Film Icon Kidnapped by North Korea Dies

Choi Eun-hee later shared recording in which Kim Jong Il apologized
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 17, 2018 8:07 AM CDT
A portrait of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is displayed in Pyongyang on Feb. 14, 2017.   (AP Photo/Eric Talmadge)

(Newser) – Choi Eun-hee led a fascinating life—even before the actress was kidnapped by North Korean agents and forced to make films for the state. A film icon, Choi died Monday at a South Korean hospital, where she was receiving dialysis, her son tells Yonhap News. She was 91. Beginning her film career in 1947's A New Oath, Choi became one of South Korea's leading actresses in the 1950s and '60s and one of the country's first female directors, reports Screen Daily. By 1976, she'd appeared in more than 130 films, and apparently caught the eye of future North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. That year, while in Hong Kong, Choi was kidnapped by agents working for Kim, who believed she could help elevate North Korea's film industry, reports the BBC.

Months later, Choi's ex-husband, director Shin Sang-ok, was also kidnapped when he went to Hong Kong to look for her. Reunited at a party, the pair eventually made 17 films in North Korea, including 1985's Salt, for which Choi took home the best actress award at the Moscow Film Festival, per Screen Daily. But though she was the first Korean to receive such an honor, Choi wasn't happy living under guard. While promoting a movie in Vienna in March 1986, Choi and Shin sought asylum at the US embassy. The pair—who would spend more than a decade in the US before returning to South Korea in 1999—would later reveal secret recordings in which Kim apologized for the kidnapping scheme, per CNN. But to this day, North Korea claims the pair sought refuge in the country, per the BBC.

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