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Woo In-hee (Korean우인희, died 1981) was a North Korean actress and a mistress of Kim Jong-il.

Woo In-hee
Woo In-hee.jpg
Cause of deathExecution by firing squad
NationalityNorth Korean
Known forMistress of Kim Jong-il
Notable work
The Tale of Chunhyang, The Story of a Detachment Commander, The Town where We Live, The Girl from Diamond Mountain
TitlePeople's Actress [ko]
Spouse(s)Yoo Hosun
Partner(s)Kim Jong-il
Korean name
Revised RomanizationU In-hŭi
McCune–ReischauerU In-hui

Having reached stardom in the 1960s and 1970, Woo, renowned for her beauty, acted in dozens of films. She married Yoo Hosun, a famed film director, but she was involved in affairs outside of her marriage. In the late 1970s, she became a secret mistress of Kim Jong-il. After Woo began an affair with another man, Kim had her publicly executed in front of 6,000 people.

Early lifeEdit

Woo In-hee was born in Kaesong. She led what was considered an exemplary life during the Korean War, working even though fighting ravaged around. Pretty from an early age, she learned to dance and was taken to Pyongyang to become an actress. Woo had good, traditionally Korean looks with an oval shaped face and slender but curvy body. She was called the most beautiful woman in North Korea.[1]


After just one year in Pyongyang, Woo In-hee was given the main part in The Tale of Chunhyang,[a] earning her instant stardom.[1] She would go on to act in dozens of successful films.[4] In The Girl from Diamond Mountain, for instance, Woo acted the role of a woman spanning her whole life from her youth to advanced age.[1] Woo earned dozens of awards and had the prestigious title of People's Actress [ko] conferred upon her. Her feats attracted the personal interest and attention of Kim Jong-il. As a gesture of confidence, she was given an extraordinary permission to travel abroad to Czechoslovakia and study acting there.[5] Woo's career flourished during the 1960s and 1970s.[3]

Personal lifeEdit

Marriage to Yoo HosunEdit

Upon returning from Czechoslovakia, Woo In-hee married Yoo Hosun, the most gifted director in the country.[5] The couple had three sons.[3] Woo, however, started affairs with various other men in the 1970s, which ruined her reputation.[6] Her first extramarital relationship was with a member of a camera crew. Others were also people involved in the film industry.[5] By the end of the 1970s, the rumors had spread to the point that her colleagues confronted her directly. They accused her of adultery during a mutual criticism session, but Woo reacted with defiance,[7] pointing out that her accusers were in fact men who had begun affairs with her and thus adulterers themselves. Her career was ruined as she was stripped of her title of People's Actress and instead of acting was made to tend to the boiler of the film studio for a year, a dangerous job with 12-hour shifts. In 1979 she was suddenly allowed to return to acting, and was even given some lead roles.[8]

Affair with Kim Jong-ilEdit

Woo In-hee started an affair with Kim Jong-il. It is not known for certain when they began their courtship,[8] other than it took place sometime in the late 1970s.[3] At the time Unsung Heroes was being filmed and her husband Yoo Hosun acted in the film.[9] It is possible that Kim and Woo had courted for years before Woo's fall from grace, or that her ruin made it possible for Kim to initiate a relationship in exchange for allowing her to return to acting.[8] Kim had a fellow actor follow her around and report on her activities.[10] The relationship was top secret and was being kept from everyone including Woo's husband Yoo Hosun.[11]

After Kim, Woo fell in love with a young Zainichi Korean who had come to North Korea to work at a radio station.[12] Woo met him and he overcame her initial reluctance. The couple could not meet in public, so they met driving around for hours in the man's Mercedes. In the winter of 1980, after such a joyride, they were found in the car suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by the engine left running with windows shut to keep the cold out. The man had died and Woo had to spend two weeks at a hospital recovering. While interrogated over the death, she mentioned Kim Jong-il.[10]


Kim Jong-il could have Woo In-hee executed for betraying him and talking about their secret relationship.[13] Sure enough, in 1981,[14] Woo was told she was free to go,[15] but was instead taken to the Kang Kon Military Academy [ko] shooting grounds just north of Pyongyang.[16] She was tied to a post and shot as 6,000 people,[17] including her husband Yoo Hosun, were watching.[13] Kim nullified Woo and Yoo's marriage and forced the latter to finish Unsung Heroes.[9]

Woo's name and image was purged from magazines and film catalogs. She was edited out of films she had performed in, rendering their plots incomprehensible. Although witnesses to her execution were told not to talk about what they'd seen,[13] the incident is widely known in North Korea.[3] A South Korean TV drama, Until the Azalea Blooms, portrays her life. The show, banned in North Korea, has nevertheless circulated in the country and people have been punished for watching it.[18]


Other worksEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Unlikely a film, since the earliest North Korean film of the traditional folk tale was not made until 1980,[2] and this was the first major appearance in Woo's career that peaked in the 1960s and 1970s.[1][3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Fischer 2016, p. 203.
  2. ^ Lee Hyangjin (2000). Contemporary Korean Cinema: Culture, Identity and Politics. Manchester: Manchester University Press. p. 67. ISBN 978-0-7190-6008-3.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Kim Jong Il's Love Affairs Cause Many Scapegoats". Daily NK. 21 July 2005. Retrieved 18 November 2017.
  4. ^ Fischer 2016, pp. 203–204.
  5. ^ a b c Fischer 2016, p. 204.
  6. ^ Fischer 2016, pp. 204–205.
  7. ^ Fischer 2016, p. 205.
  8. ^ a b c Fischer 2016, p. 206.
  9. ^ a b Jung 2017, p. 51.
  10. ^ a b Fischer 2016, p. 207.
  11. ^ Jung 2017, p. 49.
  12. ^ Fischer 2016, pp. 206–207.
  13. ^ a b c Fischer 2016, p. 210.
  14. ^ White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea. Seoul: Center for human rights in North Korea. 1997. p. 35. ISBN 978-89-87509-01-3.
  15. ^ Fischer 2016, p. 209.
  16. ^ "N.Korea's Grisly Execution Site". The Chosun Ilbo. 15 May 2015. Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  17. ^ Fischer 2016, pp. 209–210.
  18. ^ "North Korean Authorities Punish Students for Watching South Korean TV Drama". Radio Free Asia. 4 June 2015. Retrieved 18 November 2017.

Works citedEdit

  • Fischer, Paul (2016). A Kim Jong-Il Production: Kidnap, Torture, Murder... Making Movies North Korean-Style. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-241-97000-3.
  • Jung Sung-san (2017). "The Death of Screenwriter Lee Jin-woo". Now We Can Speak: Violation of Freedom of Expression in North Korea: A Collection of Personal Accounts. Translated by Bax, Martin. North Korean Writers in Exile PEN Center. GGKEY:7KU4G1K0Y1R.

Further readingEdit