Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article stated that Lee Min-bok had sent tens of thousands of copies of “The Interview” to North Korea by balloon. But there appear to be numerical discrepancies from Lee, so the amount has been removed from the text.
Defector deploys balloons with "The Interview" to North Korea
Lee Min-bok says he finds the movie vulgar, but sends it anyway
Lee Min-bok didn’t laugh once when he watched “The Interview.” The North Korean defector calls the Hollywood comedy “vulgar,” admitting he couldn’t even watch the whole film.
Yet he is still sending thousands of copies across the border from South to North Korea in balloons, determined his people will see the movie in which the leader Kim Jong Un is assassinated on screen.
“The regime hates this film because it shows Kim Jong Un as a man, not a God,” says Lee. “He cries and is afraid like us and then he’s assassinated.”
Kim is portrayed in the movie as a Katy Perry-loving, sensitive soul with daddy issues, clashing with the all-powerful image beamed out by Pyongyang’s tightly controlled state media and propaganda machine.
At 1 a.m., Lee makes a final check of the wind speed and direction, then heads towards the border with North Korea. He has company. The South Korean police and military drive closely behind. After Pyongyang fired on similar propaganda balloons recently, they are monitoring launches very closely.
This irritates Lee.
“We can help towards reunification with these balloons,” says Lee. “It costs millions of dollars to buy a F-22 fighter jet which the South Korean government insist they need and that’s not for peaceful purposes. So why do civilians like me have to do this under cover of darkness?”
Hopes of disseminating info
At 3 a.m., Lee fills the balloons with helium and ties the bundles of DVDs, dollar bills and political leaflets to the bottom. A timer is attached which will release the bundle once safely in North Korean territory.
He has no way of knowing what will happen to the goods after that. He doesn’t know if ordinary North Koreans will watch the movie and read the leaflets. The fact that Pyongyang acts with fury against these so-called propaganda balloons suggests some information is seeping through to the hermit kingdom.
“If you tell the truth in North Korea, you die. But by using these balloons from here, I can tell the truth in safety,” Lee adds.
The decision to launch the balloons in the dead of night is not just to avoid confrontation with North Korea, but also with South Korea’s local residents.
After Pyongyang fired on balloons last October and South Korea returned fire, those living close to the border have been trying to physically stop the launches, arguing they are being put in the line of fire.
The chances of at least some North Koreans having watched the film that North Korea sees as “an act of terrorism” is certainly possible.