Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Juche Strong: How the Kim Dynasty Maintains Absolute Power
the North Korean regime is really responsible for the Sony hack, the scariest
thing about the whole fiasco is that it proves conclusively they understand us
far better than we understand them. Kim Jong-un’s hackers (and their over-the-top
moralizing and awkward google-translate syntax sound pretty DPRK) knew
precisely what e-mails to leak in order to isolate Sony from the rest of
Hollywood. They were the victims in all this, but a few stupid Obama jokes had
Amy Pascal re-cast as the villain. Sony was played perfectly by someone who
totally anticipated the western media’s Pavlovian responses. In contrast, we
have no idea why such a silly film so enraged the Kim regime or how it
continues to maintain an iron-fisted hold on the beleaguered country. Rob Montz’s
short documentary Juche Strong helps
explain why. After screening at a number of festivals, including the Korean
American Film Festival in New York, Juche
Strong is now available for online viewing.
Juche Strong essentially starts
with the assumption everyone understands the human rights situation in North
Korean is an appalling horror show. For those who need back-up on that, check
out Andrzej Fidyk’s Yodok Stories on
Snagfilms, Red Chapel streaming on
Netflix, Kimjongilia on DVD, and Frontline’s The Secret State of North Korea on
the PBS website. Yes, according to Frontline,
one out of every one hundred North Koreans is a political prisoner.
However, widespread famines have been an even more pressing issue for most of
the Kims’ long suffering subjects. Montz and his expert commentators directly
challenge the notion that eventually things will get so bad within the pariah state
the people will rise up and topple the regime, arguing if they haven’t by now,
they simply aren’t going to.
explain their longevity, Montz and company analyze the regime’s somewhat
deliberately vague Juche ideology. Unlike Soviet and Maoist forms of Communism,
the Kim dynasty never tried to remake North Koreans into a new Marxist man.
Instead, they coopted traditional notions of family, nationalism, and Korean
monarchy, grafting them onto a Socialist framework. There are no succession
battles, because the Kim’s are literally the royal family. No matter how bad
conditions get, the Orwellian propaganda constantly blames America and South
Juche Strong is massively
depressing and profoundly scary, but anyone concerned about North Korea (which
should be just about every American in the wake of the Sony debacle) should
watch it. It is only eighteen minutes and change, but it is unusually rigorous
and illuminating. However, it does not explain why Kim Jong-un let loose the
Grinches on The Interview, whereas
his father let the Team America World
Police run its course without incident (of course, Kim Jong-il liked to
look at things).
Frontline’s North Korea report
might have some answers. Despite Juche
Strong’s unremittingly grim appraisal, Secret
State writer-director-producer James Jones suggests small but significant
currents of dissent are growing in corners of the DPRK. There is also reason to
suspect the notion Kim Jong-un may not have earned his dictatorial spurs has
some currency within the military and apparatchiks’ ranks. Perhaps most telling
have been his frequent purges, including his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, the former
“regent” (again a term associated with royalty). According to North Korean legal
practice, entire biological families are purged for two generations in both
directions. Were the rules to be consistently applied, Kim Jong-un should have
purged himself as well. Hypocrisy tends to stick out.
real shame of The Interview is it
probably self-censored itself to such a degree, it never paints a remotely
accurate portrait of North Korea’s overwhelming oppression. Considering what
happened, what did watering down reality gain them? Granted, it might have put
a damper on the comedy, but it would have earned them points for edginess and
truth-telling. Regardless, Juche Strong,
Yodok Stories, Kimjongilia, Red Chapel, and The Secret State of North Korea are all strongly recommended.
Together, they provide a deeper, more insightful understanding of perhaps the
world’s most repressive totalitarian state.
Labels: Documentary, North Korea