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May 21, 2024 9 mins

Our tour through the Cabinet today is all about entertainment, but from a curious angle.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to Aaron Manke's Cabinet of Curiosities, a production of
iHeartRadio and Grimm and Mild. Our world is full of
the unexplainable, and if history is an open book, all
of these amazing tales are right there on display, just
waiting for us to explore. Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosities.

(00:36):
For most people, watching movies is an escape. It's easy
to forget your worries watching Luke Skywalker blow up The
Death Star or Lauren Bacall confess her love to Humphrey Bogart.
But for South Korean director Shing Sang oh and movie
star Choi yung e, the opposite was true. Films weren't
an escape. They were a prison, and their tailor was

(00:56):
future North Korean dictator Kim Jong il. In the nineteen sixties,
Shin and Choi were South Korea's it couple. Choi was
one of South Korea's biggest stars after the Korean War.
Her husband Shin was an acclaimed director who, along with Choi,
founded one of the largest film studios in Korea. From
the mid nineteen fifties to the nineteen seventies, they made

(01:18):
dozens of movies that defined Korean post war cinema. But
all was not perfect in paradise, and in the nineteen seventies,
Shin Studios was forced to shut down. In nineteen seventy six,
Shin and Choi's relationship fell apart as well, when Choi
discovered Shin had fathered two children with another woman. The
its couple decided to call it quits. By nineteen seventy eight,

(01:40):
Choi traveled to Hong Kong in the hopes that she
could direct a film there. It had been hard for
her to book rolls after the very public divorce, but
a Hong Kong film company had offered her a job.
When Choi arrived, however, she discovered it was a ruse.
She was forced onto a boat and taken away to
North Korea. News of Choi's disappearance drove Shin to fire
follow her to Hong Kong, and six months later, North

(02:02):
Korean operatives kidnapped him as well. He was imprisoned, with
his sentence eventually stretching to five years due to repeated
escape attempts. While Shin was languishing in prison, Choi was
ushered into the inner circle of King Jong Il, son
of North Korean dictator Kim Jong sung. She was taught
the government approved history of the country and was taken

(02:24):
to performances and parties by Kim. Shin was finally released
from prison in early nineteen eighty three, and at a
party in March of that year, the former couple were
reunited after five long years in captivity. They were finally
told the reason for their capture. Their host, Kim Jong Il,
wanted their help to make movies. Kim Jong il had
always been a film buff with a personal collection of

(02:46):
nearly fifteen thousand movies from around the world. When he
took over North Korea's propaganda department in the nineteen sixties,
he dreamed of making movies that would rival the ones
from the West, But after several attempts, it became clear
that North Korean actors and filmmaks, who had been cut
off from new ideas and technology in film for decades,
couldn't make his dreams come true. So he looked to

(03:07):
the South, and he kidnapped Choi and Shin. For the
next three years, Choi and Shin made films with Kim
Jong Ill. Many were adaptations of Korean myths and folk
tales or historical epics, all with a communist bent, of course,
and all making sure to paint the Kims as heroes
and saviors. But during their captivity, something unexpected happened. Choi

(03:28):
and Shin fell back in love. Choi was touched by Shin,
tracking her down to Hong Kong, and after years working
together under the pressure of a dictator, all her anger
towards him softened. The two remarried and waited patiently for
their chance to escape. Their opportunity finally came in nineteen
eighty six, when Choi and Shin traveled to Vienna to
secure funding for a film about Genghis Khan. Typically, Kim

(03:51):
Jong Ung would send them out of the country before
film festivals, but usually only one at a time, so
with both of them in Austria, they saw their chance,
and they took it. On March twelfth of nineteen eighty six,
Choi and Shin arrived at the Intercontinental Hotel to meet
with a journalist. When their North Korean bodyguards stepped out
of the room, the two made a break for it.

(04:12):
They ran out of the hotel, hailed a cab, and
jumped in. Choi and Shin took the taxi to the
US embassy and sprinted inside. Once there, they presented American
officials with secret recordings they made of Kim Jong ung,
in which he admitted to the kidnapping scheme and holding
them against their will. The Americans granted them asylum, and
after eight long years of captivity, they were finally free.

(04:34):
Shin and Choi ended up in Los Angeles, where Shin
produced several children's martial arts movies before moving back to
South Korea in nineteen ninety nine. After extensive interrogation of
the two kidnap filmmakers, the South Korean government cleared them
of any suspicion of willingly defecting to North Korea. The
two remained together until Shin's death in two thousand and six.

(04:54):
Choi later passed away in twenty eighteen. Choi and Shin
may have spent their lives making movies, but in a
real life plot twist, they staged a great escape that
would put any Hollywood thriller to shame. In today's world,

(05:22):
we have more sources of entertainment at our fingertips than
we know what to do with. With a few taps
on your phone, you can access hundreds of movies thousands
of hours of television and millions of songs. It would
take you over four years to watch everything on Netflix,
and over seventeen thousand years to get through all the
videos on YouTube. And for those of you who are curious,

(05:42):
if you listen to nothing but this podcast feed, it
would take you over one hundred hours to finish all
of the episodes. With so much content at our disposal,
it's easy to forget just how good we've got it.
As recently as the seventeenth century, people's entertainment options were
much more limited, not to mention expensive. If you wanted
to veg out by watching a show for a few hours,

(06:03):
you would need a stage, a director, a writer, and
a cast of actors. Feel like listening to some tunes, well,
then you'd better have a singer or a pianist on
hand to perform. And don't forget the variety and the
quality of the music will be limited by the performer's
knowledge and talent. With entertainment options so limited, having access
to skilled musicians became extremely important. In England, Queen Elizabeth

(06:27):
the First maintained a Royal children's choir which was ready
to perform whenever and wherever she desired. The master of
the choir, a guy named Nathaniel Giles, was charged with
scouting out new talent and to make sure that he
got the best singers around. He was given incredible power
is he Giles carried a warrant that allowed him to
force any child to join the choir. Whenever he wanted.

(06:50):
He could walk into a random church or theater in
the country, pick out the best singers, and decide that
they now worked for him. If the kid didn't want
to go, there was nothing they or their parents could
do about it. Now this seems unbelievable today, but it's
pretty consistent with Elizabethan society. Children were viewed as a
kind of property. They were owned by their parents until

(07:11):
they began an apprenticeship, at which point they then belonged
to their master. Oh and their training and education weren't
for their own benefit either. That was simply a way
to make the kids more useful so that the adults
could ring every last drop of value out of them.
At the same time, the British monarch was a symbolic
parent figure to her subjects. It was everyone's duty to

(07:31):
serve the crown in whatever way they could, so most
people wouldn't have found it particularly odd when talented kids
were forced to sing for the queen, but it was
still a lot of power for one man to hold,
and Nathaniel Giles wasn't above using it for his own ends.
He and a theater producer named Henry Evans routinely abducted
children right off the streets, then refused to return them

(07:53):
until their parents bought them back. They were effectively holding
the children ransom, and while this was a clear abuse
of power, it was also technically legal. They got away
with it for years and may never have been questioned
about it at all had they not taken the wrong child.
You see, in sixteen hundred, Giles and Evans kidnapped a
thirteen year old named Thomas Clifton while he was on

(08:14):
his way home from school. As it turns out, the boys'
parents were nobles and extremely litigious ones at that. After
getting their son back, they took Giles to court. Their
argument wasn't that the choir master had broken the law
by kidnapping their son. Everyone agreed that that was within
his rights. The problem was that Thomas couldn't sing to
save his life. As a result, he'd been made to

(08:35):
act in stage plays which were seen as less respectable
than singing, and Thomas's parents won the case. The producer,
Henry Evans was forced to resign and he was run
out of town, but Giles got off without so much
as a reprimand he continued to work as the master
of the Royal Choir, although his warrant was adjusted to
clarify that the children he took could not be employed

(08:57):
as comedians or actors. Singing was the Queen's entertainment of choice,
and she deserved to hear only the most angelic of voices.
And apparently if it took a devil of a choir
master to make that happen, it was still worth it
so long as the music never stopped. I hope you've

(09:19):
enjoyed today's guided tour of the Cabinet of Curiosities. Subscribe
for free on Apple Podcasts, or learn more about the
show by visiting Curiosities podcast dot com. The show was
created by me Aaron Mankey in partnership with how Stuff Works.
I make another award winning show called Lore, which is
a podcast, book series, and television show, and you can

(09:41):
learn all about it over at the Worldoflore dot com.
And until next time, stay curious,

Aaron Mahnke's Cabinet of Curiosities News

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