Let the games begin, but watch out for those N. Korean dancers

Special to WorldTribune.com

By Donald Kirk

WASHINGTON ― Ah, let the games begin! The fun and games, that is, of seeing how the clever North Koreans play the Winter Olympics for all they’re worth.

For sure, North Korean strategists are looking for a diplomatic and political triumph regardless of who wins what at PyeongChang and Gangneung. Already, by getting the South to agree on a joint women’s hockey team and on athletes from North and South parading under the one-Korea flag at the opening and closing ceremonies, they’ve put the Americans on the defensive. Who would doubt such gestures should prove a lot more effective than all those threats about turning South Korea into “a sea of fire”?

And that’s not all. Everybody, from left to right, should be looking forward to seeing those beautiful “artists” of whom Kim Jong-Un is so fond. Ok, they may mouth lyrics in praise of their respected leader, they may cast more than a few aspersions on the Americans, and they may give a general impression that Pyongyang is fun city notwithstanding all those “fake” stories about human rights abuses, poverty and hunger elsewhere.

Hyon Song-Wol, leader of the Moranbong, on tour in Beijing two years ago. / EPA

Honestly, though, these singers and dancers from the North should rival the best South Korean K-Pop groups, and those tight military-style uniforms worn by Kim’s beloved all-girl Moranbong bunch have got to set off a fashion trend. Think of K-Poppers flouncing and bouncing around in jackets and skirts cut short to reveal all the skin permissible under South Korean guidelines, their jaunty military caps pinned on at rakish angles over sweetly scrubbed and smiling faces. And how about a red star over the visor, just to be funny, more or less, though admittedly there are those who wouldn’t see the humor? Anyway, definitely a welcome innovative contrast to some of the tiresome stuff shown to South Korean TV audiences jaded by same old, same old.

The Moranbong, led by Hyon Song-Wol, photographed smiling saucily as she arrived last week for a “planning” meeting at Panmunjom, is just the best known of the whole amazing entourage. Along with the 20 or so members of Hyon’s troupe, everyone will get to see the much larger Samjiyon group featuring distinguished female soloists in hanbok and somber men in formal dark garb blasting away in operatic voices, plus a full-dress orchestra ready to go from old-time western classical to rock n roll. (And rap? Now, there would be a challenge.)

Anyone who’s seen the Arirang Festival that used to run for weeks on end in Pyongyang every year knows the North Koreans can put on quite a show. The discipline, the artistry and the sheer talent on display are legendary, and it’s coming to South Korea in a stunning stroke of propagandistic wizardry that no one’s going to be able to stop.

Regardless, come what may, the Americans seem to have gotten on board. Say what you will about President Trump, but he’s been smart about praising President Moon, praising the Olympics and deputizing Vice President Pence to lead an American delegation for the whole show. Too bad the North Korean media is denouncing the Trumpster as “a rabid dog,” but he’s so used to unflattering descriptions cascading on him right here in Washington that he may not have noticed.

More likely, Trump is smitten by what he’s seen of the Moranbong women during his endless TV-watching. Largely lost in all the hullaballoo here over some of his cruder remarks was his reported comment to a woman who was giving him a CIA briefing. None of what she was saying seemed to have made much of an impression, he was so consumed with fending off all the nasty stories about what he thinks of certain impoverished countries.

Not missing a beat, however, Trump asked the woman where she was from, which was New York. Yeah, he pressed on, but what about “your people?” Well, Korea, she said, to which he observed such “a pretty lady” should be negotiating with the North Koreans! Not politically correct, Mr. President, but you’re gonna love those North Korean girl dancers no matter what insults they’re flinging at you. After all, it’s only a game.

Donald Kirk was on the USA Today team at the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics and looks forward to comparing reactions to those games with responses to the Winter Olympics nearly 30 years later.