World News

Coming Attractions: Trump Showed Kim a Faux Movie Trailer About a Transformed North Korea

Posted June 12, 2018 8:16 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump once told advisers to think of every day of his tenure as another episode in a television series. But with his landmark meeting with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, he seems to be eyeing a move up to the big screen.

At least that was the impression from a faux movie trailer he had specially made for the occasion, depicting his first-of-its-kind encounter with Kim as a suspenseful, pulse-pounding thriller with nothing less than the future of the world on the line.

Featuring fast-flashing visuals, dramatic music and a baritone narrator, the four-minute video that debuted in Singapore during the summit meeting presented the two heroes of the tale — Trump and Kim, of course — confronting choices that would alter the course of history. Trump showed Kim the video on an iPad and later played it for reporters on a pair of jumbo screens.

“Destiny Pictures presents a story of opportunity,” the narrator intones in the trailer. “A new story. A new beginning. One of peace. Two men, two leaders, one destiny.”

The video was no more specific than the joint statement the leaders signed, but the White House said it was meant to motivate Kim to break out of the country’s long isolation and rejoin the world by giving up his nuclear weapons.

The choice is presented in images of a dystopian country with little electricity, missiles launching and warplanes taking off versus a futuristic version of North Korea with cranes building skyscrapers, a dark country suddenly lit up at night and missiles flying back into their silos.

“It comes down to a choice, on this day, in this time, at this moment,” the trailer says. “The world will be watching, listening, anticipating, hoping. Will this leader choose to advance his country and be part of a new world? Be the hero of his people? Will he shake the hand of peace and enjoy prosperity like he has never seen? A great life — or more isolation? Which path will be chosen?”

The video then closes: “Featuring President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un, in a meeting to remake history. To shine in the sun. One moment. One choice. What if? The future remains to be written.”

Trump said Kim “loved it” when it was shown to him. “That was a version of what could happen, what could take place,” the president told reporters. “As an example, they have great beaches. You see that whenever they’re exploding their cannons into the ocean, right? I said, ‘Boy, look at the view. Wouldn’t that make a great condo behind?'”

“And I explained, I said, ‘You know, instead of doing that, you could have the best hotels in the world right there.’ Think of it from a real estate perspective.”

Mark McKinnon, a seasoned political ad maker who ran media for President George W. Bush’s campaigns, said the video was “obviously quite shlocky” for a broader audience, but could be effective in influencing its intended target.

“At bottom, it’s very good storytelling — something obviously Trump understands,” McKinnon said. Citing the former governor of Texas ousted by Bush, he added: “Ann Richards used to say, ‘Dumb it down so my mama can understand it.’ Or you know, so a foreign dictator can. Overall, a pretty creative and clever move.”

But veteran diplomats and foreign policy scholars were warier. “I was speechless when I first saw it,” said Alexander R. Vershbow, who served as ambassador to South Korea under Bush. “Pure Trump with Hollywood production values, showing what Kim Jong Un and North Korea would be like if they make the fateful choice to trade in their nukes for economic prosperity.”

Sung-Yoon Lee, a Korean studies professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, was even less impressed, calling it “eerily reminiscent of second-rate South Korean government promotional videos.” In fact, although the White House said it was made by the National Security Council, she said she instinctively suspected the South Koreans might have created it and gave it to Trump.

“Will it have any impact?” she asked. “Most likely, this patronizing act will give Kim a good laugh. It may also irritate and, paradoxically, reassure him at the same time — in the knowledge that his two adversaries are utterly clueless.”

Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said he thought it would fall flat. “I was gobsmacked by it,” he said. “It seems unlikely that a man who ruthlessly ordered the murder of his half brother with a nerve agent is likely to be beguiled by a film trailer and decide to abandon the nuclear-armed missiles that are a centerpiece of his propaganda.”

One person who found it more perplexing than anything else was Mark Castaldo, the founder of the actual Destiny Pictures, a small independent film and television production company in Los Angeles. Starting around 5:30 a.m. his time on Tuesday, Castaldo found himself bombarded with telephone calls and emails from reporters and friends asking him about the video they assumed he had made.

“We had nothing to do with that video at all,” he said. “I don’t know them at all.”

Evidently whatever National Security Council staff members put together the video made up a “Destiny Pictures” as a metaphor, perhaps not realizing there was a real one.

Castaldo, who grew up in Queens just as Trump did and spent 10 years as a casino croupier in Atlantic City and Las Vegas (“I never worked at a Trump casino”), has worked in Hollywood for the past 15 years. His company’s website lists movies like “Psych: 9,” “The Perfect Nanny” and “The Rival.” He is currently working on “Pushing Life,” an inspired-by-a-true-story film about a single father who runs 75 marathons in 75 consecutive days after losing his wife to breast cancer.

None of his films have starred a reclusive, repressive dictator from North Korea, but by afternoon, Castaldo sounded more amused than annoyed by all of the attention. “It’s not something I would do anyway,” he said. “It’s not my kind of thing. I wouldn’t have gotten involved in something like that. I’m an independent. I’m not that political.”