PYONGYANG As the dictator of a nuclear-armed nation, Kim Jong-il should be a busy man, preoccupied with weighty matters of state.
But a bizarre museum in Pyongyang suggests that the North Korean autocrat may reserve his greatest zeal for his biggest obsession: the movies.
The museum, located on the grounds of the country's biggest film studio, is a majestic 16-room ode to the 65-year-old Dear Leader's enthusiastic love of cinema. In every room, huge portraits show Mr. Kim overseeing every aspect of movie production in North Korea, from camera placement to scripting and acting.
His infatuation with film is obvious from the museum's first room, where an entire wall is covered with a massive list of every occasion when Mr. Kim gave an order to North Korean movie producers. It turns out Mr. Kim has issued an incredible total of 11,890 instructions to North Korean filmmakers since the 1960s. For most of this period, as a museum guide helpfully points out, he was issuing instructions at a rate of one a day. For one film alone, Sea of Blood, he issued 124 detailed instructions. On another film, Flower Girl, he gave "on-the-spot guidance" on 116 instances, according to the guide.
The museum portrays Mr. Kim as a brilliant genius of filmmaking who invented techniques that had never occurred to anyone else.
For example, according to the guide, Mr. Kim told his filmmakers to use three cameras, instead of one, for the making of Sea of Blood. This apparently had never occurred to any of his directors.
He also instructed the film's actors to prepare for their roles by reading the script at least 100 times. This, again, is presented as a stroke of unprecedented genius.
Because of Mr. Kim's brilliance, the guide explains, Sea of Blood was completed in just 40 days, rather than the expected length of one year.
The museum's lobby is dominated by a huge portrait of Mr. Kim supervising the filming of Sea of Blood, surrounded by the flames and smoke of a fake battle. The film was the first of a long series of "revolutionary opera films," aimed at glorifying North Korea's role in driving out the Japanese military from the Korean peninsula in 1945 - even though its claims are historically dubious.
The Dear Leader's fetish for film has only grown deeper since Sea of Blood. He is reputed to have a personal collection of some 20,000 videotapes, including The Godfather, Rambo, and every James Bond film ever made.
In the early 1970s he wrote a 329-page guide for filmmakers, entitled On the Art of the Cinema, which is still on the shelves of North Korean book stores today.
"Begin on a small scale and end grandly," he tells filmmakers in the book. "Conflicts should be settled in accordance with the law of class struggle. ... Show the new noble lives of the backward characters after their re-education. ... A film should always demonstrate that the revolution is continuing and that the struggle is being pursued ever more vigorously."
In the late 1970s, Mr. Kim fulfilled his film obsession by serving as director of the North Korean Bureau of Propaganda and Agitation. And in 1978, in one of the most bizarre episodes of North Korean history, his agents reportedly kidnapped a South Korean film actress and her director husband, imprisoning them and forcing them to produce propaganda films for North Korea until they finally escaped.
Cinema is just one example of Mr. Kim's worship of mass spectacle in any form.
He is constantly mobilizing the North Korean population for elaborately choreographed celebrations, always featuring a huge display of singing and dancing. Last week, for example, the women of Pyongyang were obliged to don colourful costumes to celebrate the 47th anniversary of the day when Mr. Kim assumed "guidance" of the North Korean army.
A day later, thousands of young men and women were back into their colourful costumes again, this time to rehearse for Youth Day - the mass celebrations of the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Kim Il-sung Socialist Youth League.