Unsung Heroes

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Unsung Heroes
Charles Robert Jenkins as Dr. Kelton, the fictional mastermind behind the Korean War
Chosŏn'gŭl이름 없는 영웅
Hancha이름 없는
McCune–ReischauerIrŭm Ŏmnŭn Yŏng'ungdŭl
Revised RomanizationIreum Eomneun Yeong'ungdeul
Directed byRyu Ho-son, Ko Hak-lim
Written byLee Jin-woo
StarringKim Ryong-lin
Kim Jung-hwa
Jung Woon-mo
Distributed byChosun Art Film

Unsung Heroes, also known as Unknown Heroes or more literally as Nameless Heroes, is a North Korean war drama mini-series about a spy in Seoul during the Korean War. Over twenty hours long, it was filmed and released in multiple parts between 1978 and 1981.[1] It was the recipient of the Kim Il-sung Medal.[2]

Government authorities in North Korea banned Unsung Heroes in 2016, fearing that the series' themes may inspire popular discontent with the rule of Kim Jong Un, the nation's current leader.[3]

Production and reaction[edit]

The production of Unsung Heroes began in or around 1978 on the initiative of Kim Jong-il when he took charge of the country's propaganda affairs.[4]

Unsung Heroes received a widespread favourable reception in the domestic market, according to North Korean public media. Lead actor Kim Ryong-lin, who played the hero Yu Rim, stated that it was one of his favourite roles in over 20 years of acting; in a 1981 interview, he remarked that people had begun calling him Yu Rim instead of his real name after the series began, which he actually enjoyed because of his admiration for the character. Actress Kim Jung-hwa, who played female lead Kim Soon-hee, initially felt that she was unsuited for the role, as she had no prior military experience, or even experience playing a spy on-screen; her only preparation consisted of reading several books and interviewing real spies. The director Ryu Ho-son stated that his favourite scene was the one from the "Madonna Teahouse" in Part 5, in which former lovers Yu Rim and Kim Soon-hee each learn that the other is a North Korean agent.[5]

Unsung Heroes was also responsible for propelling American defectors James Joseph Dresnok and Charles Robert Jenkins to minor celebrity status in North Korea. However, it did not receive public attention in the United States until 1996, when the U.S. Department of Defense obtained a copy of the movie; a report issued by five of their analysts identified Jenkins and one other unnamed American (later discovered to be Dresnok) as actors in the movie, providing the first evidence in three decades that Jenkins was still alive.[6][7] Dresnok's popularity in his role was such that people in North Korea routinely referred to him as "Arthur," the name of the character he played in the film.[8]

Unsung Heroes was broadcast on television in China in 1982, and released on DVD in 2003 by Dalian Audiovisual Publishing House. It was also screened in Japan during the Kitakyushu Biennial 2007.[2][9] Its theme song "Embrace the Song of Happiness" (Korean기쁨의 노래 안고 함께 가리라; MRKibbŭmŭi Norae Ango Hamkke Karira), composed by Chŏn Tong-u, remains widely known in North Korea; Grand National Party member Yu Hong-jun, head of South Korea's Cultural Heritage Administration, became the center of controversy in 2005 when he sang the song at an official dinner while visiting North Korea.[10][11]


The plot of Unsung Heroes is partially based on actual historical events, but many names and details were changed. The movie opens with an unidentified spy master giving instructions to protagonist Yu Rim, a Korean expatriate in the United Kingdom working as a journalist, who is ordered to proceed to Seoul and gather intelligence on the United States Forces Korea. Initially, he only has three contacts in Seoul: Park Mu, the chief press officer for the Republic of Korea Army, Janet O'Neill, the wife of senior American intelligence official Dr. Kelton, and Lee Hong-sik, his handler, through whom Yu also runs into his old lover Kim Soon-hee, who is apparently employed by the United States Counter Intelligence Corps, and is introduced to Colonel Klaus. Yu begins gathering intelligence on a coup plot by rightist South Korean general Sin Jae-sin. Lee helps him pass back this information to North Korea using his unwitting friend Kim Su-gyong as a courier. Lee is suspected by a US counter intelligence agent Martin who found Lee takes care of homeless kids. Soon after, Lee is killed in a shootout with CIC agents, including Kim Soon-hee, leaving Yu unable to pass his crucial intelligence back to his government. Yu calls Lee from a bar, but after realizing the person on the other end of the line is not Lee, hangs up immediately. A waitress in that bar is subsequently arrested and tortured by Colonel Klaus, who learns that a man suspected to be Yu was seen making the phone call.[1]

Yu flees to a Hong Kong safe house run by a North Korean singer. He is instructed to return to Seoul and contact an agent code-named White Horse. However, he is suspicious of White Horse and sets a trap for him which reveals that he is working with Colonel Klaus. White Horse is then killed by an unknown person. Yu obtained the information from Janet O'Neill that John Foster Dulles is visiting Europe to get reinforcements. Yu meets Lewis, an army lieutenant, and converts him to Communism to relay this information; Lewis stages his own kidnapping so that he can disappear to the North for training, and later returns to Seoul. Two months later, Yu receives a coded message on Voice of Korea instructing him to contact an agent named Diamond, who turns out to be his old lover Kim Soon-hee, ostensibly working for the Americans, but really a double agent for North Korean intelligence. With Dulles's agenda exposed to the media, the US plans a battle to demonstrate their superiority, but Yu obtains this information from Park Mu. The Americans fail to get more reinforcements from their European allies and are defeated by a well prepared Korean People's Army.[1]

Yu continues to gather intelligence on General Sin's coup attempt, this time passing messages back to Pyongyang by way of a radio operator disguised as a disabled veteran who begs outside hotels. Yu hides messages in cigarette filters, which he then throws on the ground near the beggar. However, he is unaware that he is being followed by the CIC, who are filming his activities. Colonel Klaus hears about a North Korean spy disguised as a veteran, and begins reviewing video tapes to check on Yu's activities. Kim saves the day by cutting the scenes out of the tapes to avoid further suspicion falling on Yu, but the disappearance of the scenes triggers Klaus' suspicion towards Kim herself. Klaus stages a test of loyalty for her, in which she is kidnapped and threatened with execution by American agents in Hokkaidō, Japan pretending to be Communists; however, Kim correctly senses this is a trap, and escapes by killing the agents.[1]

Park Mu realizes that Yu and Kim are spies. Klaus discovers that Yu was the one who leaked out intelligence. Park is pushed by Klaus, and kills Kim who tries to protect Yu. Later, Yu kills Park for revenge.

At the end, the North Korean army starts new attacks, and forces the allies to negotiate for peace. Due to Yu's efforts, Sin Jae-sin's coup is stopped by South Korean president Syngman Rhee's agents. Sin and Klaus commit suicide and Yu leaves Korea.



Year[1] No. Korean title English translation Hanja McCune-Reischauer Revised Romanisation
1978 1 《적후에서》 Behind Enemy Lines 《敵後에서》 Chŏkhu esŏ Jeokhu eseo
2 《적후에서 또 적후에로》 Behind Enemy Lines Again 《敵後에서 또 敵後에로》 Chŏkhu esŏ tto Chŏkhu ero Jeokhu eseo tto Jeokhu ero
1979 3 《적후에서 홀로》 Alone Behind Enemy Lines 《敵後에서 홀로》 Chŏkhu esŏ Hollo Jeokhu eseo Hollo
4 《옛성터에서》 In Ancient Ruins 《옛城터에서》 Yessŏngtŏ esŏ Yesseongteo eseo
5 《금강석》 Diamond 《金剛石》 Kŭmgamsŏk Geumgamseok
6 《한밤중의 저격사건》 Shooting at Midnight 《한밤中의 狙擊事件》 Hanbamjung'ŭi Chŏgyŏksagŏn Hanbamjung'eui Jeogyeoksageon
7 《정적속에서의 전투》 Battle in the Midst of Calm 《靜寂속에서의 戰鬪》 Chŏngjŏksok'ŭi Chŏntu Jeongjeoksok'eui Jeontu
1980 8 《위험한 대결》 A Dangerous Confrontation 《危險한 對決》 Uihŏmhan Taegyŏl Uiheomhan Daegyeol
9 《안개작전》 Operation Fog 《안개作戰》 Angaejakjŏn Angaejakjeon
10 《위기》 Peril 《危機》 Uigi Uigi
11 《일요일에 있은 일》 What Happens on Sunday 《日曜日에 있은 일》 Ilyoil e Issŭn Il Ilyoil e Isseun Il
12 《웃음속에 비낀 그늘》 The shade cast by laughter 《웃음속에 비낀 그늘》 Usŭmsok e Pikkin Kŭnŭl Useumsok e Bikkin Geuneul
13 《판문점》 Panmunjeom 《板門店》 Panmunjŏm Banmunjeom
14 《죽음의 섬》 Island of Death 《죽음의 섬》 Chukŭmŭi Sŏm Jugeumui Seom
15 《달없는 그밤에》 On that Moonless Night 《달없는 그밤에》 Talŏmnŭn Kŭbam e Daleomneun Geubam e
16 《전투는 계속된다》 The Battle Continues 《戰鬪는 繼續된다》 Chŏntunŭn Kyesok Toenda Jeontuneun Gyesok Doenda
17 《유인》 Seduction 《誘引》 Yu'in Yu-in
18 《운명》 Destiny 《運命》 Unmyŏng Unmyeong
1981 19 《붉은 저녁노을》 Evening Glow 《붉은 저녁노을》 Polkŭn Chŏnyŏk Noŭl Bolgeun Jeonyeok No-eul
20 《우리는 잊지 않는다》 We do Not Forget 《우리는 잊지 않는다》 Urinŭn Ijji Annŭnda Urineun Ijji Anneunda


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Lee, Wha-rang (2004), "Film Review: The Unsung Heroes", Korea Web Weekly, archived from the original on 25 March 2007, retrieved 18 June 2007
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Unsung Heroes: Episode 19 of 20, Kitakyushu Bienniale, 2007, retrieved 18 June 2007
  3. ^ "North Korea Bans Formerly Approved Films Now Deemed Sensitive". Radio Free Asia. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  4. ^ Bärtås, Magnus; Ekman, Fredrik (2014). Hirviöidenkin on kuoltava: Ryhmämatka Pohjois-Koreaan [All Monsters Must Die: An Excursion to North Korea] (in Finnish). Translated by Eskelinen, Heikki. Helsinki: Tammi. p. 173. ISBN 978-951-31-7727-0.
  5. ^ "在故事片《無名英雄》攝製完畢之後 (After the completion of "Unsung Heroes")", Chaoxian Huabao (6), 1981, retrieved 12 March 2018
  6. ^ Specht, Wayne (22 October 2002), "What happened to GI patrolling DMZ in '65?", Stars and Stripes, archived from the original on 7 October 2007, retrieved 18 June 2007
  7. ^ Spiller, Penny (23 January 2007), "Last US defector in North Korea", BBC News, retrieved 22 June 2007
  8. ^ a b Gordon, Daniel; Bonner, Nicholas (2006), Crossing the Line, First aired in 2007 by the BBC.
  9. ^ 中朝音像店 《無名英雄》, SinoKorea Net, retrieved 12 March 2018
  10. ^ Im, Jong-jin (16 June 2005), "유홍준 '북한 노래' 정치권 논란 (Yu Hong-jun's "North Korean song" political controversy)", The Hankyoreh, retrieved 18 April 2008
  11. ^ Son, Chi-wŏn (25 August 2005), "전동우, 1931.4.20∼1999.10.9 (Chŏn Tong-u, 20 April 1931 – 9 October 1999)", Choson Sinbo, retrieved 18 April 2008
  12. ^ Charles Robert Jenkins, The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea, page 95
  13. ^ Han, Yeong-jin (8 April 2006). "北 혼혈인, 공민권 박탈 …… 후대생산 불가 (Civil rights of mixed-race people in North Korea abrogated; not allowed to have children)". Daily NK. Retrieved 18 April 2008.
  14. ^ a b c Swift, Earl (8 September 2004), "The Defector", Style Weekly, archived from the original on 9 May 2006, retrieved 18 April 2008
  15. ^ Classic North Korean film about and starring US defectors has been converted into colour, Koryogroup.com, 06 December 2018

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