North Korean Defectors Are Really Excited About ‘The Interview’

The fictionalized assassination of Kim Jong Un has some North Korean defectors dreaming of regime change.

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LONDON — Two buffoonish journalists, played by Seth Rogen and James Franco, travel to North Korea to interview President Kim Jong Un. At the CIA’s request, they assassinate him by — according to leaked emails — blowing up his head with a tank shell. That is the premise of The Interview, an upcoming movie which has infuriated Pyongyang.

The 48-year-old North Korean defector Choe Jungha, on the other hand, is delighted. “I would definitely like to see that coming into reality,” he said in New Malden, a tired suburb of London that reportedly has the largest population of North Korean defectors in the Western world. Choe fled North Korea a decade ago; several years later, he moved to New Malden. He now chairs an organization called the North Korean Residents Society, which helps organize the roughly 600 North Koreans living in the area.

Like many defectors, Choe favors a North Korean regime change — one of the main reasons Pyongyang is so angry about the movie. In June, a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman called the movie’s release “tantamount to an act of war” and said that “making and releasing a movie on a plot to hurt our top-level leadership is the most blatant act of terrorism and war and will absolutely not be tolerated.”

Indeed, that’s why many North Korean defectors seem to be so excited about the film. “The North Korean regime is very scared of regime change,” said Kim Joo-Il. A former North Korean army captain, Kim fled the country 2005, and tromped his way through China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand before making it to the United Kingdom. He runs a newspaper called Free NK and is bullish about North Korea eventually evolving from a dictatorship to a Western-style democracy. “That there could be regime change by a simple assassination — that one person dies and the whole regime collapses — this exposes their fundamental weakness.”

Although Kim Joo-Il believes in nonviolent resistance, a third defector, who asked to speak anonymously, disagreed. Assassinating Kim Jong Un is “the right thing to do,” he said.

In late November, a group called “Guardians of Peace” hacked Sony Pictures, the studio behind The Interview, which is set for release Christmas Day. (It is widely believed that North Korea was behind the hack, though Pyongyang has denied responsibility and tracing hacks back to the source can be impossible.)

For Choe, the comedy’s greatest potential lies in the possibility that it might be smuggled into North Korea. “I think it would be an eye-opening experience for many in North Korea, to understand what the outside world thinks” about them, he said. “It would be eye-opening. Many of them still feel it’s ‘All Hail North Korea.’”

None of the three defectors have seen the film. “We know the ending in real life, because [Kim] is still alive!” the anonymous defector in favor of the dictator’s assassination said.

One film Choe has seen: Team America: World Police, the 2004 satire in which American special forces battle with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. The dictator turns out to be a cockroach from the planet Gyron: after Kim’s body is impaled on a German World War I military helmet, the cockroach emerges from his body and returns to his home planet aboard a spaceship. “I own a DVD copy that I bought in the U.K.” Choe said. “I thought it was quite hilarious.”

Sony Pictures

Isaac Stone Fish is a journalist and senior fellow at the Asia Society’s Center on U.S-China Relations. He was formerly the Asia editor at Foreign Policy Magazine. Twitter: @isaacstonefish