TIME North Korea

Dennis Rodman Doesn’t Believe North Korea Hacked Sony

Former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman waits to check in for his flight to North Korea after his arrival at Beijing's international airport on Jan. 6, 2014. Wang Zhao—AFP/Getty Images

"North Korea is going to hack a comedy, a movie that is really nothing? I can’t see that happening"

Dennis Rodman doesn’t believe that North Korea hacked Sony Pictures, the basketball star and self-declared friend of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un said in an interview published Saturday.

“How many movies have there been attacking North Korea? And they never hacked those. North Korea is going to hack a comedy, a movie that is really nothing? I can’t see that happening,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.

Rodman, whose remarks came as he promotes his new documentary on his travels to North Korea, has traveled to the isolated country on multiple occasions and has received a warm welcome from Kim, whom he describes as a friend. The basketball star has been criticized for being too cozy with a country often considered among the most repressive in the world.

Read More: The Interview May Be Funny; North Korea and Kim Jong Un Are Not

The claim challenges the United States government’s allegation that North Korea hacked Sony Pictures in retaliation for depicting the assassination of the country’s dictator in the movie The Interview.

Sony ultimately cancelled the theatrical release of the film in response to terrorist threats against some theaters that planned to show the movie.


TIME North Korea

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un May Visit Moscow, Russia Says

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a New Year's address
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a New Year's address in this January 1, 2015 photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang. KCNA—Reuters

Kim hasn't made an official foreign visit before

Kim Jong Un could visit Moscow this May in his first foreign visit as North Korea’s leader, according to statements from Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

Lavrov said on Wednesday that an invitation to attend the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany received a “positive” response from North Korea, the Wall Street Journal reports.

He would not elaborate further, however, and the North Korean government has not yet commented on the proposed trip.

Kim, who had sent an envoy to Russian President Vladimir Putin in November, has not made an official foreign trip since assuming power in 2011.



Margaret Cho’s Golden Globes Skit Was Minstrelsy, Not Comedy

The joke didn’t belong at a show where Asian Americans are virtually absent

North Korea—particularly the Kim regime—has long been a goldmine for laughs, ripe for a comedic take. Comedian Andy Borowitz has racked up 273,000 followers channeling Kim Jong-un on Twitter with jokes that parody North Korean news. A recent tweet: “You mess with N Korea’s Internet, you mess with me, coz I’m the only one here who has Internet.” Borowitz isn’t the only one to draw content from Pyongyang. Long before North Korea’s entry into the axis of evil, ripping on the Kim dictatorship had become commonplace; it was easy, a comic release for situations—be it famine or labor camps or weapons—that nobody found very funny.

The most recent example: comedienne Margaret Cho’s running gag at the Golden Globes on Sunday. Uniformed as a pop-culture-savvy Army General, Cho mocked North Korea as her vermilion upside-down mouth spewed broken English. The reaction was split: viewers clamoring over how her performance was either hilarious or another recycled, racist routine.

Cho has played the late Kim Jong-il on 30 Rock, which earned her an Emmy nomination (Amy Poehler has, too, for Saturday Night Live). Was it racist? Eh. I say that because racism in any art form has always been conditional and based on audience and context, as well as the white, male gaze. Put Cho, donned in military gear, goose-stepping, stern and accented, in front of a Korean American or immigrant audience. Feels different—maybe even funny. Put that same skit in front of a non-Asian audience for an awards show where Asian Americans have historically been absent as nominees or presenters or even guests, but where the one Asian American was assigned not as herself, but as a perennial stereotype. Things got uncomfortable. Cho was invited for the sole purpose of making fun of the North Korean government in light of the alleged Sony hack, while a backdrop of white celebrities laughed.

Naturally, Twitter erupted.

Some background: Twenty years ago, Margaret Cho headlined All-American Girl, the first U.S. sitcom to feature an Asian-American family; we haven’t seen an Asian-American family in television situation comedy since, but will next month in ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, starring Randall Park, who also portrayed Kim Jong-un in The Interview. The reactions to Cho’s Sunday performance capture a sliver of her unique role as a breakthrough Asian American artist that employs outrageous racial content: she has been applauded for dramatically pushing back racial barriers during her career, while also being accused of racism throughout it.

It’s the extra burden placed on women and comedians of color. White, heterosexual male comedians don’t have to carry the responsibility of representation. They are free to go for the laughs and contribute as culture makers, no matter how juvenile or unfunny or offensive the joke may be. There is no expectation that their jokes represent a monolith. There is no backlash if a joke about white, straight men misfires. On Sunday, the three comics—one Korean, all women—took risks. The Cosby rape joke. North Korea. The reception was heated and torn because there are restrictions, people believe, on what they can say, especially as women, and for Cho, as a woman of color. But that wasn’t why Cho flopped in my eyes. It didn’t work because the joke didn’t belong at the Golden Globes, where Asian Americans are virtually absent, and not for the lack of talent, but for the lack of roles that present us within a spectrum of humanity.

Cho’s supporters would disagree, likely arguing that her skit was nuanced, sophisticated, that is, satire. But Cho’s skit is only that when we erase the history of minstrelsy, if we consume her through a false prism where marginalized groups are afforded multi-dimensional representations in pop culture and beyond. Within that prism, we would “lighten up,” laugh.

Despite what happened on Sunday, I remain an avid fan of Margaret Cho. Her pioneering I’m The One That I Want is one of most notable, and brave, performances to deeply explore racialized sexism in Hollywood. And her endearing portrayal of her mother reminded me, and probably every other Korean watching, of our own immigrant matriarchs—their cultural missteps and reservoir of love. Yet I am acutely aware that when Cho viciously makes fun of her mom—and yes, she’s very funny when she does—the reason I am laughing is different than why non-Asians are. I am touched or humored by the closeness I feel to Cho’s portrayal of her mom; non-Asians, or non-immigrants, are amused because there is distance between them and the foreign Other. This isn’t to say they are laughing, menacingly or inappropriately, at Cho and her family. But it is humorous because it is unfamiliar. Bizarre and weird. Like Kim.

Kai Ma is a writer, journalist and editor. She is the former editor-in-chief of KoreAm, an indie monthly for which she earned the national New America Media Award for Best In-Depth and Investigative Reporting for her feature story on gay marriage and the Asian-American vote. The views expressed are solely her own.

TIME South Korea

South Korea’s President Will Hold Talks With the North Without Conditions

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye speaks during her New Year press conference at the presidential Blue House in Seoul on Jan. 12, 2015. Jung Yeon-Jemdash — AFP/Getty Images

The pledge follows recent overtures made by Kim Jong Un

South Korean President Park Geun-hye announced during a nationally televised address on Monday that she’s willing to hold a summit with North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un without any pre-conditions.

“My position is that to ease the pain of division and to accomplish peaceful unification, I am willing to meet with anyone,” said Park. “If it is helpful, I am up for a summit meeting with the North. There is no pre-condition.”

Park’s pledge follows similar overtures made by Kim Jong Un during his New Year’s address.

“Depending on the mood and circumstances to be created, we have no reason not to hold the highest-level talks,” said Kim.

Since the war between Seoul and Pyongyang was suspended by an armistice in 1953, South Korea’s and North Korea’s leaders have only met on two occasions — in 2000 and 2007.


TIME Media

Sony Has Almost Made Its Money Back on The Interview

A poster for "The Interview" is displayed on the marquee of the Los Feliz 3 cinema December 25, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. Robyn Beck—AFP/Getty Images

The controversial film brought in some $31 million in digital sales

Sony Pictures seems to be doing a decent job salvaging the disastrous launch of The Interview. The studio announced Tuesday that the film about an attempted assassination of Kim Jong-Un has managed to pull in $31 million in digital and video-on-demand sales after major movie theater chains refused to play the film on Christmas Day. That, an a small amount made by a limited release in theaters, means Sony has almost recouped its initial investment in the controversial film.

Following a wide-reaching hack of Sony Pictures that led to theft of thousands of sensitive corporate documents and threats of physical violence at theaters that played The Interview, screenings of the film were cancelled across the country. Sony pivoted to a digital release strategy, launching the film on YouTube, Google Play, Xbox and its own movie rental website on Christmas Eve.

The film racked up two million rentals and purchases totaling $15 million in sales in the first four days it was available. It’s now more than doubled that take in its second week, thanks in part to being added to a number of additional services such as Amazon Instant Video, iTunes and cable video on-demand systems.

Though the major theater chains declined to screen the movie, a few hundred independent chains debuted the film on its original Christmas Day release date. Through them the movie has managed about $5 million in traditional box office receipts, for a total haul of $36 million. The film reportedly cost $44 million to make.

The FBI has said that North Korea was responsible for the Sony hack, which disclosed confidential corporate plans and emails, as well as private information about actors and Sony employees. The U.S. has issued new sanctions against North Korea following the attack and said the sanctions were just the “first aspect” of the response.

TIME North Korea

3 Things to Know About New U.S. Sanctions on North Korea

The Week That Was In Asia Photo Gallery
A magazine with caricatures of U.S. President Barack Obama, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is displayed at a book store in Seoul on Jan. 3, 2015 Ahn Young-joon—AP

The new measures are unlikely to make much of a difference in the isolated Asian state

(SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA) — Here are three things to know about new U.S. sanctions against North Korea over a cyberattack on Sony Pictures, whose movie depicting the fictional assassination of North Korea’s leader has infuriated Pyongyang, which denies responsibility for the cyberattack:


Pyongyang’s rhetoric over the weekend, which included a vow that the new sanctions and America’s “inveterate repugnancy and hostility” would not weaken the North’s 1.2-million-strong military, is probably directed as much at a domestic audience as it is at Washington.

Some North Korea watchers believe that sanctions help to insulate Pyongyang from taking responsibility for its failures, and allow Kim Jong Un, the 30-something leader who took power in late 2011 after his father’s death, to better solidify his power and bolster his domestic image as a strong leader.

Pyongyang, the argument goes, uses tension with the outside world, in general, and sanctions, in particular, to whip up always high anti-U.S. sentiment. This, in turn, allows the leadership to justify its inability to feed many of its people and the continuing push to develop nuclear bombs it says are needed to defend against Washington.


The new measures are unlikely to make much of a difference in North Korea, which has been bombarded by sanctions for decades and which has woven an obsession with self-reliance into its national psyche.

Some analysts say Washington and others have the ability, should they choose, to apply more severe financial measures to hurt the North’s leadership. But many others point out that a raft of multilateral penalties from the United Nations, as well as national sanctions from Washington, Tokyo and others meant to punish the government and sidetrack its nuclear ambitions, have done nothing to derail Pyongyang’s pursuit of a nuclear tipped missile that could reach America’s mainland.

The most recent sanctions, which target 10 North Korean government officials and three organizations, including Pyongyang’s primary intelligence agency and state-run arms dealer, will have a limited impact because North Korea will likely assign other people or organizations to take over the work of those targeted, analysts say.


The measures probably won’t hurt recent efforts to improve ties between the rival Koreas.

North and South Korea have been at each other’s throats, both figuratively and literally, since the Korean Peninsula was divided at the end of World War II into a U.S. backed capitalist south and a Soviet-backed communist north.

In the decades since they were founded in 1948, the Koreas have established elaborate patterns of communicating their intentions toward each other, even as they trade bombastic rhetoric and threats.

The North’s comments over the weekend have been largely viewed in Seoul as leaving the door open for warming ties as they didn’t specifically criticize South Korea.

TIME North Korea

Watch North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un Take the Controls of an Airplane

The North Korean dictator appears in a bombastic new propaganda film “piloting” an aircraft

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un appears in a new propaganda film in which, for some reason known only to Kim and perhaps his team of propagandists, the king of the hermit kingdom appears to be flying an airplane, sort of.

In a video posted to YouTube on New Year’s Eve by the account ‘stimmekoreas’, which has posted other videos related to North Korea in the past, the supreme leader of the DPRK can be seen taking off and landing a large plane with what looks like a substantial amount of assistance from his co-pilot. The video is accompanied by a marching band soundtrack and bombastic narration typical of other North Korean propaganda masterpieces.

Read more: Check Out Kim Jong Un’s Magical Disappearing Eyebrows

Kim’s pilot movie went online around the time he delivered a New Year’s address in which he said the DPRK was open to engaging in talks with South Korea. The two countries have been in a state of mostly frozen warfare since the Korean War settled into an uneasy armistice after 1953.

Though certainly important, the message of that speech was somewhat overshadowed by the mystery of Kim Jong Un’s disappearing eyebrows.

TIME North Korea

Check Out Kim Jong Un’s Magical Disappearing Eyebrows

Kim Jong-Un's eyebrows
From left: Kim Jong Un delivers a New Year's address on Jan. 1, 2015, Jan. 1, 2014, and Jan. 1, 2013. KCNA/Reuters (3)

The North Korean leaders eyebrows appear suddenly shrunken

When you’re the dictator of a totalitarian hermit state built on fear and mass delusion, it can be really hard to make the right fashion choices for each season.

The new eyebrow look sported by leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim Jong Un, may illustrate the pitfalls of having no one left to tell you “No…omg seriously just no.”

Kim Jong Un delivered a televised speech on Thursday in which he said the North is open to engaging in serious talks with South Korea. It was an important and almost conciliatory message, but one that was overshadowed — or undershadowed? — by the leader’s shrunken eyebrows.

READ MORE Watch North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un Take the Controls of an Airplane

In what looks to be a case of over plucking, Kim Jong Un has rendered his eyebrows in to mere dashes.

The South China Morning Post posits that Kim’s new forehead hyphens may be an effort to change his appearance to look more like his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, the first leader of North Korea.

Maybe the DPRK hoped to distract from Kim’s new look by releasing a propaganda video of the leader piloting a large airplane.

Read next: Kim Jong Un Says He Is Open To ‘Highest Level Talks’ With South Korea

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME North Korea

Kim Jong Un Says He Is Open To ‘Highest Level Talks’ With South Korea

"We should write a new history in North-South ties," he says

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un said he is open to “highest level talks” with neighbors South Korea on Thursday, urging the two countries to mend their adversarial relationship.

“We should write a new history in North-South ties,” Kim said in his New Year broadcast on state television, according to AFP. “There is no reason not to hold the highest-level talks.”

The offer to hold talks between the two nations was floated a few days earlier by South Korea’s minister in charge of inter-Korean affairs Ryoo Kihl-Jae, who proposed January as a tentative date.

There have been no formal talks between the two countries since February 2014. An agreement to resume dialogue in October following a North Korean delegation’s visit to the South for the Asian Games was soon set aside following renewed border clashes.


TIME movies

See 13 Times World Leaders Were Depicted in Movies

The cancelled release of The Interview, the movie that sparked a devastating cyberattack on Sony Pictures, shows how controversial depicting the assassination of a current world leader can be. Sure, Inglourious Basterds imagined the assassination of Hitler, but this was, of course, several decades after Hitler’s actual death.

It’s also pretty rare for films to have depictions of current or still-living heads of state at all (at the time the movie is made), even without the assassination plots. From Queen Elizabeth II to Ayatollah Khomeini, here are a few examples of world leaders being shown in movies.

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