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Shin Sang Ok, 80;S. Korean Director Abducted by North

April 14, 2006|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

SEOUL — Shin Sang Ok, a South Korean film director who was abducted by North Korea and spent eight years making movies there while in captivity, has died, his family said Wednesday. He was 80.

Shin had been undergoing treatment in Seoul since a liver transplant two years ago and was hospitalized two weeks ago, said Shin's son-in-law, Suh Dong Yeop. He died Tuesday night in the South Korean capital, the son-in-law said.

Called the Orson Welles of South Korea by online magazine Salon.com, Shin made dozens of films from the 1950s through the '70s.

In January 1978, Shin's actress wife, Choi Eun Hee, now 79, was kidnapped and taken to North Korea. Communist agents abducted Shin six months later.

The couple escaped to the West in 1986 while en route to a film festival. They sought refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Vienna and were later flown to the United States.

The couple said that in North Korea, they were friendly with leader Kim Jong Il, describing him as a film buff. They quoted Kim as telling them that he had ordered them "brought" to North Korea to help develop the its film industry.

In North Korea, the couple made several films, including "Pulgasari," a version of Godzilla in which the creature protects farmers against soldiers by eating cannons and other weapons. The film was banned in North Korea after Shin escaped the country. It had its world debut in Tokyo in 1998.

"I never had to worry about money when it came to moviemaking," Shin told the New Yorker in a 2005 interview about his relationship with Kim. "He just loves movies. He likes all kinds of movies. But his favorites are adventure movies, like 'Indiana Jones.' "

After fleeing North Korea, Shin worked for a time in the United States under the name Simon Sheen and produced a trilogy of Ninja-themed films in the 1990s.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun conferred posthumous honors on Shin on Wednesday, awarding him the Gold Crown Cultural Medal, the country's top honor for an artist.

Shin is survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters.

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