Spotted on the street in Seoul: Is that Kim Jong Un?
All eyes in the crowd fell on the supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army.
He emerged from the subway in one of this city’s busiest nightlife areas with his trademark black suit and closely cropped hair. He hadn’t lost any weight.
“That’s Kim Jong Un!” somebody shouted.
Not quite. The reviled North Korean dictator, it turns out, has a doppelganger.
He was soon surrounded by Friday night revelers holding up their smartphones and giggling in disbelief. Several rubbed his belly as they posed for their friends.
His real name is Kim Minyong.
Left: Kim Minyong, 25, dressed as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with promotional fliers for his English-language academy in Hwaseong, South Korea, on April 11, 2016. Right: the real Kim Jong Un.(Steven Borowiec, KNS / For The Times, Korean Central News Agency)
Kim Minyong, looking like North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, poses for a photo with a passerby in Hongdae, a busy nightlife area of Seoul, on April 8, 2016.(Steven Borowiec / For The Times)
Kim Minyong, dressed as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in Hongdae, a busy nightlife area of Seoul, April 8, 2016.(Steven Borowiec / For The Times)
Kim Minyong, 25, dressed as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, rides the subway from Seoul back to his home in Hwaseong, South Korea, April 8, 2016.(Steven Borowiec / For The Times)
While it’s hard to imagine anybody dressing up as Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin for entertainment, Kim Jong Un is apparently fair game in South Korea, despite his long record of human rights abuses and his country’s threats to turn Seoul into “a sea of fire.” A few years ago he executed his uncle.
“I make people smile,” his impersonator said. “Seeing me, taking a photo with me, it brightens people’s days.”
The real Kim is a global pariah whose saber-rattling would be laughable if he weren’t already conducting nuclear tests.
The impersonator Kim was serving in the South Korean military when the dictator took power in 2011. Other soldiers quickly noticed the strong resemblance. Bullying ensued.
“They’d tell me, ‘It’s because of you that we’re here!’” Kim recalled.
The threat from North Korea is the main reason that all able-bodied men in South Korea are required to serve in the military for two years.
When Kim Minyong’s service was up, he returned to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to complete a business degree he had started there. Even the American students noted the uncanny resemblance.
My girlfriend really hates this. She hates when I dress up like this, hates this haircut.
He wasn’t exactly flattered, but looking like the dictator had one advantage: Everybody seemed to love it.
He decided to embrace the role of the villain, ordering a black suit online from China, cutting his hair like the North Korean leader’s and dressing the part to attend campus sporting events and parties. He was constantly stopped and asked to pose for photos.
“I was more popular than the football and basketball stars,” he said.
After graduating, he returned to South Korea late last year and opened his own business, an after-school academy that teaches English. The industry is highly competitive, and 25-year-old Kim is trying to leverage his looks to his advantage.
Outside the subway stop, he glowered for each photo, then bade each of his fans farewell with a stately handshake. He never spoke a word.
“I can’t believe how much he looks like him. It’s freaky,” said Kim Joo-hee, a 22-year-old college student waiting her turn for a photo.
“I’d like to have some cognac or nice whiskey,” he said, referring to some of the dictator’s preferred beverages. “But they’re too expensive.”
He nursed the drink for around an hour, until he received a text from his girlfriend urging him to head home for the night. He headed back to the subway for the long ride to Hwaseong, a satellite city south of Seoul.
“My girlfriend really hates this,” he said. “She hates when I dress up like this, hates this haircut.”
Though he suspects that North Korean hackers have broken into his email multiple times, he said he has no way of knowing whether Kim Jung Un knows about him,
It seems safe to say the dictator would not be pleased. His regime is thought to be behind the 2014 cyber attack on Sony Pictures, presumably for the comedy “The Interview,” in which two journalists fly to North Korea to interview and assassinate him.
A few days after his Friday night escapades, Kim Mingyon was back in costume, trying to drum up business for his English academy in Hwaseong.
With his savings nearly tapped out, he said that he needs around 20 students to register for classes over the next month.
Wearing his black suit, he handed out fliers to groups of uniformed students as they left the high school.
“I’m famous,” he told them. “I’ve been on TV.”
Borowiec is a special correspondent.
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