In 1978, the South Korean film industry was rocked by a brazen act of international kidnapping. Renowned actress Choi Eun-hee, facing a career downturn then, was lured to Hong Kong under the pretense of a film project. Little did she know, she was about to be swept into a nightmarish ordeal orchestrated by the North Korean regime. Months later, her ex-husband, director Shin Sang-ok, met a similar fate, vanishing from Vienna under mysterious circumstances.
Early Life and Rise to Stardom
Choi Eun-hee, born on November 20, 1926, in Gyeonggi Province, South Korea, emerged as a prominent actress in the 1940s. Known for her versatile talent, she swiftly climbed the ranks to become one of the leading figures in the South Korean film industry. Her contributions to cinema in the 1950s and 1960s earned her critical acclaim and established her as a household name. Choi, who escaped rape during the Korean War, was drafted by both North and South Korea before going on to become a well-known actress. Before she met Shin, her first spouse was divorced.
The Power Couple: Choi Eun-hee and Shin Sang-ok
Choi’s personal life was intertwined with her professional success when she married director Shin Sang-ok. The couple formed a cinematic power duo, shaping the landscape of South Korean cinema. However, their marriage faced challenges, leading to a divorce in 1976, just two years before the life-altering incident. The promise of a starring role enticed the movie star to travel to Hong Kong two years later. But then something horrifying happened at the meeting.
In 1978, Choi Eun-hee and Shin Sang-ok were kidnapped in Hong Kong under the orders of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. The orchestrated abduction was a surreal plot that catapulted the couple into the heart of North Korea. Forced into captivity, they were compelled to make films for the North Korean regime under stringent conditions. Choi Eun-hee’s resilience became apparent during her years in captivity. Despite the oppressive environment, she adapted to the circumstances, showcasing an indomitable spirit. The couple’s creative ingenuity was harnessed by the North Korean regime, making films that served their propaganda purposes.
The unexpected turn occurred in 1986 when Choi Eun-hee and Shin Sang-ok escaped during a trip to Vienna, Austria. Seeking asylum in the United States, they revealed the intricacies of their ordeal. Their escape shed light on the secretive and oppressive nature of the North Korean regime, capturing international attention. Following their escape, Choi Eun-hee lived in the United States for a period before returning to South Korea. Despite the traumatic experience, she rekindled her acting career, appearing in films and television dramas. Her resilience and determination to rebuild her life were a testament to her strength.
Choi Eun-hee’s life story, chronicled in her memoir “The Invincible Choi Eun-hee” (2015), is a poignant reminder of the human cost of political machinations. Her passing on April 16, 2018, marked the end of an era but left a legacy of survival, resilience, and an enduring contribution to the Korean film industry. The kidnapping of Choi Eun-hee remains a riveting chapter in the history of North Korea’s use of unconventional tactics. Her story, marked by resilience, creativity, and survival, continues to captivate audiences, ensuring that the legacy of this extraordinary actress lives on.