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Asia

Kim Jong Un's 'other' face

Hong Kong-based musician and Kim Jong Un's look-alike Howard's decision to impersonate the Korean leader turned out to be a big success. In an interview with DW, Howard says he doesn’t only do it for fun.

DW: When did you decide to impersonate Kim Jong Un?

Howard: When Kim came into power (in 2011), many people started telling me about my resemblance to him. In April last year, I thought I should imitate him. I got my hair cut like Kim's and created a Facebook page named "Kim Jong Un Look-Alike." It was all for fun. Three weeks later, I received a call from an Israeli production company asking me to appear in a hamburger advertisement. Their rival company got an Obama look-alike for a McDonald's ad, so I think they probably wanted something in contrast. After people noticed me in the advertisement, I was asked to do a Halloween video shoot. There has been no turning back since then. I knew that Kim's impersonation would trigger some kind of reaction, but I didn't expect it to be that big.

How did the people in Hong Kong react when they first saw you on streets?

Most people found it funny. They were excited and wanted to be photographed with me. The Koreans were completely shocked though.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) attends a mass indoor memorial rally in Pyongyang in this still image taken from video released by KRT, North Korean state TV on December 17, 2013 (Photo: REUTERS/KRT via Reuters TV)

Howard looks a lot like Kim Jong Un, who is shown here

What did you do to perfect your impersonation?

I used to read a lot about North Korea. It also made me interested in politics. As a teenager, I used to ask myself, "How could such a freakish country even exist?" In terms of appearance, I needed Kim's hairstyle and proper makeup. Before my performance, I need an hour for my hairdo and another for makeup. After that I just have to put on a Zhongshan suit and put on a blank face. That's all!

You even visited the North and South Korean consulates in Hong Kong as Kim's impersonator. How was that experience?

The South Korean consulate staffers find me funny, whereas the North Korean ones get angry and call up security straight away. I asked the South Korean consulate whether we could do a fun video together, but they politely turned me down.

But Kim is a politically sensitive figure. Aren't you worried about getting in trouble?

No, not really. They can't do anything to me in Hong Kong. I haven't been in any dangerous situations so far. Not yet, at least. Why would they even bother to harm me when they already have enough matters to deal with?

Is there any message you want to convey by impersonating Kim?

Initially, I did it for fun, but now my aim is to get the world's attention on North Korean defectors. The Chinese government arrests these North Koreans and repatriate them to Pyongyang. Last year, I participated in a protest organized by the North Korean Defectors Concern, which demanded a halt to repatriation. Those who are sent back to North Korea are doomed. They don't live to see another day once they are back in North Korea.

Does it mean that you want to bring some political changes?

I only have 15 minutes of fame, so why not make use of it to help others?

What is your personal opinion of Kim?

Kim, in my opinion, has two faces; one for people living in North Korea and the other for international community. He puts a smile on when he talks to his own people and shows a stern face to the rest of the world. We can't tell what kind of person he is. We also don't know whether he is the one who controls the people or if he is the one being controlled.

What would you tell Kim if you ever got a chance to meet him?

Well, I would say, let's go the Chinese way and carry out some reforms. The way North Korea is being run today is totally unacceptable.

The interview was conducted by Hang-Shuen Lee.