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Choi Eun-hee
Choi in 1966
Born (1926-11-20)November 20, 1926
Died April 16, 2018(2018-04-16) (aged 91)
Gangseo District, Seoul, South Korea
Nationality South Korean
Occupation Actress
Years active 1942–2006
Shin Sang-ok
(m. 1954; div. 1976)

(m. 1983; died 2006)
Korean name
Hangul 은희
Revised Romanization Choe Eun-Hui
McCune–Reischauer Ch'oe Ǔn-hŭi

Choi Eun-hee (Hangul: 최은희; November 20, 1926 – April 16, 2018) was a South Korean actress, who was one of the country's most popular stars of the 1960s and 1970s. In 1978, Choi and her then ex-husband, movie director Shin Sang-ok, were abducted to North Korea, where they were forced to make films until they sought asylum at the U.S. embassy in Vienna in 1986. They returned to South Korea in 1999 after spending a decade in the United States.


Early career and success in South Korea

Choi was born in Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province in 1926. Her first acting role was in the 1947 film, A New Oath. She rose to fame the following year after starring in the 1948 film, The Sun of Night, and soon became known as one of the "troika" of Korean film, alongside actresses Kim Ji-mee and Um Aing-ran.

After marrying the director Shin Sang-ok in 1954, the two founded Shin Film. Choi went on to act in over 130 films and was considered one of the biggest stars of South Korean film in the 1960s and 1970s. She starred in many of Shin's iconic films including 1958's A Flower in Hell and 1961's The Houseguest and My Mother.

After she was diagnosed with infertility, they adopted two children together, Jeong-kyun and Myung-kim.

Abduction and years in North Korea

In 1976, Choi divorced Shin after seeing news that he had fathered two children with the young actress Oh Su-mi. Choi's career began to suffer after her divorce, and she traveled to Hong Kong in 1978 to meet with a person posing as a businessman who offered to set up a new film company with her. In Hong Kong, Choi was abducted and taken to North Korea by the order of Kim Jong-il. While searching for Choi after her abduction, Shin was also abducted and taken to North Korea soon after.

In North Korea, Choi and Shin were remarried, at Kim's recommendation. Kim had them make films together, including 1985's Salt, for which Choi won best actress at the 14th Moscow International Film Festival. Choi later said that the couple was able to make "films with artistic values, instead of just propaganda films extolling the regime," but that she could not forgive Kim for kidnapping her. While in North Korea, Choi converted to Roman Catholicism.

Escape and later life

The couple finally staged their escape in 1986 while on a trip to Vienna, where they fled to the U.S. embassy and requested political asylum. They lived in Reston, Virginia, then Beverly Hills, California, before returning to South Korea in 1999.

On April 16, 2018, Choi died in hospital where she was due to have a kidney dialysis during the afternoon. Her death resulted in widespread mourning across South Korea.

In media

In 2015, film producer and writer Paul Fischer released an English-language biography of Choi's and Shin's lives titled A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker. In January 2016, at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, in the World Cinema Documentary Competition, a documentary about the North Korean ordeal, entitled The Lovers and the Despot, directed by Robert Cannan and Ross Adam, was presented.

Select filmography

Year Title Role Ref
Japanese Korea
1947 A New Oath
1948 The Sun of Night
1949 A Hometown in Heart Widow
South Korea
1958 A Flower in Hell Sonya
1960 To the Last Day
1961 Evergreen Tree
The Houseguest and My Mother Mother
1962 A Happy Day of Jinsa Maeng Ip-bun
The Memorial Gate for Virtuous Women
1963 Rice
1964 Red Scarf Ji-seon
Deaf Sam-yong
1965 The Sino-Japanese War and Queen Min the Heroine
1967 Phantom Queen
1968 Woman
North Korea
1984 Runaway Song Ryul's wife
1985 Love, Love, My Love Chunhyang's mother
Salt Mother
The Tale of Shim Chong Shim Chong's mother


Buil Film Awards

Year Category Nominated work Result Ref
1959 Best Actress A Flower in Hell Won
1962 The Houseguest and My Mother Won
1966 The Sino-Japanese War and Queen Min the Heroine Won

Blue Dragon Film Awards

Year Category Nominated work Result Ref
1964 Popular Star Award N/A Won
1966 Won

Grand Bell Awards

Year Category Nominated work Result Ref
1962 Best Actress Evergreen Tree Won
1965 The Sino-Japanese War and Queen Min the Heroine Won
2010 Korean Film Achievement Award N/A Won

Other awards

Year Award Category Nominated work Result Ref
2006 Korean Film Awards Achievement Award N/A Won
2008 Korean Association of Film Critics Awards Special Achievement Award Won
2009 Chunsa Film Festival Chunsa Award Won
2014 Korean Popular Culture and Arts Awards Order of Cultural Merit Won

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Choi Eun-hee para niños

  • Abduction of Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee
  • Shin Sang-ok
National Hispanic Heritage Month on Kiddle
Distinguished Hispanic diplomats
Raymond Telles
Esteban Torres
Romualdo Pacheco
Raúl Héctor Castro
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