It had all the trappings of a trailer for a summer blockbuster.
The short film was stuffed with quick cuts of military warplanes and a montage of a North Korea filled with high-speed trains and beautiful sunrises. Then came a voice reminiscent of the late trailer voice-over legend Don LaFontaine‘s deep, booming baritone.
“Destiny Pictures presents a story of opportunity. A new story. A new beginning. One of peace. Two men, two leaders, one destiny.”
Those two men, who appear on-screen, were President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
This was no movie trailer.
Instead, it was an elevator pitch to Kim to “persuade the leader of one of the most repressive regimes in the world to end nearly 70 years of international isolation and militant hostility to the United States,” as The Washington Post’s Avi Selk put it. Trump showed it to Kim on an iPad and later played it for a room of reporters during the leaders’ historic summit in Singapore.
That this was Trump’s chosen gambit should surprise no one.
Both Trump and Kim share a love of pop culture to the point that it colors how they see the world. As much is obvious in Kim’s response after he saw the movie, when he said through an interpreter that “many people in the world that will think of this as a scene from a . . . science fiction movie.”
Trump, meanwhile, went from developing real estate to hosting “The Apprentice” to appearing in commercials for McDonald’s and Pizza Hut and Oreo cookies and Nike. He’s in a pro wrestling hall of fame and ran beauty pageants. The man even had his own board game.
He blasts show after show for having (in Trump’s head) poor ratings, rather than on the merits of their content. He brags about grabbing women’s genitals because he’s a celebrity. He obsessively tweets about such shows as “Saturday Night Live.”
His has been dubbed by many outlets as the “pop culture presidency.”
Showing a fake movie trailer certainly reinforces that moniker. But movie trailers are short teases that promise something exciting down the line, even if they may or may not fulfill that promise — a metaphor for the entire summit.
The trailer seemed to appeal to Kim, who was introduced to American pop culture when he attended school in Switzerland until age 17. As Vanity Fair reported, “Western influences came through the mediated world of pop culture — movies, television, video games, anything Disney. Kim’s tastes are said to remain rooted in the mid-80s and 90s — thus his fascination with the Bulls and, reportedly, with the music of Michael Jackson and Madonna.”
He adored the National Basketball Association so much, in fact, that he “spent hours doing meticulous pencil drawings of Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan” and “proudly showed off photographs of himself standing with Toni Kukoc of the Chicago Bulls and Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers,” The Post reported in 2009.
Furthermore, he loved action movies (particularly ones featuring Jackie Chan) and spent hours on his Sony PlayStation.
Since returning to North Korea and eventually assuming the role of leader, he’s even broken down some of the country’s barriers regarding pop culture.
Although South Korean entertainment (along with most outside culture) is banned in his country, Kim recently attended a K-pop concert in Pyongyang and said he was “deeply moved” by the performance.
He’s even opened North Korea — just a crack — to some American icons, allowing performers dressed as characters such as Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh to appear in Pyongyang and inviting some Western cartoons to play on the government-run television stations. Plus, as the Guardian noted, “Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse have been popular among children for several years. Rucksacks, pencil cases and pyjamas imported from China often feature Disney characters, and stories such as Dumbo have been translated into Korean for schoolchildren.”
Finally, he’s befriended basketball Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman — a former Bulls star — whom he’s allowed to visit the country several times, which is unusual for an American.
In fact, Kim has become not just a political dictator but also a pop culture icon in his own twisted way — through the 2014 Seth Rogan and James Franco movie “The Interview,” about a plot to assassinate the North Korean leader. Upon learning of the film, Kim demanded that the studio, Sony Pictures, not release it. North Korea is accused by the U.S. government of later hacking into Sony’s computer systems and publishing the private emails of many top employees.
And Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, was a pop culture obsessive in his own right. He amassed a collection of 30,000 films, which included every movie that had won an Oscar — and he loved to brag to foreign dignitaries that he’d seen them all.
The elder Kim so loved movies that he kidnapped two famous South Koreans, the movie director Shin Sang-ok and the actress Choi Eun-hee, in 1978.
The two had been married and would again marry after their imprisonment. But first, Kim Jong Il held them in North Korea for about eight years, until 1986, and forced them to make movies in hopes of making the North Korean film industry a force.
Given Kim Jong Un’s interest in film, maybe it’s no surprise that the fake trailer seemed to go over well, as Trump boasted: “I showed it to him today, actually during the meeting, toward the end of the meeting and I think he loved it.”