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NBC: ‘Operation Chromite’ focuses on ‘Forgotten’ Korean War, bridging US and Korean cinema

 

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NBC News (by Stephany Bai):

Despite heavy involvement from the U.S. military, the Korean War is often referred to as “the forgotten war” because of its relatively low profile in history, according to military historians.

A new film, “Operation Chromite,” is spotlighting one of the key figures of the war, United States Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Liam Neeson portrays MacArthur in the film and is joined by two major Korean actors, Bum Soo Lee and Jung Jae Lee, in telling the story of the amphibious landing at Incheon, which the filmmakers say was one of the most consequential moments of the war. The movie, which makes its American debut on Aug. 12, opened at number one in South Korea, according to Variety.

[MacArthur] is a very well-known and respected figure in South Korea,” Bum Soo Lee told NBC News. “There may be people who have different ideologies in Korea, but overall the Korean people appreciate and respect what [General MacArthur and the US military] did.”

Liam Neeson, center, portrays Gen. Douglas MacArthur in “Operation Chromite,” a new movie about the Korean War. 

He added that the events portrayed in the film, and the people behind them, are directly responsible for the growth of South Korea, noting that the South Korean soldiers had been on the verge of giving up a key military stronghold when MacArthur executed the Incheon landing operation.

The Battle of Incheon and the landing operation cut the supply chain of the North Korean military and soldiers, and that contributed a lot to turning the tide of the war,” he said. “That lead to building democracy in South Korea and contributed to the economic growth that we’re seeing to this day.

Bum Soo Lee, center, in “Operation Chromite”

Bum Soo Lee plays the villain of the film, a North Korean spy, while Jung Jae Lee is a South Korean commander who infiltrates the North Korean army. Both actors emphasized to NBC News the research and preparation they did for the film.

What we as actors, as well as the director, focus so much on is speaking towards the truth,” Bum Soo Lee said. “This movie is based on a true event, on history. There was a lot of pressure on our shoulders because we were telling the story of these unsung heroes, who sacrificed themselves in the war, and we really wanted to pay respect to them.”

Jung Jae Lee added that the same was true for Neeson. “[Neeson] created new scenes and suggestions that were incorporated because he really tried his best to depict the real character,” Jung Jae Lee said. “The amount of effort he put into the character was really impressive.”

Jung Jae Lee said that he believes “Operation Chromite” represents a step toward greater collaboration between Hollywood and the Korean movie industry.

These days you see a lot of Hollywood movies open in advance in Korea, and big actors coming to promote their movies in Korea,” he said. “I can’t say there are a lot of Korean actors working in Hollywood, but the few we do already have are doing a great job in TV and movies. I believe that we’ll be able to see more of that in the near future.”

Did North Korea really publish pictures of a biological weapons facility?

Vice News (By Avi Asher-Schapiro):

North Korea might have just revealed that it has the capability to produce massive quantities of biological weapons.

On June 6, a North Korean scientist defected to Finland with 15 gigabytes of electronic evidence that he claims documents how the country is testing chemical and biological agents on its own citizens.

That same day, North Korea’s state media released photos of Kim Jong-un touring what it described as a pesticide factory called the Pyongyang Bio-technical Institute — but experts tell VICE News that this same facility is likely meant to produce massive quantities of weaponized anthrax.

Kim touring the Pyongyang Bio-Institute in June. The photos show fermenters and bioreactors. (Photos via Rodong Sinmun)

Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, first discovered the significance of the photos. She provided VICE News with an advance copy of her analysis of the images, released today, in which she concludes that, “given North Korea’s known history of interest in biological weapons, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Institute is intended to produce military-size batches of anthrax.”

The multi-million dollar facility is ostensibly intended to produce bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a bacteria commonly used for pesticides.

If you’re a biological weapons expert, and see a facility for bio-pesticide, you immediately ask yourself: what kind?” Hanham said. “Then when you see packages of Bt, you should know that it’s a close cousin of anthrax — it’s produced the exact same way.

The Pyongyang Bio-Institute was constructed between 2010 and 2011 and is run by Korean People’s Army Unit 810. Pictures of the equipment published by North Korean press reveal nearly all the necessary components of a biological weapons program: incubators to grow bacteria, ventilation hoods to safely handle biohazards, fermenters and bioreactors used to grow bacteria, and a spray dryer to transform spores into a fine powder.

They messed up,” Joel S. Wit, a former State Department official and a senior fellow at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, told VICE News. “If you’re a technical expert, it’s clear looking at this facility that it can be used for biological warfare, particularly anthrax. The science is not in dispute.”

An independent expert on North Korean military capabilities confirmed to VICE News that the photos most likely show an operational biological weapons facility.

Kim Jong-un peers into a Level II safety cabinet. 

Pesticide production is “an old and well-used cover for a biological weapons program,” Hanham explained. Iraq and the USSR both created dual-use facilities that were used to make pesticides and biological weapons.

Hanham noted that even if the facility is used to produce the pesticide, “in one day it could be converted to an anthrax facility. All you have to do is sterilize the equipment.”

The facility might have been developed with help from a foreign agricultural aid organization. In 2005, with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and Chinese equipment, the UK non-profit CABI helped North Korea establish a pilot facility at the country’s Plant Protection Institute, located nine miles away from the alleged bioweapons facility, where it trained North Korean scientists in the production of Bt pesticide. The institute “was likely a training ground in preparation for the large-scale facility that Kim Jong-un toured,” Hanham writes in her report.

Teaching how to make Bt is essentially the same as teaching how to make anthrax,” she said.

She stressed that she does not think that CABI knowingly aided the development of North Korea’s bioweapons program. CABI did not respond to requests from VICE News for comment.

The problem here is you have tech that can be used for civilian and military purposes,” Wit explained. “It’s clear that more vigilance is necessary in the future.”

A spray dryer that creates a vortex to dry the bacteria spores into a fine powder. 

Experts told VICE News that the Pyongyang Bio-Institute likely represents the most revealing glimpse into North Korea’s bioweapons capabilities that has been made public — but noted that it remains unclear how the facility fits into North Korea’s overall program.

It’s similar to their nuclear weapons programs,” Wit said. “We can’t prove they are doing it, but looking at the facilities, we can make a judgment. That’s what this is about.”

Very little is known about the origin of capability of North Korea’s biological program,” said Hanham.

Though many experts believe that the country acquired a sample of anthrax and other epidemiological bacteria from Japan in 1968, it’s impossible to verify that it has actually developed a stockpile of the toxic agent. A South Korean government white paper published in 2012 suggested that North Korea is capable of producing a variety of biological weapons, “including anthrax, smallpox, pest, francisella tularensis, and hemorrhagic fever virus.”

It’s also difficult to assess to what degree North Korea might be in violation of international protocols that regulate the equipment used to make biological weapons, such as the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, to which it is a signatory. But the production of anthrax is not technically banned — the US and its allies regularly produce anthrax for research purposes. A violation occurs only if the agent is stockpiled and intended for military use.

A group of 41 countries known as the Australia Group also regulates the export of equipment that can be used to make biological agents.

There’s a very complicated network of rules and regulations around bio-weapons,” Hanham said. “It’s very hard for me to say definitely if a violation has occurred. We don’t know where all this equipment came from, and when it arrived in North Korea.”

Nevertheless, she insists the size of the facility should be cause for serious alarm.

It’s not the biggest in the world, but it’s still pretty large,” she said. “I’ve never seen images like these published before.”

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s new haircut makes him look like an evil anime mecha

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RocketNews 24:

Whether they’re being called dear, supreme, or great, North Korea takes the image of its top leaders very seriously. After all, this is the same country which claims the late Kim Jong-il, in his first round of golf, finished 38 shots under par (in case you’re not familiar with the technical terms, one under par is a “birdie,” two under is an “eagle,” and 38 under is generally referred to as a “crock”).

So it’s a little surprising that current head of hermit state Kim Jong-un’s fashion consultants have let him rock a hairstyle that seems to perfectly gel with the rest of the world’s image of North Korean dictatorship as cartoonish supervillainry, with a ‘do that makes him look like one of the antagonist mecha from classic anime Mobile Suit Gundam.

Since assuming power in 2012, Kim Jong-un’s been gradually filling into his role as unchallenged ruler of North Korea. While he was always known for his cherubic facial structure, the Supreme Leader seems to have packed on a few more pounds during his first two years in office, and in recent photos has been sweeping back his boyish bangs, perhaps in an effort to adopt a more dignified and commanding persona.

Not everyone is convinced this taller hairstyle is the way to go, though. Combined with, for some reason, much shorter eyebrows, some say it gives the 32-year-old a “creepy” vibe.

View image on Twitter

We have to agree that there’s something just a little sinister about Kim Jong-il’s voluminous flattop in the above photo. Somehow, it’s just a little too precise. As a matter of fact, it’s almost robotic.

Speaking of robots:

View image on Twitter

Pictured on the right is the MSM-08 Zogok, an 18.8-meter (61.7-foot) amphibious warmech used by the Gundam franchise’s recurring villains Zeon in 1986’s Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ TV series, and also in the more recent Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn direct-to-video series.

▼ The Zogok even strikes menacing, dictator-like poses on occasion.

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So did Kim Jong-il walk into his barber, carrying some bootleg Gundam DVDs procured in neighboring China, and tell his hairstylist, “I want that!” while pointing at the Zogok? That seems a bit on the nose, considering the side that builds and operates the mobile suit in the anime is so unabashedly fascist that its battle cry is “Sieg Zeon!”

 

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At the same time, it’s hard to imagine Kim Jong-il doesn’t look exactly as he wants to in the above pictures. After all, if he had so much as a hair out of place, we’re sure North Korea’s crack photo editing team would spring into action and do such a great job that we’d never be able to tell the images were retouched.

GQ takes an inside look at the North Korean Film Festival

“The Interview” is now streaming on Netflix

Engadget:

As promised, the movie Kim Jong Un preferred you didn’t see is now available if you have a Netflix subscription (and an account in US or Canada). Whether or not watching The Interview is a good idea is still a matter of taste/importance, but at this point it really couldn’t get any easier (at least until it comes to Sony‘s Crackle service for free ad-supported streaming at some point in the future.)

 

James Franco, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen on set of Columbia Pictures' THE INTERVIEW.

‘Interview’ star Randall Park glad to switch gears with TV comedy

Randall Park speaks during the "Fresh Off the Boat" panel at the Disney/ABC Television Group 2015 Winter TCA on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015, in Pasadena, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Korea Times:

The Interview” actor Randall Park says he’s glad the film was finally released and he’s ready to move on to his next role — a suburban dad in an ABC sitcom.

Park, who played North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in the movie at the center of the Sony hacking incident, was asked at a Television Critics Association meeting Wednesday if he feared any personal fallout.

I was never worried for my safety or getting hacked during that process,” he said.

What was unsettling, a smiling Park added, was to watch a TV newscast “and they’re talking about Kim Jong-un and showing my face.”

He said he’s excited about his role in ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat,” adapted from the memoir by food personality Eddie Huang.

The comedy, about an immigrant Taiwanese family adjusting to life in Florida, debuts Feb. 10.

Margaret Cho responds to accusations of racism for her Golden Globes sketch

72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards - Season 72

 Audrey Magazine:

With all the controversy surrounding The Interview and the cyberattack on Sony, we can’t say we didn’t expect at least a few North Korea jokes from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, the hosts of last night’s Golden Globes. However, no one seems to have been prepared for the skit from Margaret Cho– one which has been a topic of controversy since it aired.

It goes without saying that Margaret Cho was a prominent figure at the Golden Globes this year. While this would normally call for a celebration (there’s hardly ever any Asian American representation at this event at all), this actually left some viewers uncomfortable. After all, Cho did not appear on stage as herself. Instead, she was “Cho Young Ja,” a North Korean army general and journalist.

With an over-powdered face and an exaggerated accent, Cho Young Ja commented on the Golden Globes by saying, “You no have thousand baby playing guitar at the same time. You no have people holding up many card to make one big picture. You no have Dennis Rodman.”

Of course that wasn’t all. The general also commented on Netflix’s Orange in the New Black (“It’s funny, but not ha-ha funny… Also, Piper and Alex’s relationship is very toxic”) and even demanded a picture with Meryl Streep.

As you can imagine, this appearance was met with a storm of mixed reviews. On one hand, there were more than a few viewers who believed her skit was blatantly racist.

First of all, let’s just call Margaret Cho’s long, dwindling joke at the Golden Globes last night what it was: yellowface,” writes E. Alex Jung on Vulture. “Hollywood needed a punching bag after the Sony hack and ensuing debacle with The Interview, and Cho willingly suited up.”

Others took to twitter to share their dislike.

It was only a matter of time before Margaret Cho chimed in on the controversy by speaking to Buzzfeed:

I’m of North and South Korean descent, and I do impressions of my family and my work all the time, and this is just another example of that. I am from this culture. I am from this tribe. And so I’m able to comment on it.

When we have British people playing American icons, there’s no backlash. But for Asian-Americans, it’s a very particular set of expectations that we are set to maintain, and that in itself is racist.

I think that we’re being held down by that incredible tide of invisibility that we’re constantly fighting. Whenever there is visibility, it’s shocking. Whenever there is visibility on our terms, it’s shocking. That’s why any visibility is so highly scrutinized. I’m so used to it that it doesn’t alarm me, it doesn’t bother me.  

I welcome the controversy. And I don’t care. 

Kim Jong-un wants to open a restaurant in Scotland

 Complex:

Kim Jong-un would like to open a restaurant in Scotland serving North Korean cuisine. The dictator already has a chain of restaurants throughout Asia called Pyongyang, and apparently possesses a soft spot for Scotland due in part to his love of whisky.

Experts claim Kim Jong-un is also fond of Scotland following the country’s attempts at gaining independence from the UK last year, as North Korea is keen to bolster its European ties with left-leaning countries.

He has previously opened a branch of the diner in Amsterdam (the first North Korean restaurant in the western world), although North Korean officials say the notion that their glorious leader is to open another in Scotland is “a nonsense.”

Let’s hope the food doesn’t look anything like this.

Margaret Cho’s Golden Globes bit accused of racism

benedict cumberbatch animated GIF
 Huffington Post:

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler didn’t shy away from controversial topics during Sunday’s Golden Globes, but some viewers felt one of their bits went too far. During the broadcast, Fey and Poehler interacted with comedian Margaret Cho, who played the newest member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a North Korean army general. Here she is getting a photo taken with Meryl Streep.

The segments with Cho — which also included the comic speaking with an exaggerated accent — were met with some outrage online. Numerous viewers called the jokes racist, while many critics cited the gags as a show low point.

Oh my gosh, the fake North Korean journalist is back. I’ve decided: This really needs to end,” wrote Emily Orley for BuzzFeed.

That bit with Margaret Cho as the Kim regime’s representative in the Hollywood Foreign Press, which managed a trio of awards-show sins: it was unfunny, racist, and incredibly long,” wrote Vulture’s editors. “Twenty years ago, Cho was the first Asian-American woman to headline her own sitcom — how did we end up here?

Cho has a long relationship with Fey, having played Kim Jong Il on “30 Rock.”

And while online reaction was negative, Fey and Poehler didn’t seem to mind too much during the show. The duo brought Cho back out on stage to end the 72nd annual Golden Globes.

amy poehler animated GIF

Audrey Magazine: Get to know “The Interview” actor Charles Rahi Chun

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 Audrey Magazine:

Looking back at 2014, there was no movie quite like The Interview. A comedy about a fictional assassination attempt of North Korean’s current sitting leader Kim Jong Un, The Interview‘s release was preceded by the largest corporate hack in history, an online terrorist threat, and a last minute cancellation of the release which was quickly amended to a limited and online release after Sony, the distributor, was criticized by none other than President Obama himself. We spoke to one of the actors from The Interview, Charles Chun, who plays General Jong.


 

Audrey Magazine: What made you decide to become an actor? 

Charles Chun: My dream as a kid was to be an actor, but despite enjoying it in junior high school and performing and choreographing dance at Connecticut College, I didn’t honor this dream [until] a friend of mine took me to a dive bar in the lower West side of Manhattan to check out a cajun rock band called the Cowlicks. Physically, they were standing on stage, but emotionally, spiritually, and artistically, they were so into their music as if nothing else mattered, because they were doing what they love. In that moment, I realized I needed to pursue my dream of being an actor, and whatever the result, to know that I went for it.

AM: Can you explain your role in the movie?

CC: Sure. I play General Jong, the right-hand general to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. He’s an amalgamation of some of the hard-line generals of Kim. Seth and Evan, the movie’s co-writers along with Dan Sterling really did their research and wanted to illustrate the real life dynamics of North Korea, which is naturally comedic in a very tragic way. My hope is that the film will bring much needed attention to the atrocities that have been happening in North Korea under this fear-based totalitarian regime for way too long.

 

AM: What was the audition process like?

CC: I’ve played a variety of roles now in North Korean themed films and tv episodes, from U.N. Ambassador in The Art of War III, to a defecting North Korean scientist in Undercovers and a terrorist in Lie To Me, and it’s the job of casting directors in the entertainment community to know this. The casting folks at Sony reached out to my manager for a meeting, at which I performed two key scenes in the script and I was hired. Once I arrived on set in Vancouver and Seth and Evan saw that I worked well with their improvisational film-making style, they kept adding me to more and more scenes. It was a blast.

 

AM: What was it like on set? I imagine it must have been a set full of laughter, so what was the funniest joke that someone made? 

CC: I find Canadians to be amongst the friendliest and good-natured people I know. Seth and Evan, the co-creators and co-directors, have been best friends since pre-Kindergarten in Vancouver, and Seth and James Franco have been friends since their years on Freaks and Geeks.  Randall Park, who is amazing as Kim Jong Un, is a friend who I’ve known for 15 years as well.  So given all of these familiar dynamics, the set was very open and friendly, which is the best atmosphere for creativity, particularly for their improvised film-making style.

The funniest gag was probably when [spoiler] one of my North Korean comrades’ head explodes and his brain matter splatters onto my face. They use this machine that blows a chunk of red corn syrup with bits of fake brain matter with a kind of force that simulates… well, not that I would know, but a head exploding.  We had to get it in one take, given the mess involved and this huge splatter of blood and brain matter landed squarely onto my face. But as I was grieving for my comrade, a glop of brain matter began to slowly slide over my left eye while I was crying and I had to stay focussed and serious in grief, while this gross goop was sliding down my face. Everyone had a good laugh with that sequence.

It was a really fun shoot, and at the time, no one sensed the crazy escalating series of events that would make this such an international controversy and symbol for America’s freedom of speech and expression.

 

AM: What was it like for you when Sony announced that they would cancel all the screenings of the film? How did your friends and family react? Have you had to worry about any of your personal information being leaked?

CC: Everyday since our world premiere on December 11th, there has been some new twist or development. It feels like a gripping Netflix series. I was really bummed that Sony cancelled the Koream/Audrey red carpet premiere because it’s the kind of film to celebrate with our community. I’m just returning from my annual kundalini yoga retreat, and having been without news for just a few days, now that I’m back, it’s like catching up on several missed episodes of a Korean soap opera.

My friends and family have been really supportive and also in disbelief over this unbelievable series of events. It’s a comedy that’s gotten our President, the Republican National Committee, the far left and far right to all agree on saying, “go see this movie!”  It’s become a symbol of American freedom.

I’ve been asked by a number of reporters whether I’m concerned about my safety and I feel it’s shocking that this has become a legitimate question to ask. I’m an American actor living in Los Angeles, not in some Communist state and yet, this is a valid question to ask given the circumstances, which is just crazy. I love my freedom and choose not to live in fear.

 

AM: Have you been in contact with any of the other cast or Sony? How have they reacted?

CC: I’ve been in touch with both Randall and Diana since shooting the film and since our premiere. Can I just say that Randall is really amazing as Kim Jong Un. The film really hinges on his role and performance and the way Randall plays him is so smart and pitch perfect. Diana Bang, who they discovered in Vancouver and plays Sook, is also really excellent and I know audiences will be seeing a lot more of them both and rightly so. I think everyone involved with the film was really disappointed when Sony cancelled the opening, and equally elated when they decided to release it. It’s a very funny movie and it should be enjoyed by audiences who want to see it.

 

AM: What do you hope to take away from all this and what is next for you?

CC: It’s my greatest hope that what WE take away from all of this, as a society, is that the US and the world refuses to be intimidated by the fear tactics of others, whether it’s this corrupt North Korean government who is cruelly oppressing their own people or some other entity. And I hope the take away for the international community is that we cannot continue to allow for North Korea to treat their own people in such soul-crushing, horrific ways.

As for me personally, in addition to enjoying playing doctors, dads and North Koreans in tv and films, my other passion is holistic health and somatic healing, to expand the body’s natural capacity to experience energy and pleasure. You can find more detailed information about the health benefits of these sacred practices and my work here. I’m happy to go into more detail about my journey with this specialized modality, but that would constitute a whole other interview. Suffice it to say, that as an actor, holistic healer and Korean American, I believe we are here to realize our dreams, and hold nothing back within our mind, body and spirit in realizing this.