When the going gets tough for Kim Jong Un, his regime likes to focus its TV cameras on the military, with glossy productions showcasing the missiles and manpower North Korea says the masses protect the nation.
Since taking power a decade ago, Kim has reimagined state television, including drone footage, computer graphics, video clips and made-for-TV moments. This has helped him gain support for the state battling chronic food shortages and an anemic economy that has been weakened by international sanctions imposed as punishment for the testing of atomic bombs and missiles, some of which may allow America and its allies to meet.
In his most recent spectacle on state television, ahead of a weapons test on March 24, Kim can be seen in dark sunglasses and a black leather jacket apparently ordering his military – in slow motion – to fire an intercontinental ballistic missile. It was released eight days after the failed ballistic missile launch near Pyongyang International Airport. South Korea said the North edited the video to combine these two launches into one apparently successful test for propaganda purposes.
Kim’s propaganda machine is likely gearing up for more headline events later this month, including a possible military parade for the anniversary of his army’s founding on April 25. Military parades were previously occasions to show off hardware to America’s allies in Asia and the American mainland. Experts also warn that the state could conduct its first atomic bomb test since 2017.
“Slick videos like the ICBM test images translate into the credibility of the information it displays,” said Kang Mi-jin, a North Korean defector who runs a company in South Korea that tracks the economy of her former home.
“The video made North Koreans believe in the country’s ICBM capability, further cementing Kim Jong Un’s legitimacy to rule,” she said, adding that hardly anyone in the isolated north is aware of the attempts of Seoul to point out suspicious fabrications in Kim’s propaganda.
North Korea knows the videos will be viewed abroad by governments, private sector analysts and those curious about the latest weapons and how it puts Kim Jong-un at the center as the face of the state.
Here are examples of how North Korea is borrowing from Hollywood’s playbook to polish its image for its citizens and the world:
Camera mounted on a rocket
Kim Jong Un’s first successful major missile test took place in December 2012, about a year after he came to power. It gave hints of its state’s propaganda style by showing the launch of an Unha-3 from different angles, including from a camera placed on the missile as it took off. It was a far cry from the style seen under his father, Kim Jong Il, a cinema enthusiast who reportedly owned thousands of film tapes and wrote treatises on filmmaking. The older Kim liked to record events with heavy film cameras that could often be heard in the background during his greatest moments.
Movie Trailer Style
Previous weapons tests yielded snapshots of Kim Jong Un dressed in baggy suits or puffy jackets, looking through binoculars from a distance. The March 24 missile test video was a departure from that style, putting the North Korean leader at the center of the apparent action. Hangar doors slowly open to reveal a rocket on a mobile launcher, while Kim – dressed more casually – walks in slow motion with two soldiers while exciting music plays. It was North Korea’s most elaborate production for a launch and featured filming techniques, such as overhead drone shots, used by state television in recent years.
“North Korea had never put together a program like this, especially regarding a Kim leader. That was so progressive — so un-North Korean,” said Rachel Minyoung Lee, a non-resident fellow at the 38 North Program at the Stimson Center, from the images for the launch of the ICBM.
Re-enact action with drones
In September, North Korea unveiled a new missile launch system that can be fired from a train car. Overflying drones and cameras around the train were used to capture the rocket from multiple angles, from the moment it is released from the roof flap of a train car to the moment it is shot into the air, leaving a trail of flame and smoke. stays behind. That was the first time it gave a ballistic missile test the Hollywood treatment. The test came just hours after South Korea fired a new weapon of its own: a submarine-launched ballistic missile.
Kim Jong-un has added train-launched missiles to North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) September 17, 2021
Fireworks and fighter jets
Some of the biggest spectacles on state television have been military parades, including by far Kim’s largest in October 2020 to mark the 75th anniversary of his ruling party. Kim appeared to be crying as she expressed regret over the country’s struggles under sanctions and natural disasters. The affair, held overnight, was complete with jets flying overhead, fireworks and the biggest display of new weapons since Kim took power.
North Korean Kim Jong-un rolled out a new ballistic missile during a rare midnight parade on Saturday to mark the 75th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party.
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) October 11, 2020
North Korea started the transition to high definition about three years ago and that led to an increase in production values. This was reflected in the introduction of computer graphics into economic production reports, which gave a new perspective on what were normally steadfast stories about workers in factories. Sets took on a more modern look, and younger field reporters and newscasters in fashionable clothes made their way onto screens.
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