Spitting Image: The Kim Jong-Il Look-Alike

Look-alike takes advantage of his resemblance to North Korean leader.

July 17, 2009, 8:10 AM

SEOUL, July 17, 2009 -- Fourteen years ago, right after taking a shower, Kim Young-Shik looked into the mirror after blow-drying his curly hair and thought perhaps his friends were right: Maybe he did look like that man who lost his father and was soon to be the leader of his enemy country, North Korea.

Up until 1994, when the late-founder of the world's most secretive state, Kim Il-Sung, passed away, average South Koreans did not know what his son, Kim Jong-Il, looked like. The two Koreas have not reached a truce agreement since at the end of the Korean War in 1953, and any piece information about North Korea was strictly controlled by the South Korean government.

But around that time of Kim Il-Sung's death, the junior Kim's pictures began to appear on South Korean newspapers. For days, Kim Young-Shik's friends encouraged him to audition for a role in a movie looking for someone who resembled North Korea's new leader.

"So I did, and beat 120 applicants. It was the turning point of my life," said Kim pointing at the TV screen in his Seoul living room playing a videotape of that movie, "The Rose of Sharon." The movie, based on a best-selling novel, features the two Koreas uniting against Japanese invasion. At the end, the South Korean president and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il drop a nuclear bomb on a Japanese uninhabited island in revenge.

That movie debut -- based mostly on his resemblance to the still secretive Kim Jong-Il -- led to other acting opportunities for Kim Young-Shik, both domestic and abroad.

"I was quite popular, you know," he touted.

Posing as Kim Jong-Il, he appeared in a Japanese television drama and shot various commercials for products such as an electronic dictionary in Korea and Twix chocolate bars in Lebanon. He soon found himself invited to numerous Korean TV entertainment shows, parties and public events.

"I once even officiated a wedding ceremony in my grey army suit," said Kim, still wearing his favorite two-piece army suit with a flag pin on his lapel.

Same Size as the 'Dear Leader'

His striking physical similarity to North Korea's infamous leader is most visible in his rotund figure and the extra puffy curly hair. He is also 5 feet 3 inches tall -- exactly the same height as Kim Jong-Il.

"It takes an effort to look like him. I watch the news and analyze pictures," said Kim, showing off his four tailor-made communist suits in green or grey, created to match the "Dear Leader's" attire. "The grey one is for factory visits, and the green one is for state ceremonies. The others are for winter season."

He often practices his look-alike skills by mimicking Kim Jong-Il's every move in front of the mirror -- from the way he waves to the exact angle of his clap. He takes recent newspaper photo clips to regular barber shop visits in order to maintain the North Korean leader's trademark bouffant hairstyle.

His small print shop that he runs with his wife is wallpapered with pictures of his various stints as a Kim Jong-Il look-alike.

"If I can bring joy to the people, I don't care if the world calls him an evil person," said Kim, cleaning a pair of vintage '80s sunglasses taken out of a box full of different types of glasses that he claims are the exact replicas in design and color of Kim Jong-Il's. "I have no interest in politics, but I sure would like to meet him one day, shake his hands, and take a photo together. I really want to know how much we look alike."

Kim says his resemblance to the man up north who is saber-rattling the world has brought him fame and a second job. On his way to a singing event at a nearby Hyundai Department store, he waved and threw hellos to perplexed passersby as they stared in confusion. Some Japanese tourists with children took pictures giggled. "I will tell my twin up there to stop shooting missiles," joked Kim in front of cheering audiences at the singing festival.

But he has a bigger challenge these days. "I have to start losing weight to catch up with him. He looks quite thin and almost ill," said Kim.

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