guest house where they would stay, and shortly afterward they were taken on a tour that many foreign visitors go through in Pyongyang, highlighted — that may not be the right word — by a visit to the tomb of Kim Il Sung.

“At lunch, Albright was abruptly told she would meet Kim in the afternoon. The delegation was driven to his guest house, and as Albright stood in front of a huge mural depicting a storm at sea, Kim walked in, greeting her with both hands extended forward. They were about the same height, Albright in her heels and Kim in his platform shoes. He poured on the charm. Kim asked Albright if she had seen any recent films, and when she replied ''Gladiator,'' Kim said he had seen ''Amistad,'' which he described as ''very sad.'' He proudly told Wendy Sherman, who was in Pyongyang as special adviser to Clinton on North Korea: ''I own all the Academy Award movies. I've watched them all.''

“Smart as he is, Kim lives in a different world and doesn't always realize it. One evening, the Albright delegation was shepherded into a stadium in Pyongyang, where they were seated next to Kim. For the next two hours the Americans were treated to a ''mass game'' — a fantasia of synchronized gymnastics on the stadium floor and card-turning displays on the opposite side of the stadium.... One card montage performed for Albright showed a North Korean missile being launched into the sky. It was an odd display for Americans who were negotiating a cessation of missile production and research. But Kim, ever the showman, turned to Albright on his right and said, ''That was our first missile launch and our last.'' To make sure his message got through, he turned to Sherman on his left and repeated his statement. The meaning was clear: the missile program can be stopped if you offer us a new relationship. ''This was totally orchestrated, the cards and turning to us,'' Sherman said when I spoke with her at the Washington office of the Albright Group, a consulting firm. ''For all I know, that was the purpose of taking us to the stadium.''

“Albright and Sherman returned to Washington convinced that Kim Jong Il's stated intentions should be put to the test: he should be offered a new relationship with the U.S. government, including a visit by Clinton to North Korea, if he was willing to submit to a verifiable agreement on halting missile research, production, deployment and exports. This was a position that critics would certainly attack as appeasement, but for Albright and Sherman, it was a price worth paying to end the North Korean missile threat.

“''I have no illusions about Kim,'' Sherman said. ''He's charming but totally controlling. He is a leader who has left his people with no freedom, no choices, no food, no future. People are executed. There are labor camps. But the decision we have to make is whether to try to deal with him to open the country so that the people of North Korea do have freedom, do have choices, do have food. Do I think it would be preferable to not deal with him? Yes, but the consequences are horrible, so you have to deal with him.''

“The clock ran out. There wasn't enough time before Clinton left office to negotiate the agreements that would need to be in place before Air Force One could take off for North Korea. The momentum halted with the advent of the Bush administration. But now, with the second round of six-party talks nearing, the Americans are trying to figure out once again whether and how to deal with Kim.

Hwang Jang Yop on Kim Jong Il

Peter Maass wrote in the New York Times Magazine: “I decided to seek out a man who knows Kim Jong Il better than anyone else outside North Korea:Hwang Jang Yop. Hwang was the Karl Rove of North Korea for more than three decades....Hwang learned what Kim Jong Il wants, what he can do and what he will not do. [Source: Peter Maass, New York Times Magazine, October 19, 2003]

“''If I were to go into details, it would take many days,'' he said. ''As a politician or leader who can work for the development of the state and the happiness of the people, he is an F student, a dropout. But as a dictator he has an excellent ability. He can organize people so that they can't move, can't do anything, and he can keep them under his ideology. As far as I know, the present North Korean dictatorial system is the most precise and thorough in history.''

“Hwang says.. Kim has shown no interest in his people's material well-being, and given the choice between regime survival and national prosperity, it's pretty clear which he would prefer. A few years ago, Kim began letting South Koreans visit the north, and this was seen as a relaxation of the isolation of his information-starved subjects. But the tourists, whose visits provide much-needed hard currency to the regime, are shepherded in quarantinelike conditions that make them virtual prisoners; contact with ordinary North Koreans is nil. Hwang says outsiders are naive to believe that Kim is ready to open up his country.

“Hwang's synopsis of Kim's dictatorship reminded me of a passage from his memoir. He wrote about a 1992 banquet that Kim presided over in Pyongyang; a dance troupe provided lavishly choreographed entertainment. The performance ''was enough to elicit disgust when seen through the eyes of people with healthy minds,'' Hwang wrote, recalling that he nonetheless applauded vigorously for the entertainers. A professor who was next to him was flummoxed. “''Are you clapping because you really enjoy the performance?'' the professor asked. ''It doesn't matter,'' Hwang replied. ''Just clap like mad. It's an order.''

Kim Jong-il’s Fears and ‘Stoning Nightmares'

Leo Lewis wrote in The Times: Kim Jong Il “travels in convoys of bulletproof cars with an army of bodyguards. He lives in camouflaged palaces and exhibits an obsessive fear of US spy satellites. [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, July 8, 2004]

Kim told a visiting South Korean businessman he had nightmares of being stoned by angry mobs in his home country. AFP reported: “Kim told the late founder of the Hyundai group, Chung Ju-Yung, of having a dream that he was being stoned "first by Americans, second by South Koreans and finally by North Koreans", said Chung's son, Grand National Party lawmaker Chung Mong-Joon. "I think Kim wanted to express that he was well aware of the desperate reality of North Korea," the younger Chung said in the interview with MBC TV. He said he had heard the story from his father, who died in 2001. [Source: AFP, March 27, 2011]

“The late South Korean business tycoon, who spearheaded major inter-Korea economic co-operation projects, visited Pyongyang several times from 1998 to 2000 to meet Kim. In one of the meetings, Kim told Chung he was "well aware" that most people in the communist state disliked him, despite pervasive propaganda campaigns that idolise the ruling Kim family, according to Chung's son.

Kim Jong Il’s Temper and Sense of Humor

Mr Fujimoto, Kim Jong Il’s sushi chef and auth of the book “The Secret Life of Kim Jong Il, Leo Lewis wrote in The Times, “ claims to have seen Mr Kim enraged three or four times and drops into a fearsome impersonation of the dictator to describe these explosions. “One thing I vividly remember is when he saw domestic news on TV. There was a report which concerned something he didn’t know about. “He lost his temper, called the TV station and shouted, ‘What was that news? Idiot! Why was it not reported to me first?’ I have no doubt the person in charge of that news was later taken out to an ‘educational farm’”[Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, July 8, 2004]

Mr Fujimoto says that the Dear Leader regularly demonstrated a taste for cruel jokes. Politics and Marxist ideology hardly ever came up in conversation. “He was mischievous and took real pleasure in playing practical jokes. For instance, before one of our jet-ski races, he ordered one jet-ski to be filled up with only enough petrol for ten minutes. When he and his aides all went jet-skiing together, all but one came back to shore, with the other poor guy left floating in the middle of the ocean.”

“Mr Fujimoto believes that his relationship with the Dear Leader was unique in one other respect: he was granted permission to win at any sports they played together, an extraordinary rarity in a regime where many of the country’s athletic records are held in Mr Kim’s name. “I have beaten Kim Jong Il in various games. I was the only person who kept winning in competitions with him,” he said. “The other aides couldn’t even think of defeating the great leader. He told me to be serious in every competition between us, so I was serious and sometimes defeated him.”

“Mr Fujimoto judges that, despite Mr Kim’s enforced deification among North Koreans, the dictator does not relish obsequiousness. He believes, for example, that the true extent of the food shortages that ravaged North Korea in the 1990s were deliberately concealed from Mr Kim himself. One of the most frequently repeated TV images of North Korean life is of small children performing amazing musical or gymnastic feats, each wearing the same improbably broad smiles. “Those smiles were not his instruction or order,” Mr Fujimoto said.

Is Kim Jong Il Crazy?

Bradley K. Martin wrote in the Los Angeles Times: Is Kim Jong Il a madman? I'm no doctor, but my short answer, based on having studied him for many years, is no. Though Kim is a despot, callous and sometimes brutal, he is not a genocidal maniac in the Hitler mold. [Source: Bradley K. Martin, Los Angeles Times, February 17, 2005

“Kim makes rational decisions to maintain his power. In 1993, famine forced his subjects to break many laws in order to survive. Instead of cracking down, he instructed security officials to be lenient and "avoid making internal enemies." Perhaps with that single stroke he reversed a process that could have led to popular uprisings and regime collapse.

“There does remain a lot of weirdness to explain. Kim was spoiled rotten as the ruler's eldest son, and some of his publicized behavior as an adult has been bizarre in the extreme. For example, he had a famous South Korean movie director and the director's actress wife kidnapped so that he could enlist them in a project to improve North Korean cinema.

“One bit of North Korean army lore has it that Kim, during the first nuclear crisis, vowed to his father that rather than lose a war he would "destroy the world." The suggestion is that he might be just crazy enough to bring on nuclear Armageddon. The counterargument is that disseminating such a scary image is intended to buck up his subjects' fighting spirit while persuading his enemies to appease him. In this argument Kim is crazy - like a fox.”

Kim Jong Il Tapes

When well-known South Korean actress Choi Eun Hee and her husband filmmaker Shin Sang Ok escaped from North Korea after had been taken there by force they carried with them secretly made recordings of private conversations with Kim Jong Il. Philip Gourevitch wrote in the Observer Magazine: “On the tapes, Kim readily acknowledges that North Korea's brand of socialism is flawed; that its technology is at a 'kindergarten level'; that its people lack enterprise and motivation because they are given none of the individual incentives that competition thrives on; and that anyone else in North Korea who said any of these things would be considered an ideological deviant, and purged. [Source: Philip Gourevitch, Observer Magazine, The Guardian, November 2, 2003]

On making the first tape, John Gorenfeld wrote for According to Shin’s memoir, Choi “had purchased a cassette recorder at a nearby market for the party inner circle, and smuggled it past the guards of Kim's lair. It lay in her handbag, and before it came to a stop, it taped 45 minutes of the dictator laying out his plans for the two: to serve as role models for his industry, and claim they came to the North for the creative freedom. To both Shin and Choi, the cassette of Kim's 45-minute talk was the key to a safe return home - but posed severe dangers as well. "It was a matter of life or death," Shin said later, in an interview with a South Korean magazine. They faced execution if the tape was found. In North Korea, there are strict rules against recording or filming the top leaders of the party.” [Source: John Gorenfeld,,The Guardian, April 4, 2003]

After a fresh batch of tapes was featured in the documentary film “The Lovers and the Despot.” Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The voice on the tape recording is squeaky and excitable, the speaker using such a strong dialect that it is difficult even for native Korean speakers to understand. What comes across is that the man speaking in a rapid clip is anxious about his own shortcomings, and his country’s. The speaker, in fact, is Kim Jong Il.Tape recordings of him from the 1980s are featured in a new [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, October 27, 2016]

“Shin feared rightfully that nobody would believe this outlandish story, so he and Choi secretly taped Kim Jong Il. With a microrecorder stashed in Choi’s purse, they captured Kim, who was then in charge of the film industry, pouring out his insecurities about how his country lagged behind capitalist rival South Korea.: The couple obtained the tape recorder in captivity and wanted to show they were being held against their will.

“This was kind of a wild story. My boss questioned me about how credible this was,” David Straub, a North Korea expert, who as a junior officer on the Korea desk first received the tapes, told the Los Angeles Times “Presumably, we had our Korean native speakers, psychological experts and linguists analyze the tapes, and the U.S. government presumably judged them to be credible.”

“It was the first time anyone in the U.S. government, as far as I know, had heard his [Kim’s] voice, besides a couple of words during a public address,” Straub told The Guardian. The tapes were invaluable for intelligence, he added. They were “a chance to asses how logical he was, an insight into his temperament. Kim Jong-il was sane and rational in his own way.” [Source: Chavala Madlena, The Guardian, October 3, 2016]

Kim Jong Il Comments on Himself and North Korea

The tapes reveal Kim Jong-il making fun of his short stature and complaining about how people in North Korea were 'close minded'. On the North Korean elite, Kim said, they are “stuck inside the fence [and that] they only see their own things and they are happy with it”. The recordings also show Dear Leader’s insecurities about the future.“If we don’t catch up in the next 10 years, then frankly speaking, our film industry will fall behind. We may become the last,” he says. [Source: Chavala Madlena, The Guardian, October 3, 2016]

And at one point he is heard praising the capitalist work ethic of the enemy: “Frankly speaking, the reason is that in the South, they work hard because they need to make money and feed themselves. It’s the result of blood, sweat and tears. But here, people are simply happy and comfortable … no one whips them onwards.”

Philip Gourevitch wrote in the Observer Magazine: “Still, Shin found Kim to be smart and funny. 'He listened to me because we were from South Korea,' Shin said. 'Even though we criticised some things, he wanted us to be honest. Others would have been killed for speaking so honestly.' While Kim regarded Hollywood fantasies as documentaries, he sometimes let on that he recognised North Korea to be a realm of make-believe. 'When Kim Jong Il let me meet my wife again after five years, there was a big party,' Shin said. 'An all-male band played, then a second, all-female band came out, and the women band members cheered him. Kim Jong Il patted my hand and said, "That's all fake." He knew the people didn't respect him.' Another time after a musical band struck up a tune and jumped up and down shouting, "Long Live the dear comrade leader," Kim said, "Mr. Shin , all that is bogus. It's all just pretense." [Source: Philip Gourevitch, Observer Magazine, The Guardian, November 2, 2003]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: Daily NK, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, The Telegraph, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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