PYONGYANG, N. Korea—According to unconfirmed reports coming out of North Korea (which is apparently the only way reports do come out of North Korea), singer Hyon Song-wol of the Unhasu Orchestra and 11 fellow singers, musicians and dancers were executed on August 20 by a firing squad using machine guns, allegedly because they appeared in one or more sexually explicit movies and sold them secretly, apparently to finance the band's activities. Hyon was reportedly the ex-lover of North Korean president Kim Jong-un, as well as a fellow performer with Kim's current wife, Ri Sol-ju.
Slate.com printed the story with the caveat, "Like any story coming out of North Korea, we're about to be dealing with unconfirmed reports and unnamed sources. Ultimately, few people know exactly what happens within the borders of the Hermit Kingdom, which I suppose is why we call it that." And indeed, the earliest reports of the story appear to be from the South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo, a newspaper not known for its love of anything North Korean.
In any case, if the reports are to be believed, Hyon and Kim were an item for more than a decade, though Kim Jong-un's father, former president Kim Jong-il, had tried to put a stop to the romance, though rumors persisted that the current president and Hyon were still carrying on an illicit affair up until at least a month ago, when the pair were spotted attending a concert together.
After the "breakup," Hyon continued her singing career, and the band became known for a series of patriotic songs including Footsteps of Soldiers, We Are Troops Of The Party, and her most popular number, 2005's Excellent Horse-Like Lady (though some have translated the title as A Girl In The Saddle Of A Steed).
It's unclear when she and her band-mates, as well as members of the Wangjaesan Light Music Band, began making porn nor how they went about selling it in North Korea's sexually repressive climate, where both production and distribution are illegal. And while the porn production was the reason given for the dozen executions, some experts on North Korea suspect there might be more to it.
"If these people had only made pornographic videos, then it is simply not believable that their punishment was execution," said Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo's Waseda University and an authority on North Korean affairs. "They could have been made to disappear into the prison system there instead... There is a political reason behind this."
One suggestion is that Hyon may have been shot at the insistence of Kim Jong-un's wife, who may have been jealous of her former band-mate.
A video of Excellent Horse-Like Lady can be found here.
Pictured: Hyon Song-wol in Excellent Horse-Like Lady.