TIME movies

Sony Will Amend Seth Rogen’s The Interview After North Korean Threats

Little Kim doesn't see the funny side

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Executives at Japanese-owned Sony Pictures appear to have yielded in the face of increasing anger from North Korea over an upcoming comedy flick, The Interview, writes the Hollywood Reporter.

The movie stars Seth Rogen and James Franco, and much to Pyongyang’s dismay its plot follows two American broadcast journalists who are recruited as CIA agents and ordered to assassinate the communist state’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un after they score an interview with him.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the studio plans to digitally alter thousands of buttons worn by extras so that they no longer depict the actual buttons worn by the North Korean military to honor Kim Jong Un and his father Kim Jong Il. Sony is also considering cutting a scene where Kim Jong Un’s face is “melted off graphically in slow motion.”

In June, North Korean authorities labeled the film a “wanton act of terror” and threatened a “merciless” retaliation against the U.S. if the movie was released. The Interview was originally set to hit the big screen in October; however, because of the controversy, its release date has been knocked back to December.

[THR]

TIME North Korea

North Korea Denies Selling Missiles to Hamas

SKOREA-NKOREA-MILITARY-MISSILE
Visitors walk past replicas of a North Korean Scud-B missile, right, and South Korean Hawk surface-to-air missiles, left, at the Korean War Memorial in Seoul on March 3, 2014 Jung Yeon-Je—AFP/Getty Images

Earlier report by British newspaper claimed a secret weapons deal was in the works

On Dec. 12, 2009, a Georgia-registered cargo plane made an emergency landing in Bangkok. The manifest said it was carrying drilling equipment, but working on a tip from U.S. intelligence, Thai authorities decided to check. Inside the hold, they found some 35 tons of North Korean–made weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, rocket launchers and grenades. Officials said the plane was likely bound for Iran, and its cargo to Hamas and Hizballah.

North Korea’s international reputation has become so tied to Kim Jong Un memes that it is easy to lose sight of the country’s real-life role in the global arms trade. Starved for foreign currency, North Korea has a long history of manufacturing and selling weapons, including, according to U.S. officials, deals with Syria and Iran. Earlier this month, a U.S. judge found North Korea and Iran liable for missile attacks by Hizballah in 2006. On July 28, the U.N. imposed sanctions on the North Korean company that operated a ship carrying undeclared Cuban weapons that was seized by Panama authorities last year.

Now a British newspaper says North Korea is negotiating a secret deal to sell missiles to Hamas. On July 26, the Daily Telegraph’s Con Coughlin published a report claiming that Hamas paid the Hermit Kingdom “hundreds of thousands of dollars” for missiles and communication equipment in a deal brokered by a Lebanon-based security company. The story was based on information from an unnamed Western security official who reportedly told the London-based paper that “Pyongyang already has close ties with a number of militant Islamist groups in the Middle East.”

The report has not been independently confirmed; however, it would, theoretically, make sense for both parties. Thanks to U.N. sanctions, the market for North Korean weapons is shrinking, says Daniel Pinkston, a Northeast Asia expert at the International Crisis Group. “The incentives are there to sell arms to earn hard currency,” he says, and amid the ongoing conflict with Israel, “Hamas has an incentive to buy.” But there are still a lot questions: If the report is true, when, where and how would the deal take place?

For its part, North Korea denied any involvement — and did so, of course, with exactly the kind of verbose bluster that fuels the North Korea meme machine. “This is utterly baseless sophism and sheer fiction let loose by the U.S. to isolate the DPRK internationally,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesman, according to the state-backed Korean Central News Agency.

The news agency went on to berate Washington for its stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Lurking behind this propaganda is a sinister intention of the U.S. to justify its criminal acts of backing Israel driven into a tight corner by its recent unethical killings in the Gaza Strip.” It is the U.S., it said, not Pyongyang, that is the “kingdom of terrorism and chief culprit of international terrorism.”

TIME North Korea

20 Years After His Death, Kim Il Sung Still Casts a Powerful Spell Over North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang at midnight on July 8, 2014.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang at midnight on July 8, 2014. KCNA/Reuters

His look and persona are consciously imitated by his grandson, Kim Jong Un

When Kim Il Sung’s heart stopped beating exactly 20 years ago — on July 8, 1994 — the propagandists didn’t let the mere fact of his death get in the way. The 82-year-old founder of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was revered like a god in life — and after it.

Two decades later, mythmaking is as important as ever for Kim’s grandson, dictator Kim Jong Un, who has just led the official memorial to the Great Leader.

North Korean propaganda casts the Kims as protectors of a country under siege. School children learn that Kim Il Sung was an exceptional warrior who, while camping at the base of Mount Paektu with his comrades, defeated a force of Japanese colonialists. He later repelled the imperialist Americans in the 1950–53 Korean War.

According to official history, his heir, Kim Jong Il, was born at the base of the same scared mountain, and the birth heralded by a rainbow. According to North Korean hagiography, Kim Jong Il grew up to become a master tactician, writer and filmmaker. Legend has it he shot 11 holes-in-one in his first ever round of golf.

Kim Il Sung’s North Korea was never the socialist paradise portrayed on posters, but through the 1960s it was at least a functioning, if brutal and repressive, state. The collapse of the Soviet Union and disastrous agricultural policies changed that. In the 1990s, while successor Kim Jong Il practiced his soon-to-be-legendary swing, North Koreans starved.

Understandably, young Kim Jong Un prefers to bask in his grandfather’s, rather than his father’s, glow. South Korean analysts believe the young leader consciously emulates his grandfather’s look and public persona. Whereas his father avoided the public, Kim Jong Un, like his grandfather, is often photographed among, even touching, his subjects.

Channeling his granddad reinforces Kim Jong Un’s link to a not-so-distant revolutionary past. Since coming to power in 2011, he has promised to push ahead with the twin development of his country’s economy and nuclear-weapons program. He has made good on the second part, conducting the country’s third nuke test, while keeping up the violent rhetoric and threatening, among other things, to rain fire on the U.S. “Break the waists of the crazy enemies, totally cut their windpipes and thus clearly show them what a real war is like, ” he once urged his soldiers, according to state media reports.

An actual conflict would almost certainly cost him his kingdom. But young Kim knows that for North Korea to survive he must convince his people that the enemy is at the gate — and that he, alone, can stop them. Grandad would have approved.

TIME East Asia

North Korea to Send Cheerleaders, Athletes to South for Asian Games

Pyongyang's cheerleaders have previously been lauded by Seoul for their meticulous choreography and peaceful cheers, and Kim Jong Un even made one of the delegation his wife

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North Korea announced on Monday that it will send a cheerleading squad and 150 athletes to the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, on Sept. 19, in a display of goodwill incongruous with several weeks of intermittent missile and rocket launches amid bellicose rhetoric.

The longtime adversaries remain at odds over a civil war from 1950 to ’53 that was never properly resolved. North Korea last week fired several short-range rockets into the sea ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the South Korean capital Seoul during which Pyongyang’s nuclear program was discussed.

The North’s cheerleaders, who have been lauded by the South in previous visits for their meticulous choreography and peaceful cheers, will ostensibly be dispatched to build tolerance between the neighbors, reports Reuters. “It is necessary to put an end to all kinds of calumnies and vituperation that foster misunderstanding and distrust among the fellow countrymen,” read a government statement, according to the North’s state KCNA news agency.

These overtures come just as young North Korean despot Kim Jong Un oversaw a mock military assault on a South Korean island on Saturday. Last week, North Korea also demanded that Seoul end its annual joint military drills with the U.S., although this was met with flat refusal.

Kim Eui-do, a spokesman for the South Korean government, said organizers would discuss the North’s proposal of sending a cheerleading squad and athletes to the event, reports the South China Morning Post. North Korea also sent cheerleaders to the Asian Athletic Games in Incheon in 2005. Leader Kim has since married one of the cheerleaders from the squad, Ri Sol Ju.

[Reuters]

TIME East Asia

The Chinese President’s Visit to Seoul Says Much About Shifting Alliances

SKOREA-CHINA-DIPLOMACY
China's President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan are welcomed upon arrival at Seoul Air Base on July 3, 2014 Ed Jones—AFP/Getty Images

The two-day trip is the first time a Chinese leader has chosen to visit South Korea before calling on the North

South Korea is a good neighbor. North Korea, not so much. That’s the message China sent this week as President Xi Jinping stopped by Seoul for a two-day visit. It is the first time a Chinese leader chose to visit South Korea before meeting with the Kim clan first — a deliberate slight to North Korea and a sign of shifting alliances across Asia’s northeast.

South Korea and China are not natural allies. China backed the North in the 1950–53 war that split the Korean Peninsula. Since then, Beijing has been North Korea’s greatest ally, serving as patron and protector to Pyongyang — a closeness Mao Zedong once likened to “lips and teeth.”

But the bonds of authoritarian brotherhood have frayed of late. Beijing is rather tired of the North’s nuclear theatrics and increasing unwillingness to prop up its sluggish economy. The North’s bold young dictator, Kim Jong Un, has yet to meet with Beijing’s top brass. As news of Xi’s Seoul trip broke, he was busy lobbing rockets into the sea.

Shared frustration with the North has given democratic South Korea and authoritarian China some common ground. They have since discovered they share much else, including a thriving trading partnership and an old foe: Japan. Amid ongoing territorial disputes, the legacy of Japan’s 20th century imperial expansion and the country’s wartime record have become a focal point for East Asia, particularly Seoul and Beijing. They recently collaborated on a museum that pays tribute to Korean man who, in 1909, assassinated a Japanese colonial official.

Not wanting to be outmaneuvered, Tokyo has made a quiet overture to Pyongyang. Sitting within range of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, and an ally of the U.S., Japan is hardly a North Korea fan. But, on July 3 as Xi flew to Seoul, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that he would lift some economic sanctions on North Korea in return for its pledge to investigate the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s. Japanese and North Korean diplomats have already met in Beijing.

TIME North Korea

North Korea Tests Missiles Ahead Of China-South Korea Meeting

Or perhaps Seth Rogen and James Franco's new movie is to blame?

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The hermit nation says it launched two short-range missiles into international waters, with leader Kim Jong Un on hand to watch the test on Sunday morning.

The country often uses such unannounced displays of military power as a means of expressing discontent with the U.S. or South Korea, which considers the test a hostile act. North Korea could be concerned with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s upcoming visit to South Korea, as China has historically been an ally to North Korea and usually visits it first.

Or it could be motivated by the upcoming film The Interview, which stars Seth Rogan and James Franco as assassins going undercover as journalists during a mission to kill Kim Jong Un. The North Korean government has called the film an “act of war” and promised a “merciless” retaliation if it is released.

TIME movies

Strike Up the Banned: 5 Films That Sparked International Incidents

"BORAT: Touristic Guidings to Minor Nation of U.S. and A. and Touristic Guidings to Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan"
Borat Sagdiyev, played by actor Saha Baron Cohen, attends a signing for his new book "BORAT: Touristic Guidings to Minor Nation of U.S. and A. and Touristic Guidings to Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" on November 7, 2007 in Los Angeles. Vince Bucci—Getty Images

The Interview was far from the first film to spark the ire of the country that it depicts. A brief history of films that have struck a nerve with global leaders

According to the trailer for their upcoming film, The Interview, James Franco and Seth Rogen (or at least the characters they play) will be sent to North Korea to assassinate Kim Jong Un. As you might imagine, the Supreme Leader isn’t exactly taking this in stride and has promised “merciless retaliation” against the U.S. for the faux assassination.

Extreme? Maybe, but then again you’ve never been fake-killed for millions of people around the world to see — and by Seth Rogen and James Franco no less. Maybe if it had been Jackie Chan or Jean-Claude van Damme (two of Kim’s favorite movie stars), things would be different, but no, it’s the guy who starts Twitter fights with Justin Bieber and the guy who posts the world’s most awkward selfies on Instagram.

And we’re not talking about any old leader here. This is Kim Jong Un, grandson of a god and friend to Dennis Rodman. He isn’t accustomed to being fake-insulted, let alone fake-killed. How would he explain it to all the friends who have to be his friends or else they’d be real-killed? Just something to consider.

Regardless of how you feel about Kim’s reaction, it is by all accounts the most outspoken response to a movie by the state (or in this case, head of state) that is the subject of the film. It is not, however, the first. Here are five other films that have been denounced, condemned or otherwise banned by governments who find that the movies hit too close to home.

Cry Freedom (1987)

Nominated for three Academy Awards in 1988, Cry Freedom chronicled the relationship of journalist Donald Woods (Kevin Kline) and activist Steve Biko (Denzel Washington) during apartheid-era South Africa in the late 1970s. Unsurprisingly, South African officials were somewhat uncomfortable with a film that depicted rampant discrimination, political corruption and racial violence in the segregated country. Though the movie was initially approved by South African censors, explosions and bomb threats accompanied the film’s debut, which may have helped spur the government to action. Stoffel van der Merwe, the Minister of Information, called Cry Freedom “crude propaganda” and said that the portrayal of South African security forces would undermine their public image.

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)

The sequel to Angelina Jolie’s first Tomb Raider film sparked the ire of Chinese officials, one of whom said, “After watching the movie, I feel that the Westerners have made their presentation of China with malicious intention.” The movie was partly filmed in Hong Kong, and was criticized by Beijing for making the country appear to be without a functioning government and instead run by secret societies. “The movie does not understand Chinese culture. It does not understand China’s security situation. In China there cannot be secret societies,” one official said.

District 9 (2009)

Neill Blomkamp’s allegorical film about aliens — or apartheid-era South Africa, if you look just a little closely — was nominated for four Oscars but was not a hit in Nigeria. According to the country’s Information Minister, Dora Akunyili, the Nigerian characters were portrayed as criminals and cannibals, and government officials also took exception to the fact that “the name of our former president was clearly spelt out as the head of the criminal gang and our ladies shown like prostitutes sleeping with extra-terrestrial refugees.” The film was banned in the West African country.

Argo (2012)

The 2013 Oscar winner for Best Picture told the story of the CIA’s mission to retrieve Americans trapped in Tehran during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. Though the film was widely criticized for historical inaccuracies, it was the Iranian government itself that had the strongest “Argo f— yourself” reaction. Mohammad Hosseini, the Iranian Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, denounced the movie as “an offensive act” that was motivated by “evil intentions.” Argo was banned in Iran and plans were made for the state-affiliated Arts Bureau to produce The General Staff, a film that would tell the true story of American hostages held in the country. Though the “big production” film was announced in January 2013, there have been few updates in the past year.

Borat (2006)

Borat presents the most complicated case of these controversial films. Borat the character — a misogynistic, homophobic and anti-Semitic news reporter from Kazakhstan, played by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen — had been around since even before Baron Cohen’s Da Ali G Show debuted in the U.S. in 2000. The character quickly gained notoriety and garnered even more attention once it was announced that he would get his own movie. Initially, Kazakh officials were not at all pleased. “We do not rule out that Mr. Cohen is serving someone’s political order designed to present Kazakhstan and its people in a derogatory way,” Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Yerzhan Ashykbayev said in 2005, a full year before the movie’s release.

As the film’s release neared, however, Kazakhstan seemed to soften its stance, in spite of threatened lawsuits and rumored bans. Though officials strongly urged that it not be distributed in the country (and it wasn’t), Erlan Idrissov, the Kazakh ambassador to the U.K., said he found the movie amusing in parts and wrote that it “placed Kazakhstan on the map.” In 2012, Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov credited the movie with increasing visa requests to visit Kazakhstan by tenfold: “I am grateful to Borat for helping attract tourists to Kazakhstan.”

Though Kazakhstan ultimately changed its opinion of Borat, that seems unlikely to happen with The Interview and North Korea. Kim Jong Un’s repudiation is far from the country’s first condemnation of a film. The 2009 disaster film 2012 was reportedly banned by then-leader Kim Jong Il because it depicted a series of catastrophic natural disasters in 2012 — the very year that North Korea was meant to “open the grand gates to becoming a rising superpower,” coinciding with the 100th birthday of Kim Il Sung, the nation’s founder. Anyone caught with a bootlegged copy of the film was allegedly charged with “a grave provocation against the development of the state,” which could carry a prison sentence of up to five years.

If the punishment for holding a copy of a film that didn’t have anything directly to do with North Korea inspired that still a punishment, it would likely be wise for North Korean citizens to stay as far away from The Interview as possible.

TIME

Pictures of the Week: June 13 – June 20

From Iraq’s eternal war and Spain’s early Word Cup exit, to a deadly double twister in Nebraska and Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s submarine ride, TIME presents the best photos of the week.

 

 

TIME Asia

This Is a Really Bad Time to be a North Korean Weather Forecaster

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the Hydro-meteorological Service in this undated photo released by North Korea's KCNA in Pyongyang
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the hydrometeorological service in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang on June 10, 2014 KCNA/Reuters

The Brilliant Leader wants accurate weather forecasts, and he wants them now. No pressure, comrades

North Korea’s weather forecasters had a rough day at the office.

The country’s hydrometeorological service received a public telling off by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to state newspaper Rodong Sinmun.

Kim criticized the weather service’s methods, saying it produced “incorrect” forecasts, needed to “fundamentally” improve equipment and lacked “modern and scientific” approaches to its work.

During his tour of the facilities, he said the agency was “very important” but needed to “rapidly and kindly provide information about weather’s influence.”

While so-called “field guidance” tours are common for North Korean leaders, government officials are rarely scolded in public.

The BBC reports that Kim’s last reproach came in May 2012, following a visit to a theme park in Pyongyang.

TIME Photos

The Most Surprising Photos of the Month

Time looks back over the past month to present a selection of underreported, improbable and astounding images that caught the attention of our photo editors. From Darth Vader to cheese rolling, each photograph, we trust, will surprise you.

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