Abducted actress has some fond memories of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il

While North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has shocked the world with his claimed nuclear test, an actress from South Korea who was abducted to the North said Friday she has at least some fond memories of him.

"He always gave us a warm welcome. We had a very good time with Kim Jong Il personally," South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee told The Associated Press through an interpreter on the sidelines of the Pusan International Film Festival.

Choi, 76, was kidnapped and taken to North Korea in January 1978. Communist agents abducted her husband, famed South Korean director Shin Sang-ok, six months later.

The couple escaped to the West in 1986 during a brief stopover in Vienna, Austria, while en route to a film festival in Berlin. They sought refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Vienna and were later flown to the U.S.

Choi was at the film festival in Busan for a screening of Shin's "The Arch of Chastity." Shin died at age 80 in April.

Choi, who also acted and directed in the North, said she wasn't surprised by Kim's announcement of a nuclear test.

"He's the kind of person who can do such a thing. Otherwise it's very hard for him to maintain his hermit regime," she said.

Choi said Kim told her he had planned to open up the North gradually, but that he's still keeping it largely secluded to protect his regime.

"I think he's kept his country closed continuously because otherwise the country itself will collapse. I don't think the regime can be maintained if it's exposed to the rest of the world," she said.

She said during her eight years in the North, only 2 1/2 years were spent making movies because her late husband was imprisoned for five years for trying to escape detention to meet her. The couple were initially denied contact with each other.

Choi said, however, her experience in the North wasn't entirely bad.

"The abduction itself was a very bad thing for us, but the rest of it, I can't really say it was really bad because he (Kim Jong Il) was a big fan of us, especially director Shin. He always had a warm heart for us. Personally, he just enjoyed spending time with us so much," she said.

She said Kim, who met with them nearly weekly, didn't offer much input into their films and gave them adequate resources.

"I don't think we had any problem with creativity. We had a lot of freedom to make our own films," Choi said, adding, however, that Shin made movies based on the writings of socialist writers.

She said the couple broke new ground in the North by being the first to make a historical epic and to add film credits at the end of movies.

"He (Shin) had a very diverse mix of work there," Choi said.

Choi said she and her husband were kept sequestered and only allowed contact with film crews and government officials.

She said Shin was ultimately prompted to escape by his lack of total freedom.

"Director Shin is a free spirit. He didn't enjoy even a little bit of limitation of his freedom. Although we received special treatment, he was always longing for complete freedom. North Korean society is very rigid and quite reclusive. We had some freedom compared to the ordinary people in North Korea but it wasn't good enough," she said.

During their time in the North, Choi said Shin directed seven movies and she directed one. While working with young directors, the couple made another 12.

Among their works is "Bulgasari," a North Korean version of Godzilla which protects farmers against soldiers by eating cannons and other weapons. The film was banned in the North after Shin escaped the communist country, and made its international debut in Tokyo in 1998.

When the couple escaped, they brought secretly taped conversations with Kim Jong Il with them, which provided some of the first meaningful insights into Kim's thinking and behavior, reports AP.

Aside from what Kim says about his country he talks about the shortcomings of the North's policy of self-reliance a psychological analysis of the conversations concluded the leader is an extrovert, a poor listener and a fast talker who dominates conversations and jumps from topic to topic.