Sunday, June 28, 2009

Will Palladin Play in Pyongyang?

Truth ... and fiction ... can be found in the strangest places.

An independently produced feature film about a "lost" Hollywood star hiding from fame and fans in Central America seems to have captured the imaginations of some conspiracy-minded Internet users in China, owing to a rumor, apparently begun by a Chinese blogger, or launched in a Chinese chat room, that the film contains cryptic messages about North Korea--specifically, the relationship between Dear Leader Kim Jong-il and his third and youngest son and designated successor, Kim Jong-un, also known as Brilliant Comrade.

The low-budget, high-quality film, Looking for Palladin, tells the story of a young and cynical Hollywood agent tasked with tracking down an aging, reclusive screen legend (played by real-life legend Ben Gazzara) in order to persuade him to accept a lucrative, but possibly demeaning, cameo role in a sequel to a picture in which he starred--and in which his character actually died. (No matter; the money is good, the overly aggressive agent assures his client, clearly misreading the man's financial condition and artistic integrity.)

The agent finds the actor--and, in the process of pursuing his quarry, also finds himself--in Antigua, Guatemala, an inviting, small city in the country's central highlands.

The American-made, discovery/redemption tale, which features an international cast, is the first full-length feature film made and set in Guatemala since the 1938 release Tarzan and the Green Goddsss.

Though Looking for Palladin has yet to be distributed in the United States, the film is attracting a cult following and winning acclaim at film festivals around the world--from Chicago to Moscow. Remarkably, there is already talk of a sequel.

Chinese Whispers: from Telephone to Internet

So much for reality. The global buzz has also given birth to the above-mentioned wild rumor, and China Confidential has learned how this may have come about. Turns out, a man claiming to be a Chinese blogger telephoned Looking for Palladin writer-director Andrzej Krakowski to interview him about the project. During the interview, Krakowski explained that he originally intended to shoot and locate the film in a small, New York State town north of New York City. He added that the inspiration for the Jack Palladin character came to him after a meeting he had many years ago with a legendary star of TV Westerns, Dale Robertson, who had faded from public view since retiring to a ranch somewhere in Oklahoma or Texas. The purpose of the meeting, Krakowski said, was to discuss the feasibility of producing a film adaptation of a popular, Cold War comic strip, Dan Flagg, which was syndicated in American newspapers during the 1960s. The comic strip's fictional title character was a Marine troubleshooter who conducted covert commando and rescue operations behind the Iron Curtain--in China and North Korea.

That anecdote, combined with the fact that Robertson and Ronald Reagan were among the hosts of a 1950s Wild West-themed TV series (Death Valley Days), was somehow lost or deliberately mangled in translation. Result: reports of weird, scattered, Chinese chat that Washington and Beijing are plotting to sabotage North Korea's dynastic succession and remove the regime (the world should only be so lucky), and, more incredibly, that a movie about a talented and successful actor living far from the Hollywood hubbub somehow contains the code for the fantastic, alleged U.S.-Chinese conspiracy.

Sources in Japan who monitor the country's Korean community and closely follow developments on the Korean Peninsula are aware of the rumor and say it may have even come to the attention of Dear Leader and Brilliant Comrade, who was recently put in charge of the North's intelligence agencies. The elder Kim is a well known film buff, having acquired what is believed to be the world's largest library of pornographic and espionage flicks.

Visions of a Secret Screening

This reporter has visions of the two Kims and their most trusted, senior henchmen ensconced in a secret screening room somewhere in Pyongyang, peering intently at a pirated, DVD copy (from Moscow?) of an intelligent, interesting, and entertaining film about family and (gasp!) friendship ... for the first time, probably, watching a movie without any graphic depictions of sex or violence (shocking!) .... the two men scratching their heads in utter confusion and disbelief ... scrutinizing the story and scenes unfolding on the big, flat, plasma TV ... attempting to decipher the dialogue .... for hidden meanings and carefully concealed clues to what their most important ally and chief adversary might actually have in store for them ... stopping, scanning, searching, studying, sweating it out .... the whole, classy, painfully (for them) humanistic, wonderfully warm and moving motion picture ... the ailing, diminutive, 68-year-old Dear Leader with the whacky hairdo ... decked out in his trademark leisure suit and signature elevator shoes ... and his mysterious heir ... a 26-year-old, selected ruler ... whose last known photograph was taken at age 11 ... the two of them ... father and son ... trying hard to focus between sips of smuggled Johnny Walker Scotch whisky.....

The conjured-up image would be hilariously funny if not for the fact that the deranged despot in charge of the imagined media room is in real life directing the world's longest running horror show--it began in 1948 --featuring a vast network of concentration camps, millions of starving extras, a seemingly endless supply of slave laborers, a huge standing army ... the fourth largest on the planet ... and growing arsenals of ballistic missiles and atomic arms.

A pity we can't just cancel his production, and fire him, his Brilliant Comrade, and all their comrades.

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