Hong Kong got a glimpse of North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un yesterday but all was not what it seemed, much like in the Hermit Kingdom.
Surprised locals and tourists along the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade were eager to shake hands and take photos with a man who looked exactly like the young dictator. That man turned out to be a Hong Kong-based Australian drummer known as Howard, 34.
One tour group from the South Korean capital, Seoul, did not mince words. "We hate him," one of the men said, before posing for pictures with Howard.
Briton Conway Tong bumped into him in the Gucci store on Nathan Road. The verdict: "He was a good lookalike."
Video: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un takes a stroll in Hong Kong, or did he?
For Howard, who declined to give his surname, it all started in April when he went to his hairdresser with the request: give me a "Kim Jong-un".
"As a musician, I knew it might get me bookings," he said.
The move followed months of ridicule from friends over his resemblance to Kim Jong-un, who came to power in December 2011 after his father Kim Jong-il died.
"So I thought maybe I should capitalise on it; plus, everyone remembers the baddies," added Howard, who was born in Hong Kong.
Two weeks after his new look appeared on Facebook, Israeli fast-food chain Burger Ranch flew Howard to Tel Aviv to shoot a television advert, in response to a McDonald's ad that had a Barack Obama lookalike. Not knowing a word of Korean, he took a crash course. The ensuing 10-second ad was an instant hit.
Howard is now riding a wave of media attention as the world's first Kim Jong-un impersonator, with offers for an appearance coming in from a literary festival in Sweden, a website in Romania and a political satire show in Armenia, among others.
"I've had a number of Eastern Bloc countries make requests. I think it's because they've had their share of dictators and can laugh about it."
Howard added: "It's hilarious. I've got my five minutes of fame; let's see how long it lasts."
Yesterday, after three hours in hair and make-up, Howard transformed into the dictator, who is feared and ridiculed in equal measure.
"I'm not as fat as Kim Jong-un but I'm working on it. Also, I've got an Australian accent so this is an Australian Kim Jong-un," said Howard.
Howard, who produces Brazilian music, is also in talks with mainland-based message service QQ to film a commercial for an app in which he would shake hands with an Obama lookalike.
Appearance fees start from HK$5,000 for parties and go up to six figures for bigger projects.
"I'd also like to go to South Korea and to the [demilitarised zone] and create an international incident," he said. "But I don't want to go to North Korea. I'd probably get kidnapped and be forced to be his body double."
Unlike the real version, Howard, who is taller than the 168cm real Kim, is unmarried. "I'm single and ready to mingle," he said.