From The Hip

The assassination of Kim Jong-un is now the subject of an upcoming American comedy

'The Interview' promises a humorous take on US and North Korea relations, but will it be be successful satire or simply in bad taste?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 June, 2014, 9:11am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 June, 2014, 1:55pm

You might not have heard of The Interview, but all you really need to know about the upcoming American comedy is that it’s about two journalists travelling to North Korea on a mission to assassinate Kim Jong-un.

Starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, The Interview debuts October 10 in the United States, and portrays the two stars as buffoonish talk show hosts who get the chance to travel to Pyongyang and speak with the Hermit Kingdom’s Supreme Ruler himself, played with gusto by Korean American actor Randall Park.

In reality, Rogen and Franco have been enlisted by the US government as undercover agents who must assassinate Kim and presumably liberate North Korea.

According to Rogen, who co-directed the project and is well known for his comedic roles in 2008’s Pineapple Express and 2013’s This is the End, the concept arose from pondering over the simple question of who could feasibly kill Kim Jong-un. 

“People have the hypothetical discussion about how journalists have access to the world’s most dangerous people, and they hypothetically would be in a good situation to assassinate them," Rogen says in an interview with Yahoo Movies.

“We read as much as we could that was available on the subject… We talked to the guys from Vice who actually went to North Korea and met Kim Jong-un. We talked to people in the government whose job it is to associate with North Korea, or be experts on it."

Despite these good intentions, a recently released trailer for the film has inspired mixed reactions amongst movie fans, some of whom are not keen to see a film with its premise built around the killing of a real-life person.

Watch: Trailer for The Interview

“I understand this is a comedy, but the last thing we need is a movie that mocks North Korea, let alone about assassinating their president,” one commentator on Yahoo Movies writes. “Even if you hate everything about North Korea, this movie is distasteful, unnecessary, and extremely irresponsible…

“They're making a multi-million dollar movie mocking a country [America] is not allies with, led by a man whose intentions could very well be dangerous to [America]. And as much as we like to stand tall and act as if nothing could happen, we all know deep down that just isn't true.”

“The assassination of a world leader currently in power is no more funny than a ‘comedy’ about 9/11,” another commentator on the Internet Movie Database writes. “Both constitute outrageous violations of international law and norms. How would Rogen feel if Pyongyang responded with a comedy about assassinating Obama? If it didn't offend him, I would be offended by Rogen, and if it did offend him, he'd be a hypocrite.”

Fans of Rogen’s previous work have responded to these claims by arguing that there is a precedent for using tongue-in-cheek parody to lampoon international politics, while others claim that it is highly unlikely that Kim Jong-un would take actual action against the United States for allowing The Interview to come to light.

All rhetoric aside, the fact that this film was greenlit reveals one troubling fact – that many people living in nations deemed more “civilised” than North Korea simply have the bad habit of not taking Kim Jong-un seriously.

When one considers the overblown propaganda that emerges from North Korea on a daily basis, as well as Kim’s bizarre relationship with American basketball player Dennis Rodman, this is understandable.

But while North Korea might sometimes seem like a crazed communist country that bawls for international attention, the fact still remains that it is a nation with nuclear power and the fourth largest military on the planet. It’s also a country where human rights atrocities occur on a regular basis, with an estimated 16 million people suffering from food shortages.

With this in mind, if you’re going to satirise North Korea as an expression of free speech, you should really strive to do a careful job of it.

Over the last ten years, many American creators have tried their hand at mocking the DPRK with various results. The minds behind popular US cartoon South Park went for an extremely over-the-top approach in 2004’s Team America: World Police, a movie featuring animated puppets that was designed to be a parody of Hollywood action blockbusters.

In the film, former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is portrayed as an insane alien cockroach with a stereotypical Asian accent who sings about how he’s “so ronrery” in his spare time.

More recently, an independent American studio began work on a satirical video game dubbed Glorious Leader!, which features Kim Jong-un fighting against waves of “Western imperialists” in pixelated 2D form.

But Glorious Leader! and Team America: World Police are not live-action productions, while The Interview is. By the sheer nature of placing real-life actors in a controversial plot which involves two Caucasian men infiltrating an Asian country to assassinate its leader, The Interview automatically positions itself in a difficult place, where it must walk both the political and racial tightrope between effective satire and bad taste.

Can the film succeed in this mission? Judging from the trailer, which is filled with bathroom humour and shots where the filmmakers are trying to pass Vancouver off as Pyongyang, it’s really hard to tell. Honestly, I hope that The Interview pleasantly surprises me. But from what I've seen so far, the directors seem to be going for a fairly low level of humour - and a movie dealing with the sensitive topic of North Korea ought to strive for more than that. 

“I've been aware of this project for some time, and given the premise, I've been pretty cautious,” writes Phil Yu, the creator of popular blog Angry Asian Man. “No doubt… I'm sure [Randall Park playing Kim Jong-un] is damn hilarious in this movie -- and I will ride for him all day, every day. [But] there's just an awful lot that can possibly go wrong with something like this. Here's hoping.”