Seoul: He's been cursed in the street,
appeared in a movie and perfected the wave of North Korea's
"Dear Leader". Now Kim Jong-Il's leading look-alike feels that
part of himself died along with the late ruler.
Passers-by stop and stare as a short, stout man with a
bouffant hairdo, large glasses and olive green suit stands at
the door of his small engraving shop in northern Seoul.
For more than a decade Kim Young-Sik has been
moonlighting as an impersonator of North Korea's longtime
But since Kim Jong-Il died on December 17, the 61-year-
old father of two fears he may have to hang up his tailor-made
suits after an illustrious career that saw him appear on
Japanese TV and in a Middle East chocolate commercial.
"I feel very empty, as if a part of me died. People try
to comfort me, saying some figures are more famous when
they're dead, but I don't think it will be the case with Kim."
As a child, he never dreamt of becoming a communist
ruler, and fell into the role almost by accident.
"One day after I got out of the shower and my hair was
very curly, people told me I looked like Kim Jong-Il," he
explained, during a break from serving customers at his store
in a working-class district of the South Korean capital.
His break came with a role in the 1995 South Korean film
"The Rose of Sharon Blooms Again" about a South Korean
scientist who secretly helped the North develop nuclear
weapons to prevent a Japanese invasion.
Since then he's rubbed shoulders with celebrities and
world leaders -- or at least people who look like them --
including George W Bush and Vladimir Putin impersonators.
His career began to take off after then-South Korean
president Kim Dae-Jung began the "Sunshine Policy" of
reconciliation with the North in the late 1990s.
"People started to notice me and invite me to all sorts
of television stations," he said.
Outside his home country the real Kim was often seen as a
figure of fun, lampooned in the 2004 hit puppet movie "Team
America" and an easy target for comedians.
But it's not always easy playing the role of a man who
presided over a deadly famine, locked tens of thousands of his
own people up in prison camps and tested a nuclear bomb.
"Some people curse at me and call me 'dictator', but
those who know me wave and shout 'Kim Jong-Il!'. Then I would
wave back at them and show them some of Kim's moves," he said.
Keeping up appearances takes some work. He perms his hair
every three months and before Kim's death closely followed
changes in his look and demeanour, even going on a diet when
the late leader lost weight following a 2008 stroke.
He regrets never having had the chance to meet the real
Kim, or even visit North Korea, which in the past denied his
Now, as Kim's youngest son Kim Jong-Un inherits the
world's last communist dynasty, the late leader's double
thinks it is time to step aside for a new generation.
First Published: Friday, December 30, 2011, 13:38