I can't resist making this addition to the Kim Jong Il catalogue of craziness.
Everyone knows he was a movie nut, right?
I confirmed that first hand in 1995, when my employer, Time magazine, sent me to Pyongyang to negotiate a visit by what we called the Time News Tour, which was a big news junket the company organized for prominent CEOs to visit off-the-grid places they might never reach on their own. The tour had never touched down in the Hermit Kingdom, and the Time Inc. CEO at the time, Reg Brack, really wanted it on the itinerary.
I was the Time magazine bureau chief in Tokyo, and it fell to me to test the waters in Pyongyang. I made two trips, which were both fascinating, because journalists rarely get to visit North Korea, and uncomfortable, because the North Koreans would want something in return for hosting our entourage.
The first trip started badly when my handlers drove me straight from the airport to the central square in Pyongyang that surrounds a giant bronze statue of the big man, Kim Ill Sung, Kim Jong Il's late father. With television cameras and lights ready, they jammed a bouquet of flowers into my arms and practically shoved me forward to lay flowers the the statue's feet. Somehow I managed to dig in my heels and resist.
There were many such strange moments on my two visits, but I it was not until the end of my second that I felt the drama building for the big "ask" -- what it would take to win Kim Jong Il's approval for the Time News Tour visit? My two handlers, both well educated gentlemen, grew a bit more intense than usual and asked if it was correct that Time magazine was owned by Time-Warner. I replied that it was, and then one said, "We have a special request, from the dear leader himself. He requests that you bring this on your next trip to Pyongyang."
He paused, and I looked at him blankly, wondering what I would say when the request was something impossible, unethical, or both.
"The Bridges of Madison County," he said.
"What," I asked?
"The dear leader would like an original reel of the film The Bridges of Madison County. Can you do this? It is a Warner film."
To be honest, I don't recall what I said. I was too stunned. What was Kim's deal? Did he have a thing for Streep? Eastwood? Was he into pulp romance?
I conveyed the message when I returned to Tokyo. Kim Jong Il never got the reels as far as I know. Not long after I left the North Koreans passed word that they would not welcome the Time News Tour.
Maybe the dear leader found a bootleg copy of the film. I'll never know.