Songun, Tangun, Son of Paektu, etc.: Kim Jong Un Documentary
With thanks to Rue89 Chinatown in Paris for the tip, a one-hour special on (North) Korean Central TV about Kim Jong Un and, among other things, his links to the Mount Paektu legend and his military bona fides. Songun policy references abound. The young Kim is, in the eyes of KCNA, nothing less than the new Tangun. He also has proven to be, according to the film, a diligent and brilliant student of the military writings of Kim Il Sung, working through the night in the style of his ancestors:
Again and again, Kim Jong Un goes to places with red steel plaques commemorating previous on-site inspections by his “military-genius” grandfather Kim Il Sung.
Against this rather massive and retrograde fare, news of the everyday: a Chinese company has opened a car wash in Pyongyang (via CanKor) and China calls for countries in Asia to discard “Cold War thinking.”
Updated and Revised :
2:37 – A slogan referring to the Songun (military-first) policy and Mount Paektu.
2:45 – Cataloging the “spontaneous” response in the DPRK to the unveiling of Kim Jong Un at the Party Congress in late September, 2010. With footage that is sure to be one of the elements in the film focused on by Western media (and Chinese, for that matter) as indicative of collective insanity in North Korea, the film is nevertheless careful to cover all of its major societal bases: Army, Navy, Air Force, Party workers, anti-Japanese veterans, and university students all get their due.
A very strange minute of film, but it also contains the only nod to university students or old folks in the entire first hour of the film. Apparently it is assumed by the propagandists that Kim Jong Un is highly popular already with Kim Il Sung University students, or, probably more to the point, the goal is to ingratiate him with the Army, whereas showing him as a creature of elite academia is not the image that is needed at present, his various cultural bona fides on display notwithstanding.
@joshchin of Wall Street Journal’s “Real Time Report” asks about the “raise the roof” gesture made by the troops in response to the appearance, or pending appearance, of the successor. It is a variant on the traditional “mansei (万岁)”!
4:00 – The old anti-Japanese revolutionaries. There are so few of these left; this woman is probably in her mid-90s.
4:16 – Having brought back to life the excitement of September 2010, the regime lays down its historical trump card analogy: Kim Jong Un’s quick coronation as similar to that of Kim Il Song in October 1945. The footage of this speech comes from Kim Il Song’s October 1945 welcome speech, duing which some old and grizzled (Soviet) generals and domestic political rivals (Cho Man-sik) sat behind him on stage and wondered when he would be toppled or replaced. Of course, the young Kim outwitted everyone and survived. The implication in the present film, and the footage that follows.
Citation: Kim Il Sung, “Every Effort for the Building of a New, Democratic Korea: Speech Delivered at the Pyongyang Mass Meeting of Welcome,” October 14, 1945, Works, Vol. 1, June 1930 – December 1945, (Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1980), pp. 316-317.
4:33 – The single appearance of Chinese characters, or hanja, in the film, in the word jiefang 解放, or haebang = “liberate.” Among the things that Kim Il Song would ultimately liberate North Korea from was mass knowledge of Chinese characters.
5:25 – Marshal Kim Yong Cho never looks at Kim, but then again, the Marshal is pretty old and impassive. (See his similar appearance with Kim Jong Il in the early 1980s at 10:55).
6:25 – Yet another peroration on the greatness of Songun (military-first) system.
6:30 – These pistols are engraved with Kim Il Song’s name. A nice, Saddam-Husseinesque touch. The fact that this footage was made in about 1983, the DPRK’s heyday as a terrorist state (blowing up Korean Airlines flights, assassinating whole swaths of the South Korean cabinet in Burma) should not provide much comfort to “sunshine policy” advocates in Seoul, Tokyo, or Beijing. Nor should the minute-long advertisement for North Korea’s small-arms manufacture industry, either.
8:25 – Pivoting to the ideological justification for the weaponry: Kim Il Song’s Selected Military Works. It’s interesting that among the four speeches whose texts are paused on screen for readers/viewers to admire, only one dates from the era when Kim Jong Il was actually around and active in DPRK politics (1973). The others are all speeches to the KPA from 1952, 1958, and 1960. A sample citation:
Kim Il Sung, “Let Us Strengthen The People’s Army: Speech at the Meeting of High-Ranking Officers of the Korean People’s Army,” December 24, 1952, Works, Vol. 7, January 1952-July 1953, (Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1981), p. 381-396.
9:03 – Kim Il Song on Party-Army relations.
9:31 – Is this Premier Choe Yong Rim on the left? If so, he’s left out of the loop for the next forty minutes of this film.
11:30 – More layering on of the Kims: Kim Jong Il gets in a tank, and then some years later, Kim Jong Un gets in a tank. Kim Jong Un’s tank was visited by his grandfather Kim Il Sung in 1971. Kim Jong Il watches his son do tank maneuvers, or so it appears. With all the commentary this particular scene is bound to inspire, it is also worth asking: why is the KPA using the same tanks now as they did forty years ago? I can’t imagine the analysts in the Pentagon, or in Tokyo or Stockholm, are particularly impressed with the KPA’s conventional deterrent.
Incidentally, this scene of winter maneuvers with tanks was used near the end of the “let’s all buck up and look forward” upbeat coda of the Kim Jong Il cantata performed by the Unhasu Orchestra earlier this month. So the roll-out of Kim Jong Un’s association with the mobile armor of the KPA has been very nicely coordinated, if that is any solace at all.
15:03 – Kim Jong Un is accompanied by Yang Hyong Sop, another greybeard of the Workers’ Party.
15:35 – Kim Jong Un has made extensive comments on a song manuscript. It may take the analysts here a couple of months to get to an answer or a recorded tune on this particular piece, but this artifact will certainly be decoded here eventually.
15:57 – The philosopher king has distinct views about music. This is very important for a country which portrays itself as having the greatest socialist culture in the region (take note, vulgar China) and for the offspring of two prolific writers and practicioners of the musical arts.
Citations: Adam Cathcart, “Song of Youth: North Korean Music from Liberation to War,” North Korean Review, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Fall 2008), 93-104.
Adam Cathcart, “North Korean Hip Hop? Reflections on Musical Diplomacy and the DPRK,” Acta Koreana, Vol. 12, No. 2 (December 2009): 1-19.
16:45 – The next minute is spent on a montage of red plaques signifiying Kim Il Song’s on-site inspection of military facilities, the latest of which appears to have been 1988. Again, the benefits this confers in terms of tradition seem to outweigh any admission of antiquated equipment.
13:10 – Short and mismatched tank teams.
25:00 – After the orgy of explosions, a visit to barracks, first and only reference to meat. The Army, at least it appears, eats meat. Nary a sign of Jang Song Taek.
28:55 – Finally a shot of Jang Song Taek looking marginalized, skeletal. This was the episode where the successor was depicted (accidentally, perhaps) by KCNA prior as holding his binoculars upside-down, an image now effaced.
29:47 – The father-son team is still blowing things up. Apparently the Songun policy has its fun moments.
31’09” – Kim Jong Un sports a walkie-talkie in the parka pocket, yet more proof of Kim Jong Il’s design genius (the celebrated parka returns).
31:32 – A nice (new?) military song, this is standard KPA music video fare which one can see at North Korean restaurants. If any readers are interested in helping compile a database of the new songs in the Kim Jong Un era and (ultimately) what they mean, please contact the Editor.
33:51 – Absolutely the key image so far of #KimJongUntheMovie, where successor stands with three of the “Gang of Eight,” including propaganda chief Kim Ki Nam (whose Wikipedia entry is execrable) and Jang Song Taek.
35:00 – After a quick but amazing glorification of KCNA, and fast-spreading news of American military drills, the Taepodong-2, North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile, emerges.
36:00. These would appear to be the scientists responsible for rocketry in DPRK. Further information would be appreciated.
37:21 — This, if anything, is the money shot, with Kim Jong Un wielding a sniper rifle which is neatly juxtaposed over Marshal Ri, right down to the Marshal’s left eye gazing through the trigger. It appears to be photoshopped to an extent: the gun has a shadow; Kim Jong Un’s body does not. Irrespective of how or why this is, it appears that the whole film thus leads essentially to the golden mean of 37’21,” which, at its heart, is essentially Maoist. The Party controls the gun, and the successor shows that although he is watched over by the senior generals, he commands things. But at what point, if at all, does the Kim family disappear, and only the Army holds the gun?
Kim Jong Un may listen respectfully to his dad hold forth, but he _never_ takes notes. He does this, as the film shows, though, late at night, when studying Kim Il Song.
39:00 – After he makes ‘history’ by explaining IT to a bunch of senior Party members with notebooks and hearing aids (like Jang Song Taek was wearing in Kim Jong Il’s last photograph in the supermarket 12/15), a steel plant.
39:00 – Does the music while Kim is in the computer room have an association with CNC technology? It’s orchestral and grand; he could have a worse theme song. Kim Jong Un then proceeds to manipulate a computer mouse, single-handedly surpassing both of his predecessors.
40:26 – Another key shot we’ll be seeing more of: Kim Jong Un with propaganda chief Kim Ki Nam, the one who likely supervised #KimJongUntheMovie.
40:59 – A wonderfully loop-able accordion player fights through the frozen KPA throng.
41:30 – Jang Song Taek again, staring impassively into the void of the Huichon Dam.
42:45 – Nice shot of Kim Jong Un running things at the dam while his dad is on the way there (had been preceded by shots of actual documents signed by the younger Kim in 2010, September).
43:45 – MarshallKim again.
45:00 – Apartment construction for Pyongyang elites; notably, there is zero on-site guidance footage of this activity featuring the successor. The sole reference to non-Army economic activity going on in the DPRK in the first hour of this film in which Kim Jong Un is actually seen is the Huichon Power Dam. Perhaps the nervousness about the inability to finish the Pyongyang apartments on schedule contributed to this lacuna.
46:30 – Jang Song Taek again at cotton plant, and at 47:00 as well, joking and easy.
47:40 – Kim Jong Un is very happily sitting on an amusement park ride. Apparently the notion that he is kid is not one the Party propaganda apparatus is overly concerned about.
48:00 – Jang Song Taek reappears in the amusement park; he is ebullient. Perhaps the large amount (by North Korean standards) of electricity being devoted to this socialist fun park simply makes him giddy.
48:58 – For Pyongyangologists in the mould of Kremlinologists, this scene is of note: It is our first (and only) sighting of two of the most important officials of the old guard: Chae Yong Rim, 85, and Kim Yong Nam, 83. Jang Song Taek, by contrast, is seen at least seven times; his wife and Kim Jong Il’s sister, Kim Kyo Hui, does not appear to be in the film at all, clearly at the choice of somebody.
49:57 – An affecting image, where North Korea for once gets to be what Kim Il Sung wanted it to be: fulfillment of a modernist dream. Expect more of this kind of iconography in 2012.
50:30 – Another triple-threat: the three Kims in succession (including Kim Il Song in a fur hat!) all gesticulating, then a line about Mt. Paektu bloodlines by Kim Jong Il.
50:51 – Kim Jong Il quote on the suryeong (supreme leader) and Mount Paektu.
51:02 – The troika of Kims is then followed by three basically genetically identical KPA members behind whom stands a banner reading “Unity” or “Unify”, representing the three branches of the armed forces over which the Kim family rule.
51:21 – Here the film breaks into what, in the Chinese context, might be called “August 1-type culture,” that is, standard Army mobilization songs and arts. Very Prussian, very Bolshevik, very Yanan, very North Korean, not at all unique.
53:10 – At the peroration of the music video, the KPA flag flies over Mount Paektu – the sole intimation that the Army protects the Northern frontier from China.
53:57 – Is this a seven-year old Kim Jong Un putting a kerchief on his father in around 1990? And where is the new successor to Kim Jong Un? Hopefully about six or seven years old, ready to take command with his great-aunt’s help as if she were a distinguished Rinpoche and he a young Dalai Lama?
55:07 – The relentless continuity continues: cutting to Kim Jong Il’s accompanying his own father on site inspections. This seems to be one point of the film’s incessant mash-ups: it doesn’t so much matter which Kim we are being ruled over, as they are all essentially one and the same.
55:46 – This is the first and only appearance of Kim Jong Suk, the grandmother of Kim Jong Un and mother of Kim Jong Il (pictured), circa 1946.
55:58 – Ha Song Ryo, a member of the Pyongyang Party History Committee, gets a long stretch of footage, which begins by reminding readers that she once showed Kim Jong Il around the facility (she is pictured in the photo). The KPA who are selected to surround her and listen with absorptivity to her lessons appear to be particularly young.
56:15 – Here we have an exceedingly curious lingering on what would otherwise appear to be a historical footnote: Note the attention paid to the greybeards present at the young Kim Il Sung’s speech in Pyongyang in 1946-47. Is this Kim Ku, and an implication (the only one present in the film) of progressive Southerners ready to come to Pyongyang to talk unification? The unfinished promise of the Great Leader? Readers with knowledge of this particular episode, please comment.
57:09 – This particular picture of Kim Il Sung giving guidance to young soldiers seems primarily intended, again, to drive home the resemblance between grandfather and grandson, right down to the prodigious belly and easy manner with the troops.
1:00:00 – Another Party historian, Mr. Pak Yong Hup, on the way to Mount Paektu (Jong-Il Bong/ Jong-Il Peak). These are precisely the type of establishment intellectuals (effectively the core of North Korea’s “upper-middle class,” if such a thing can be said to exist) who essentially have no place in a reunified Korea. Their lives, literally, are dependent upon the structuring and upkeep of what is essentially fiction.