Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

Futility Closet

Oct 28, 2019

In 1978, two luminaries of South Korean cinema were abducted by Kim Jong-Il and forced to make films in North Korea in an outlandish plan to improve his country's fortunes. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of Choi Eun-Hee and Shin Sang-Ok and their dramatic efforts to escape their captors.

We'll also examine Napoleon's wallpaper and puzzle over an abandoned construction.


In 1891, Robert Baden-Powell encoded the locations of Dalmatian forts in innocent drawings of butterflies.

Legal scholar Mark V. Tushnet suggests how a 16-year-old might seek the presidency.

Sources for our feature on Choi Eun-Hee and Shin Sang-Ok:

Paul Fischer, A Kim Jong-Il Production, 2015.

Johannes Schönherr, North Korean Cinema: A History, 2012.

Steven Chung, Split Screen Korea: Shin Sang-ok and Postwar Cinema, 2014.

Bradley K. Martin, Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty, 2007.

"Choi Eun-hee: South Korean Actress Who Was Kidnapped by North Dies," BBC, April 17, 2018.

Martin Belam, "Choi Eun-hee, Actor Once Abducted by North Korea, Dies," Guardian, April 17, 2018.

"A Hong Kong Kidnap: How Kim Jong-il Had South Korea's Top Actress Abducted From Repulse Bay," South China Morning Post, March 25, 2015.

"Famed South Korean Actress Choi Eun-Hee, Who Was Abducted by North Korean Spies in Hong Kong for Film Fan Kim Jong-Il, Dies Aged 91," South China Morning Post, April 17, 2018.

Olivier Holmey, "Remembering Choi Eun-hee, the South Korean Film Actor Once Abducted by Pyongyang," Independent, May 14, 2018.

Ilana Kaplan, "Choi Eun-Hee Dead: South Korean Actress Once Kidnapped by North Korea Dies Aged 92," Independent, April 17, 2018.

Barbara Demick, "Secret Tape Recordings of Kim Jong Il Provide Rare Insight Into the Psyche of His North Korean Regime," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 27, 2016.

Euan McKirdy, "South Korean Actress and Former North Korean Abductee Choi Eun-Hee Dies," CNN, April 17, 2018.

Julian Ryall, "The Incredible Life Story of Actress Choi Eun-Hee, Abducted by North Korea and Forced to Make Films for Kim Jong-il," Telegraph, April 17, 2018.

Nicolas Levi, "Kim Jong Il: A Film Director Who Ran a Country," Journal of Modern Science 25:2 (2015), 155-166.

Choe Sang-Hun, "Obituary: Shin Sang Ok, 80, Korean Film Director," New York Times, April 12, 2006.

Douglas Martin, "Shin Sang Ok, 80, Korean Film Director Abducted by Dictator, Is Dead," New York Times, April 13, 2006.

Alexandra Alter, "North Korea’s Love-Hate of Movies," New York Times, Dec. 31, 2014.

Peter Maass, "The Last Emperor," New York Times, Oct. 19, 2003.

Chris Knight, "Kim Jong-il's Bizarre Interlude in the Movies," Ottawa Citizen, Sept. 30, 2016, E.5.

"A Memoir: Shin Sang-ok, Choi Eun-hee and I," Korea Times, Oct. 5, 2016.

"Choi Eun-hee: Beautiful Actress and Doyenne of Postwar South Korean Films Before Her Kidnap by North Korea Where She Lived in a Gilded Cage," Times, June 4, 2018, 48.

Ronald Bergan, "Obituary: Shin Sang-Ok: South Korean Film Director Whose Life Read Like the Plot of a Far-Fetched Thriller," Guardian, April 19, 2006, 34.

Lawrence Levi, "Lights, Camera, Kidnap," Newsday, Feb. 8, 2015, C.17.

"The Incredible Life Story of Actress Choi Eun-hee, Abducted by North Korea and Forced to Make Films for Kim Jong-il," Telegraph, April 17, 2018.

An Hong-Kyoon, "More Dramatic Than Movie," Korea Times, Oct. 6, 2016.

Hannah McGill, "Acting in the Dictator's Cut," Independent, March 14, 2015, 22.

Olivier Holmey, "South Korean Film Actor Abducted by Pyongyang," Independent, May 16, 2018, 36.

Peter Keough, "How Kim Jong-il Got What He Wanted," Boston Globe, Sept. 23, 2016, G.8.

Peter Keough, "That Time Kim Jong-il Kidnapped His Favorite Movie Star and Director," Boston Globe, Sept. 21, 2016, G.8.

Khang Hyun-sung, "Director's Colourful Life Competed With His Cinematic Creations," South China Morning Post, April 15, 2006, 11.

Jennifer Hunter, "The Stranger-Than-Fiction Abduction of a Director and His Star," Toronto Star, Jan. 31, 2015, IN.3.

"Obituary of Shin Sang-ok," Daily Telegraph, May 6, 2006.

Tim Robey, "Losing the Plot: Kim Jong-il Was So Set on Film-Making He Kidnapped Two South Korean Stars," Daily Telegraph, Feb. 28, 2015, 30.

Here's Pulgasari, the monster movie that got Shin and Choi to Vienna. In the West it's regarded as a dud. "Pulgasari marked a turn in Shin's career, the first time he had put all his energy into a picture and created a stinker," writes Paul Fischer. "It was a sudden, inexplicable transformation, after which Shin never recovered his magic touch."

Listener mail:

Ted Chamberlain, "Napoleon Death Mystery Solved, Experts Say," National Geographic, Jan. 17, 2007.

"Napoleon Death: Arsenic Poisoning Ruled Out," Live Science, Feb. 12, 2008.

"Was Napoleon Poisoned?", American Museum of Natural History, Jan. 21, 2014.

J. Thomas Hindmarsh and John Savory, "The Death of Napoleon, Cancer or Arsenic?", Clinical Chemistry 54:12 (2008), 2092-2093.

William J. Broad, "Hair Analysis Deflates Napoleon Poisoning Theories," New York Times, June 10, 2008.

Max Finkel, "Instead of a Ticket, Some Speeders in Estonia Are Getting a Time Out," Jalopnik, Sept. 28, 2019.

Jonathan Schultz, "Speed Camera Lottery Wins VW Fun Theory Contest," New York Times, Nov. 30, 2010.

Elizabeth Haggarty, "Speed Camera Lottery Pays Drivers for Slowing Down," Toronto Star, Dec. 9, 2010.

DDB, "DDB's Fun Theory for Volkswagen Takes Home Cannes Cyber Grand Prix," June 25, 2010.

Wikipedia, "Radar Speed Sign: Effectiveness," (accessed Oct. 19, 2019).

"The Speed Camera Lottery - The Fun Theory," Rolighetsteorin, Nov. 12, 2010.

Volkswagen, "The Fun Theory 1 – Piano Staircase Initiative," Oct. 26, 2009.

Elle Hunt, "Cash Converters: Could This Dutch Scheme Stop Drivers Speeding?", Guardian, May 25, 2018.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle is from Paul Sloane and Des MacHale's 2014 book Remarkable Lateral Thinking Puzzles. Here's a corroborating link (warning -- this spoils the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, or via the RSS feed at

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet -- you can choose the amount you want to pledge, and we've set up some rewards to help thank you for your support. You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at Thanks for listening!