The video begins with no fanfare, no preamble. A lone figure, a young man in black, sits in front of a stark white backdrop. His hair is tousled. He fidgets. Light streams in from his right, but there is nothing to identify where he is or whom he’s with.
He trains his eyes on the camera. “I’m from North Korea,” he says in English. To prove it, he holds up a passport. Emblazoned on the front is a coat of arms featuring Mount Paektu, the sacred and still-active volcano in the far north of the Korean Peninsula, where the Kims trace an ancestry they claim gives the family its right to rule.
He looks off to his left, pausing to collect his thoughts. “My father has been killed a few days ago.” Though the video was released on March 7 of this year, a month before I traveled to Pyongyang, the reference to the death indicates it was filmed weeks earlier. His voice is jumpy but composed. He does not mention which country he’s in now, but he says he’s safe.
There is one clue: an insignia at the top of the screen, in both English and Korean, that reads “Cheollima Civil Defense.” A cheollima is a mythical winged horse capable of flying vast distances. It’s a popular name in North Korea for everything from streets to fonts; a statue of one looms over downtown Pyongyang. It gives the name of the group, which seems to have helped this North Korean flee, a symbolic meaning that’s at once serious and ironic.
He concludes by saying he hopes his situation will get better. The forty-one-second video then cuts to black.
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