look back at the reign of Kim Jong-un


Making a documentary about North Korea remains difficult. Usually reluctant to reveal itself to the cameras of the world, the reclusive country of East Asia has been completely locked down since the Covid-19 pandemic. With North Korea: the nuclear dynasty, the director Romain Icard nevertheless offers a “dive behind the scenes of the most closed dictatorship in the world” and of “recounting the reign” of the current leader, Kim Jong-un.

Organized chronologically and divided into three parts, his work, focused on the nuclear issue and unfortunately punctuated by some inaccuracies – South Korea never signed the armistice suspending the fighting of the Korean War (1950-1953) –, only partially succeeds.

The first part, “Birth of a despot”, evokes the youth and the coming to power, at the end of 2011, of Kim Jong-un, who succeeded his father Kim Jong-il (1941-2011). The sequence reviews the origins and functioning of the regime established after the Second World War, of “dynastic culture, comparable with what historians call the Old Regime, with a mixture of Korean nationalism and Marxism in its Leninist, even Stalinist reading”, explains Andrei Lankov, from Kookmin University in Seoul.

Penalties Imposed

The second part, “Rocket Man”, retraces Kim Jong-un’s first years in power. The line is put on the ” violence ” of the young leader, who had his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, arrested and executed in December 2013 and his half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, assassinated in February 2017, while chaining missile attacks and nuclear tests, which led to the UN to further toughen the sanctions imposed on North Korea. The title of this part takes a nickname given by US President Donald Trump, at the height of tensions, in 2017.

Finally, “Le Diplomate” dwells on Kim Jong-un’s efforts to relaunch dialogue, from 2018, and the summits with Donald Trump, presented as as spectacular, media and theatrical as devoid of progress towards denuclearization. .

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In addition to archive footage, the documentary is based on testimonies, mainly from North Koreans who fled their country, such as Thae Yong-ho, a former diplomat, now a Conservative MP in South Korea, but also from experts and actors in negotiations with the North, such as Joseph DeTrani, Asia director of the CIA in the 2000s who participated in talks with Pyongyang, or John Bolton, national security adviser to Donald Trump.

Is this the choice of the interlocutors, mostly known for their hostility to Pyongyang and the idea of ​​negotiating with the regime? The documentary evades certain aspects of the regime whose choices, not only in nuclear matters, have responded for nearly eighty years to complex regional geopolitical issues and fluctuating internal questions – the famine of the 1990s resulted more from meteorological problems and the fall of the USSR than a nuclear program then in slow motion.

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It would also have been interesting to give a moment to the real attention that Kim Jong-un pays to the well-being of the population, an essential point for the stability of the regime. Since 2013, Pyongyang has followed the “byongjin” policy, or the “parallel development” of the economy and nuclear power.

North Korea: the nuclear dynasty, documentary by Romain Icard (Fr., 2022, 71 min).

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