WARNING: Massive spoilers ahead – if you haven’t seen the movie and want to be surprised, go check out some beaches.
So ‘The Interview’ went live online on Christmas Day 2014 and in some movie theaters – even with all the hype about the movie, you probably left the theater wanting to have some questions answered. As a travel blogger who spent five years in Korea (and with a wife that’s fluent in Korean), I hope these help you enjoy the movie a bit more.
Note that I’ve intentionally avoided addressing the believability of the premise or the reality of the action. It’s a comedy, after all, and a pretty unbelievable one at that.
How do you properly pronounce Kim Jong-eun’s name?
First off, it’s not un or oon – the last character in his name is 은, which is transliterated as ‘eun’. It’s properly pronounced about halfway between ‘oon’ and ‘on’. It’s spelled as Kim Jong-un in the media (and Wikipedia), but ‘eun’ is technically correct.
What’s the family tree here?
The short version: Kim Il-sung (Kim Jong-eun’s grandfather, and literally ‘become the sun’) was appointed as chairman of the North Korean branch of the Korean Communist Party in December 1945. By 1949, he had consolidated his leadership over the entire peninsula, and the ‘cult of personality’ behind the then-‘Great-Leader’ had began to coalesce. From then until his death in July 1994, his dictatorship laid the foundation of the North Korea we know today.
Il-sung’s son, Kim Jong-il (Kim Jong-eun’s father) was first tapped for leadership in 1980, officially becoming the heir apparent. Jong-il later became the chairman of the National Defense Commission (which controls the army and military power of the state) in 1991. After his father’s death, it took Jong-il more than three years to consolidate his power, and was ‘re-elected’ to the chairman’s post in 1998. By this point, Kim Il-sung was regarded as ‘the Eternal President’ Throughout his reign, the ‘Dear Leader’ found his way onto the world scene in his own distinctive way. He died in 2011, although Kim Jong-eun became ‘the Great Successor’ and heir apparent in 2010.
Jong-eun consolidated power in 2012, and the propaganda machine began working overtime to legitimize his rule. He was called “great successor to the revolutionary cause of Juche”, an “outstanding leader of the party, army and people”, and “respected comrade who is identical to Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il”.
Where do those coordinates mentioned take you?
Score one for the moviemakers for accuracy! The coordinates given about 15 minutes into the movie are 40.1326 latitude and 123.9889 longitude, or near the Chinese – North Korean border:
It’s roughly 50 kilometers west of Dandong, a border town on the Chinese side of the Yalu River. As explained in this post about GPS coordinates, using four decimal places narrows the meeting place down to about an 8-10 meter area – about the size of that mountain top they met on.
While I’m sure they could rig a device to show the GPS coordinates mentioned on the above device, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn they were able to film in this area of China.
How’s the Korean / translation to English in the movie?
By my ear – and my wife’s ear – pretty good. Bear in mind she’s a professional Korean-to-English translator, and there were several times where we paused and went back to hear something again. To be clear, neither of us are experts on North Korean, which after 60+ years of being separate from South Korean borders on being a different dialect.
It’s the last third of the movie where the Korean sounds more South Korean than North Korean. Here, it’s the sound of the words that’s more South Korean – and I doubt there’s many people in the free world able to help a Hollywood actor / actress sound more North Korean…
On a related note, what’s the Korean on the helicopter mean?
There’s a few sections of yellow text on the drab-green helicopter when our fearless producer meets the North Koreans for the first time. One section right next to the door says 주위 비행중 문열지 미시오 (Warning: Don’t open the door during flight), while a second, larger section says 모든 미국인들을 죽이자. (Let’s kill all the Americans). A third just left of the door says 주위 비행중 문열지 마시오. 이륙시 문 잠그시요 (Warning: Don’t open the door during flight, [and] Lock the door during landing), while a fourth section on the tail says 미국인들은 다 죽었어이 한다 (We want all Americans dead).
Do North Koreans really believe Kim Jong-eun doesn’t pee and poo?
Actually, that was taken from Kim Jong-il’s official state-issued North Korea biography, which states that as a ‘fact’. Other propaganda notes that Kim Jong-il shot a 38 under par and got 11 holes-in-one on his first round of golf, that he had the idea for the hamburger, and otherwise started fashion trends.
Compared to his father and grand-father, Kim Jong-eun’s cult of personality is far less distinctive, yet somehow more absurd. According to the propaganda machine, Jong-eun learned how to drive at the age of 3, for example, and he was promoted to General with no previous military experience just before his succession. His resemblance to his grandfather is emphasized in some of the propaganda posters.
How likely am I to see a fake supermarket in North Korea?
Pretty unlikely, though I’ll admit I’m not speaking from a first-hand perspective. Tours of North Korea are tightly controlled – unless and until the regime falls, the only side of North Korea you’ll see is the side they want you to see. In the odd chance you see past the facades, you wouldn’t be able to explore it.
What’s all the Korean in the credits?
A number of different slogans found in North Korean propaganda. There’s typically a main slogan, repeated over and over again – a couple of examples:
3대혁명, or the Three Revolutions of (North) Korean Socialism: ideology, technology and culture.
롱구를 대중화하자! (Let’s make basketball popular!) – a quick trivia note: 롱구 is how it’s spelled in North Korea, while South Korea spells 농구. For people that can’t read Korean, it’s ‘rong-gu’ vs. ‘nong-gu’.
As a comedy, it’s raunchy, a little gory, and pretty funny – The Hangover was the first movie that came to mind as a comparison. It comes into its own in the second half, though some of the twists are fairly predictable. If you’ve made it this far, you know why the movie would have been so offensive to Kim Jong-eun and North Korea in general. It’s worth the watch, whether you opt to stream it legally, find a torrented copy, or wait to pick up a DVD.
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