[imText1]A memoir of late film director Shin Sang Ok titled, “I was a film” (Randomhouse) was published. Shin Sang Ok had lived quite the life being kidnapped to North Korea with his wife Choi Eun Hee – the most famous South Korean actress of the 1970s – and later escaping.
As this book was written by Director Shin himself as an autobiography, he had finished writing in 2001 but the publication was delayed as he passed away due to the worsening of his illness. Only after a year had passed did his wife Choi Eun Hee organize the late director’s manuscript and laid it out for the world.
In the book remains the untouched film life of Director Shin that starts from his entrance into the film industry and glory days to his kidnapping and escape from North Korea and finally his advancement into Hollywood.
Shin captured the reader’s attention as he recounted various episodes of his times in North Korea after his kidnapping in 1978. He was captured this very year after inquiring about the whereabouts of his wife Choi Eun Hee who had been kidnapped to North Korea first.
One incident when he was shooting his second film, “Tale of an Escape” in North Korea. Director Shin needed a scene with a train explosion so he submitted a proposal to Kim Jong Il. He writes, “Thinking I had nothing to lose, I said I wanted to explode a real train to enhance the movie’s special effects. In response, the approval came immediately.” He recalls, “This is only possible in North Korea. It’s the first time I experienced a film shoot so spectacular.”
Such consideration was only possible because Kim Jong Il was a crazed movie fanatic. Shin claims he was quite surprised to see that there was about 15,000 films from around the world stored in a movie storage area that is pretty much Kim Jong Il’s personal property.
Shin said, “Kim Jong Il uses films for a political agenda but is also enthralled by the desire to veer off from conventional mannerisms to create a further international film of higher quality. One way to overcome such agony and dilemma was to kidnap us two.”
To Kim Jong Il, Shin even made quite dangerous remarks such as advising him to “Free oneself from worshiping individuals.” Shin claimed that the obstacle to advancing North Korean films was “Kim Il Sung instruction” and said “if [Kim Jong Il] rid the practice of worshiping individuals, the film industry will revive and the country itself will also advance.”
He also said that for the first time in a North Korean film, he inserted a caption to introduce the cast and staff and in place of the Kim Il Sung instruction, he inserted a passage from the introduction to “Les Miserables”. He claims he did not bind himself to the instruction of Kim Jong Il.
In 1983, Kim Jong Il established a film production company named “Shin Film” with Director Shin’s name. Shin says, “What if Kim Jong Il required me to make a political propaganda film for idolatry? What would I have done? In that sense, I have a unique sentiment towards Kim Jong Il.”
The book also mentions an episode about when Shin was in North Korea remembering a scene from a movie he directed while he was in South Korea. He thought that this scene was a sight for sore eyes as he secretly wrote to his brother in South Korea and asked him to burn the original copy.
In the preface he self evaluates himself saying, “With the tragic reality that not many veteran actors remain, I felt that someone needed to start archiving. Just like the title, the highs and lows of life started to cross and I lived a path that was even more dramatic than the movies I directed.”