Reporters crowded into a Singapore auditorium Tuesday, expecting President Donald Trump to walk out and announce the results of his historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Suddenly, two huge screens on either side of the empty podium came to life. Soaring music boomed over the speakers, and the reporters were bombarded with a montage portraying North Korea as some sort of paradise.
Golden sunrises. Gleaming skylines and high-speed trains. Children skipping through Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang, North Korean flags waving between images of Egyptian pyramids, the Taj Mahal and the Lincoln Memorial.
In a split-screen shot, Kim Jong Un waved to an adoring crowd while President Trump stood beside him with his thumb in the air. The pair appeared over and over again, like running mates in a campaign video.
The film went on like this for several minutes, with brief interludes of missiles, soldiers and warships interrupting the fanfare. Some journalists, unable to understand the Korean-language narration, assumed they were watching one of Pyongyang’s infamous propaganda films. “What country are we in?” asked a reporter from the filing center.
But then the video looped, playing this time in English. And then Trump walked onto the stage and explained that the film was not North Korean propaganda.
It had been made in America, by or on the orders of his White House, for the benefit of Kim.
“I hope you liked it,” Trump told the reporters. “I thought it was good. I thought it was interesting enough to show. … And I think he loved it.”
As the president explained it, the video was an elevator pitch – the sort of glitzy production that Trump might have once used to persuade an investor to finance a hotel and that he now hopes will persuade the leader of one of the most repressive regimes in the world to end nearly 70 years of international isolation and militant hostility to the United States.
The nearly five-minute movie even had its own Hollywood-style vanity logo: “A Destiny Pictures Production,” though a film company by the same name in Los Angeles denied any involvement in making it, and the White House has not yet responded to questions about it.
“Of those alive today, only a small number will leave a lasting impact,” the narrator said near the beginning, as alternating shots of Trump, Kim and North Korean pageantry flashed on the screen. “And only a very few will make decisions or take actions to renew their homeland, or change the course of history.”
The message was clear: Kim had a decision to make. Then the film progressed from grim black-and-white shots of the United States’ 1950s-era war with North Korea into a colorful montage of parades and a golden sunrise.
“The past doesn’t have to be the future,” the narrator said. “What if a people that share a common and rich heritage can find a common future?”
The same technique repeated even more dramatically a minute later in the film, when the footage seemed to melt into a horror montage of war planes and missiles beating down on North Korean cities – much like the apocalyptic propaganda videos Pyongyang had produced just a few months ago, when Kim and Trump sounded as if they were on the brink of nuclear war.
But in the Trump film, the destruction rewound itself. The missiles flew back into to their launchers, and a science-fiction like version North Korea took its place – one of crane-dotted skylines, crowded highways, computerized factories and drones, all presided over by a waving, grinning Kim.
“You can have medical breakthroughs, an abundance of resources, innovative technology and new discoveries,” the narrator said, the footage more and more resembling a Hollywood movie trailer as it built to its finale:
“Featuring President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un in a meeting to remake history,” the narrator concluded, as Korean words flashed on a black background: “It is going to become a reality?”
The reporters had many questions.
“Do you now see Kim Jong Un as an equal?” asked a Time magazine correspondent.
“In what way?” Trump asked.
“You just showed a video that showed you and Kim Jong Un on equal footing, and discussing the future of the country.”
The president may have misunderstood the question, as he referred in his answer to his closed-door talks and a few carefully negotiated photo ops with Kim – not the U.S.-made video that presented the totalitarian autocrat as a hero.
“If I have to say I’m sitting on a stage with Chairman Kim and that gets us to save 30 million lives – it could be more than that – I’m willing to sit on a stage, I’m willing to travel to Singapore, very proudly,” Trump said.
“Are you concerned the video you just showed could be used by Kim as propaganda, to show him as …”
Trump cut the question off. “No, I’m not concerned at all. We can use that video for other countries.”
The president was more talkative when discussing how Kim had reacted to the video, which Trump had presumably played for him during a brief, private meeting hours earlier.
“We didn’t have a big screen like you have the luxury of having,” Trump said. “We didn’t need it, because we had it on cassette, uh, an iPad.
“And they played it. About eight of their representatives were watching it, and I thought they were fascinated by it. I thought it was well done. I showed it to you because that’s the future. I mean, that could very well be the future. And the other alternative is just not a very good alternative. It’s just not good.”
Trump admitted that some of the imagery he pitched may have been a little far-fetched, as North Korea is mired in poverty, internationally isolated, and has been mismanaged for decades by a family of dictators – Kim, his father and grandfather.
“That was done at the highest level of future development,” Trump said of his pitch video. “I told him, you may not want this. You may want to do a much smaller version. … You may not want that – with the trains and everything.”
He waved his hands. ”You know, with super everything, to the top. It’s going to be up to them,“ he said.
And then, in his usual style, Trump was thinking out loud about the ”great condos“ that might one day be built on the ”great beaches“ of North Korea.
“I explained it,” he said. “You could have the best hotels in the world. Think of it from the real estate perspective.”
As the screens above Trump emphasized, he certainly had.
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