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Choi Eun-hee
Image: picture alliance/YONHAPNEWS AGENCY

Renowned South Korean actress abducted by North dies at 91

April 17, 2018

Choi Eun-hee was one of the most famous actresses of her day when she was kidnapped with her husband, a sought-after director, by agents of Kim Jong Il in 1978. The pair made a daring escape eight years later.


A South Korean actress who was kidnapped and forced along with her husband to make films for the North Korean regime has died at the age of 91, her family said on Tuesday.

Choi Eun-hee began her film career in 1947 and would spend the next two decades as one of the most famous actresses in her country. She was married to renowned director Shin Sang-ok for much of that time, until 1976 when they split over allegations that he had been unfaithful.

In 1978, both Choi and Shin were kidnapped by North Korean agents acting on behalf of then-heir Kim Jong Il, an avid film fan. Choi was lured onto a boat by a local guide in Hong Kong, after which she was forcibly transferred to a cargo ship bound for Pyongyang. On the cargo ship she was drugged and made to go without food for eight days.

Complex relationship with Kim

Together with Shin she made 10 films under Kim's close scrutiny. Later, Choi would describe the complex relationship with a man who seemed to "respect us as artists and fully support us," but at the same time had orchestrated an "outrageous and unforgivable" abduction.

Shin later described in his autobiography the staggering volume of Kim's film collection, which included at least 15,000 movies from all around the world. So dedicated to the craft's realism was Kim that Shin was once given an entire freight train loaded with real dynamite for an action sequence.

The couple remarried in 1983 at Kim's urging, and remained together until Shin's death in 2006.

The pair finally returned to freedom in 1986, after making a daring escape during a trip to Vienna. They were able to enter the US embassy and claim asylum.

Her death came after a battle with kidney disease and was widely mourned in her homeland.

es/msh (AFP, AP)

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