To the outside world, it has always been easier to mock North Korea’s craziness than to fathom its horror, even as an estimated two to three million people died there of starvation in the late nineteen-nineties, and a generation of children were stunted by extreme malnutrition. (Even when Westerners took Kim Jong-il seriously, they tended to treat him as a punchline. The Economist depicted him on its cover under the headline, “Greetings Earthlings,” and President Bush called him “a pygmy” who acted like “a spoiled child at a dinner table” and was “starving his own people” in “a Gulag the size of Houston.”) Kim Jong-il made the mockery easy. Shin Sang-ok, a South Korean film director who was kidnapped and held captive for years by the North Korean dictator, told me that Kim adored Rambo, James Bond, and Friday the 13th movies. But, Shin said: “He doesn’t know what fiction is. He looks at these movies as if they were records of reality.”