It seems absurd for the leader of a nuclear state to be so incensed over an anarchic comedy by the guys who brought you “This Is the End” and “Pineapple Express.” But movies have held inordinate importance in North Korean politics, beginning even before the country’s founding in 1948. One of the earliest actions by Kim Il-sung, called Great Leader, was to create a Soviet-supported national film studio, where he gave filmmakers and crews preferential food rations and housing. His son, Kim Jong-il, called Dear Leader, was a film buff who owned one of the largest private film collections in the world and whose first position of power was in running the regime’s propaganda apparatus, including its film studios. For over 20 years he micromanaged every new North Korean film production, as writer, producer, executive and critic; to his people, he is still known today first and foremost — thanks to propaganda rather than any real talent or skill — as the greatest creative genius in North Korea’s history.
The Dear Leader was less quick to take offense than his son Kim Jong-un is today — partly because, at least early on, he preferred threats he could follow up on; in those days, North Korean covert operatives still had the know-how to hijack a plane, bomb a state function, and target a South Korean president. Also, taking offense would have been an obvious case of the pot calling the kettle black. Most of his productions treated foreigners, Americans especially, the way Mr. Rogen, Mr. Franco and Mr. Goldberg treat Kim Jong-un: as cartoonish stock baddies. North Korean films of the 1980s are full of Western villains, usually admirals or colonels, with Dr. Evil bald heads and names like Dr. Kelton or Her Majesty’s officer Louis London. These characters all hatched devious schemes to destroy North Korea and take over the world for the White House.