'Assassins': Who were Song Hye-rim and Ko Yong-hui? How Kim Jong-nam and Kim Jong-un's mothers influenced their father

Like their sons, both women played competing roles in Kim Jong-il's life, with Ko convincing Kim Jong-il to banish Song Hye-rim from North Korea


                            'Assassins': Who were Song Hye-rim and Ko Yong-hui? How Kim Jong-nam and Kim Jong-un's mothers influenced their father
Kim Jong-nam and Kim Jong-un (Greenwich Entertainment and Getty Images)

In February 2017, Kim Jong-nam, the former favored heir to the North Korean rule, was assassinated at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia, by two women who thought they were taking part in a Japanese prank show. It is widely believed that the assassination was ordered by North Korean Supreme Leader and Kim Jong-nam's younger half-brother, Kim Jong-un. The assassination is the subject of Ryan White's latest documentary, 'Assassins'.

Kim Jong-nam and Kim Jong-un were both former North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il's sons, born of different mothers. Kim Jong-il's eldest son, Kim Jong-nam was born to former North Korean actress, Song Hye-rim, while Kim Jong-un was born to former North Korean dancer, Ko Yong-hui. Like their sons, both women played competing roles in Kim Jong-il's life, with Ko convincing Kim Jong-il to banish Song Hye-rim from North Korea. Ko is also suspected to have tipped of Japanese authorities on Kim Jong-nam traveling to Japan with a fake passport to visit Tokyo Disneyland, an event which led to him falling out of favor, and therefore removed from the succession line to North Korean leadership.

Who was Song Hye-rim?

Song was Kim Jong-il's second wife and was earlier a mistress to him. While she was married to North Korean writer Yi Pyong, she was the only married woman in the country permitted to attend college. She became a leading actress at Korea Film Studios in the 1960s and would attend international film festivals. Although they first met when they were both students in the 1950s, Song Hye Rim’s work attracted the attention of Kim Jong Il, who became head of the Culture and Arts Section of the KWP Propaganda and Agitation Department in 1967.

Her sister, Song Hye-rang, is a North Korean defector who helped raise Kim Jong-nam whose birth was kept secret from Kim Jong-il's father, Kim Il-Sung, till 1975. As his mother suffered from a variety of physical and mental infirmities requiring treatment outside North Korea, Kim Jong-nam lived with his maternal grandmother and his maternal aunt, Song Hye-rang.

Song's former friend, Kim Young-soon revealed in her memoir, 'I Am Song Hye-rim's friend' that she and her family were sent to a concentration camp for ten years after she found out Hye-rim's secret (namely, that she was Kim Jong-il's mistress, a fact that was hidden at the time even from Kim Il-sung), which resulted in the death of her children and parents and her husband being taken away and never seen again before she managed to defect to South Korea in 2003.

Who was Ko Yong-hui?

Ko Yong-hui was Kim Jong-il's fourth wife (consort) and the mother of his three youngest children, including Kim Jong-un. She was born to a Japanese father and a Korean woman in Osaka, Japan. Within North Korea, she is only referred to by titles, such as "The Respected Mother who is the Most Faithful and Loyal 'Subject' to the Dear Leader Comrade Supreme Commander", "The Mother of Pyongyang", and "The Mother of Great Songun Korea."

Ko joined the exclusive Mansudae Art Troupe in the early 1970s.  At the time the troupe was under Kim Jong Il’s management and it was around 1976 that the two began a relationship. The couple established a household in 1978, with Ko giving birth to their first child together in 1981. She taught her three children to respectful and fearful of their father, and her close ties to Kim Jong-il's staff helped her become fluent in political and policy issues in North Korea. With this, she also became a political influence on Kim Jong-il and later, her son, Kim Jong-un. It is rumored that when Kim Jong-un was a child he was raised to believe that he was a 'demigod'. He would often wear a mini military uniform and order adults around, insiders shared. It is also believed that his parents had staff attending to his every need.

'Assassins' will in release theaters and on virtual cinema on December 11, 2020.

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