Golden sunrises, gleaming skylines and high-speed trains. Children skipping through Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang. North Korean flags fluttering between images of Egyptian pyramids, the Taj Mahal and the Lincoln Memorial.
In a split-screen shot, Kim Jong Un waved to an adoring crowd while President Trump stood beside him with his thumb in the air. The pair appeared over and over again, like running mates in a campaign video.
The film went on like this for more than four minutes, with brief interludes of missiles, soldiers and warships interrupting the pageantry. Some journalists, unable to understand the Korean-language narration, assumed they were watching one of Pyongyang’s infamous propaganda films. “What country are we in?” asked a reporter from the filing center.
They are playing a propaganda video before Trump presser. Not kidding. What is happening??!!— Andrew Beatty (@AndrewBeatty) June 12, 2018
But then the video looped, playing this time in English. And then Trump walked onto the stage and confirmed what some had already realized.
The film was not North Korean propaganda. It had been made in America, by or on the orders of his White House, for the benefit of Kim.
“I hope you liked it,” Trump told the reporters. “I thought it was good. I thought it was interesting enough to show. ... And I think he loved it.”
The crowd sounded skeptical. Some wondered if Trump had not, in fact, just provided U.S.-sanctioned propaganda to one of the country’s oldest adversaries.
But as the president explained it, the video was more like an elevator pitch. It was the type of glitzy production that Trump might have once used to persuade investors to finance his hotels, and now hoped could persuade one of the most repressive regimes in the world to disarm its nuclear weapons and end nearly 70 years of international isolation and militant hostility to the United States.
On Tuesday evening, Trump tweeted a link to the video, for all to see.
The nearly five-minute movie even has its own Hollywood-style vanity logo: “A Destiny Pictures Production,” though a film company by the same name in Los Angeles denied any involvement in making it, and the White House has not yet responded to questions about it.
“Of those alive today, only a small number will leave a lasting impact,” the narrator said near the beginning, as alternating shots of Trump, Kim and North Korean pageantry flashed on the screen. “And only a very few will make decisions or take actions to renew their homeland, or change the course of history.”
The message was clear: Kim had a decision to make. Then the film progressed from grim black-and-white shots of the United States’s 1950s-era war with North Korea into a montage of rose-colored parades and gold-tinted clouds.
“The past doesn’t have to be the future,” the narrator said. “What if a people that share a common and rich heritage can find a common future?”
The same technique repeated even more dramatically a minute later in the film, when the footage seemed to melt into a horror montage of war planes and missiles bearing down on North Korean cities — much like the apocalyptic propaganda videos Pyongyang had produced just a few months ago, when Kim and Trump sounded as if they were on the brink of nuclear war.
But in Trump’s film, the destruction rewound itself. The missiles flew back into to their launchers, and a science fiction-like version of North Korea took its place — one of crane-dotted skylines, crowded highways, computerized factories and drones, all presided over by a waving, grinning Kim, accompanied always by Trump. “Two men; two leaders; one destiny.”
“You can have medical breakthroughs, an abundance of resources, innovative technology and new discoveries,” the narrator said, the footage more and more resembling a Hollywood movie trailer as it built to its finale:
“Featuring President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un in a meeting to remake history,” the narrator concluded, as Korean words flashed on a black background: “It is going to become a reality?”
Haven't seen this before: Before POTUS comes out for press conference, WH shows a Michael Bay-esque video showing Trump and Kim, military weapons, bombs— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) June 12, 2018
The reporters had many questions.
“Do you now see Kim Jong Un as an equal?” asked a Time magazine correspondent.
“In what way?” Trump asked.
“You just showed a video that showed you and Kim Jong Un on equal footing, and discussing the future of the country.”
The president may have misunderstood the question, as he referred in his answer to his closed-door talks and a few carefully negotiated photo ops with Kim — not the U.S.-made video that presented the totalitarian autocrat as a hero.
“If I have to say I’m sitting on a stage with Chairman Kim and that gets us to save 30 million lives — it could be more than that — I’m willing to sit on a stage, I’m willing to travel to Singapore, very proudly,” Trump said.
“Are you concerned the video you just showed could be used by Kim as propaganda, to show him as ... ”
Trump cut the question off. “No, I’m not concerned at all. We can use that video for other countries.”
The president was more talkative when discussing how Kim had reacted to the video, which Trump had presumably played for him during a brief, private meeting hours earlier.
“We didn’t have a big screen like you have the luxury of having,” Trump said. “We didn’t need it, because we had it on cassette, uh, an iPad.
“And they played it. About eight of their representatives were watching it, and I thought they were fascinated by it. I thought it was well done. I showed it to you because that’s the future. I mean, that could very well be the future. And the other alternative is just not a very good alternative. It’s just not good.”
International reviews of the video were decidedly mixed.
“Schlocky” — Vanity Fair.
“Odd.” — The Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
“One observer dismissed it as ‘a word salad topped with gratuitous appeasement of a monstrous regime,’ " the South China Morning Post reported.
The Daily Mail noted that as the narrator described North Korea’s glorious future of technology and international investment, the video showed stock footage of the Miami Beach shoreline, not far from a Trump-owned hotel. The Spectator called the whole sequence “real estate politik” — which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“The text reads like some godawful martial-arts movie trailer crossed with a corporate advertisement for an ambitious construction project,” Freddy Gray wrote for the British newspaper. “But clearly, in some peculiar way, it works.”
The president acknowledged that some of the film’s imagery may seem far-fetched. North Korea is mired in poverty, internationally isolated, and has been mismanaged for decades by a family of dictators — Kim, his father and grandfather.
“That was done at the highest level of future development,” Trump told the reporters in Singapore, as if he had just offered Kim a multitiered vacation package. “I told him, you may not want this. You may want to do a much smaller version. ... You may not want that, with the trains and everything.”
He waved his hands. “You know, with super everything, to the top. It’s going to be up to them."
And then, in his usual style, Trump was thinking out loud about the “great condos” that might one day be built on the “great beaches” of North Korea.
“I explained it,” he said. “You could have the best hotels in the world. Think of it from the real estate perspective.”
As the screens above Trump emphasized, he certainly had.
Anne Gearan, Min Joo Kim and Philip Rucker contributed to this report.
What lawmakers and world leaders are saying about the Trump-Kim summit