‘Great Mother’ Revealed to the World

A close reading of ‘The Mother of Great Military-First Chosun’, the new documentary film about Kim Jong Eun’s deceased mother Koh Young Hee, reveals that the North Korean authorities are planning to elevate her to the same propaganda pantheon as Kang Ban Seok (Kim Il Sung’s mother) and Kim Jong Suk (Kim Jong Il’s mother), creating a triumvirate of “strong women” buttressing the legitimacy of the Mt. Baekdu line.

The propaganda documentary film, 85 minutes in length, was made by an arm of the Chosun Workers Party Central Committee last year and then premiered for high-ranking cadres in May. In the process, a Japanese NGO called RENK (Rescue the North Korean People, Urgent Action Network) obtained a copy and passed it on to Daily NK.

It is comprised of videos and photos of Koh mixed in with footage of natural scenes and overlain with a number of songs. Koh can be seen accompanying Kim Jong Il on various onsite guidance visits, playing the role of queen to Kim Jong Il’s king. A narrator frequently alludes to the words of Kim Jong Il in describing Koh’s virtues.

Notably, at one point the two visit North Hamkyung Province to see ‘historical sites’ related to Kim Jong Suk in Hoiryeong. There, the narrator asserts that Koh Young Hee is carrying on the tradition of Kang Ban Seok and Kim Jong Suk.

In the latter half of the film there is also a scene in which Koh gives an address at her 50th birthday event in 2001, marking the first time that her voice has been heard publicly.

She says, “The General said to me once, ‘You must tell the people. Tell them how hard these past seven years (1994-2001) have been for me’. I have seen personally the unmatchable General’s difficult 7 years.”

Clearly, the objective of the documentary film is to generate the idolization of Kim Jong Eun through that of Koh. However, her real name never appears once in the film. Instead phrases like, ‘Mother of Chosun’ and ‘Great Mother’ are used. It appears that the authorities are neither willing nor able to reveal her name or personal details at this stage.

Professor Lee Young Hwa of Kansai University, who heads RENK, explained on this point, “Straight after Kim Jong Il’s death, the group dealing with Kim Jong Eun’s succession urgently designated Koh Young Hee’s name and personal information as state secrets, stating that anyone who violates the rules will be harshly punished.”

“At the premier targeting top cadres, the moderator used the name Lee Eun Mi to refer to the main character in the film, and did not say a word about her personal history.”