About a week ago, a South Korean newspaper reported that Kim Jong-un had executed his ex-mistress and a number of other members of her musical troupe for the crime of making pornographic films, and possibly for possessing Bibles. There were some lip-smacking details: death was by machine gun and family members had been forced to witness the event before being herded off into the prison gulag of the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea.
But did this actually happen? The South Korean newspaper, the Chosun Ilbo, is considered Korea’s top journalistic publication, but need I mention the top US paper and, say, Weapons of Mass Destruction? And Chosun Ilbo is very much part of Korea’s power elite and has been accused of slanting reports in aid of that elite. Perhaps South Korean politicos felt the need to mock the North for some reason or other; Chosun Ilbo is able to help. All reporting has to be read critically.
So what do we know? The woman in question, Hyon Song-wol, reportedly became involved with Kim Jong-un ten years ago, but Dad (Kim Jong-il) didn’t approve and broke up the relationship. Rumor has it that Hyon and Kim Jong-un carried on, though, even after her marriage to an army officer.
The Kim dynasty has been very secretive about family matters. It was something of a departure for Kim Jong-un to be seen and photographed with his wife, Ri Sol-ju, over the last year or so.
Hyon was a member of the Wangjaesan Light Music Band musical troupe that often performed with the Unhasu Orchestra, a serious group that played in Paris last year. Mun Kyong-jin, a highly regarded violinist, and two other concertmasters of the Unhasu Orchestra are among those said to have been executed. Also reported slain were members of the all-female Moranbong Band. Hyon also performed with the popular group, Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble. Her best known number was “A Girl in the Saddle of a Steed” (also translated as “Excellent Horse-like Lady”) where she performed as a worker in a textile factory, dancing amongst the bobbins in a widely-seen video. Glorification of the worker and militarist patriotic numbers are staples of North Korean music.
Ri Sol-ju is a former member of the Unhasu troupe, though Kim has tried to erase her show biz past. There is speculation about her involvement in the executions. So far as I can tell, it is all speculation. About ten days before the reported executions, Kim and Ri Sol-ju attended a performance of the Unhasu Orchestra and Wangjaesan Light Music Band.
The pornographic video sold in China is said to be the one on this page. Hyon and two other women dance to “Aloha Oe”, sung in English, while wearing red borsalino hats and vests. They throw off the vests toward the end of the number, somewhat like a stripper might do, except that there is no nudity.
Now watching that video has to convince you that North Korea is weird. No doubt about it. Kim Jong-il once kidnapped a movie director and an actress from South Korea and kept them captive to make movies for him. And there are reports that Kim Jong-un had a senior military officer executed for drinking during the mourning period for Kim Jong-il. According to reports, Kim commanded that the man be obliterated so the executioners zeroed in a mortar on the spot where he stood and blew him up. Yep, weird.
The problem is that no one really knows what is going on in North Korea. The first real evidence of the prison camps came from an escapee. Still, that was a widely-disseminated rumor that turned out to be true. And perhaps this story of executed musicians is true as well, or perhaps it’s just that First World people have a taste for News of the Weird. A spokesperson at North Korea’s official YouTube channel has denied the reports and, a little while back, claimed that Hyon and the Unhasu Orchestra were going to perform September 9, Foundation Day of the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea. But, so far, no video of Hyon taken since August 17 has been shown on YouTube.