Down the aisle with Kim

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 July, 2006, 12:00am

So powerful, so dictatorial, so reclusive, so pudgy, so downright strange is North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il that, when a new titbit about him comes our way, we cannot help but to pour over it feverishly.

My pulse was therefore quickening on Sunday, when the news flash crossed my path that the Darling Man - or whatever title of adoration his countrypeople have been indoctrinated to use - had taken a new wife.

'Aha', said I excitedly, having read previously of Mr Kim's appetite for actresses, dancers, singers and beauty queens. 'Perhaps this time his beloved will be from another branch of the entertainment industry, such as journalism?'

I read on, but found that Kim Ok, 42, was nothing so exciting: she is his long-time private secretary. Worse, she is not drop-dead gorgeous like all his previous wives or girlfriends. Rather, as the South Korean government source who revealed the news observed, she was merely 'cute'. He even went so far as to refer to her as 'wise and clever'.

This is distressing, to say the least.

Since Mr Kim, 64, started the North's communist dynasty by taking over from his father, Kim Il-sung, who died in 1994, he has been the talk of the world's jet-set juntas. No other dictator can claim to be so wild and wacky, yet so evil.

Had he discarded his playboy image - awash with fast cars and women and fine food, with the occasional kidnapping of South Korean film directors and actresses thrown in for added glitz?

Would he give his 15,000-title personal film library - mostly in the Rambo, James Bond and Friday-the-13th vein - to his country's poor and needy? Maybe his days of scaring the wits out of the world with missiles were numbered? Oh, my gosh - had he become normal?

In a world of boring leaders, just a handful stand out: Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for his impersonations of the late rock 'n' roll king Elvis Presley; America's President George W. Bush for mangling the English language; Swaziland's spendthrift King Mswati, who is more interested in building palaces for his 13 wives than taking care of his country's poverty and Aids crises; and Turkmenistan's megalomaniac President Saparmurat Niyazov, who had the days of the week renamed after members of his family. So we sorely need Mr Kim.

His new wife seems destined to put him on the straight and narrow, though. She majored in piano at Pyongyang University of Music and Dance, and shortly after graduating became Mr Kim's secretary - a job she has held for more than 20 years.

Mr Kim's marital status is never officially spoken of in North Korea, but three other women are believed to have been treated as his wife. The third, Ko Yong-hi, a former member of a state dance troupe, died of cancer two years ago. For two decades, he is believed to have lived with movie star Sung Hae-rim, who died in 2002. While he was living with Sung, his father forced him to marry Kim Young-sook, the daughter of a high-ranking military official.

In between and during the relationships, he is said to have had a plethora of live-in starlets. That pastime was made easier by the fact that he was once in charge of North Korea's film propaganda department.

Kim Il-sung also married his secretary after the death of his wife. Like his son, he was not renowned for his personality or flair.

Now, if Mr Kim is to stay interesting, he should be given a starring role in the true love of his life - a Hollywood blockbuster. Given his background, he would be a natural in the sequel to Superman Returns, playing Superman's arch-foe, super-villain Lex Luthor.

Actor Kevin Spacey may have played a credible Luthor in the latest Superman movie, but he would be no match for Mr Kim, who has a proven, real-life, track record of threatening the world.

Peter Kammerer is the Post's foreign editor