Iconic South Korean penguin is half-North Korean

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Iconic South Korean penguin is half-North Korean


A baby looks at the cartoon character Pororo at a book store in Seoul on Monday. [REUTERS/YONHAP]

He’s roly poly, wears a yellow aviator’s helmet and orange goggles, and is everywhere in South Korea. But the cartoon character Pororo the Little Penguin also has a secret in his past: his origins are half-North Korean.

The recent revelations surprised South Korea, where the mischievous penguin character, whose films have been exported to over 100 countries, is so beloved he’s known as “the children’s president” because his influence is said to be greater than the real leader.

But as time passes the fact of his ancestry has won Pororo new fans - and prompted some to call for his help in making the two neighbours one again.

“Pororo, you are the real president of the Korean Peninsula,” one blog comment read.

Pororo, who debuted in 2003, is ubiquitous in South Korea and is featured on everything from stick-on bandages to coffee mugs. Stamps with his image have sold more than those bearing the image of Olympic figure-skating champion Kim Yu-na, according to local media.

But few knew that North Korean cartoonists worked with their Southern counterparts to produce part of the first two seasons of the TV series that launched the bird to fame.

“This isn’t something that needs to be secret but by accident people found out that Pororo was partly produced in the North,” said Kim Jong-se, a senior official at Iconix Entertainment, the South Korean company that developed Pororo. “They gave us many responses, from very negative to very positive - we are a collaborator of the North or, it is great that both Koreas made the show.”

After North and South Korea signed a landmark peace pact in 2000 pledging new cooperation, Pororo was one of the inter-Korean businesses that developed, Kim said.

South Korean technicians went to the North to train their colleagues. Production hit a snag when the North suddenly replaced its staff for the second season, forcing Kim’s company to repeat the process, Kim said.

The North Korean participation took place between 2002 and 2005, ending when ties deteriorated between the two nations and the North could no longer join the project.

Now, with people feeling the little penguin has ties to their prickly northern neighbor, regarded by many as a long-lost sibling, people are taking a new interest in him.

“It makes Pororo look cooler since the North and South birthed it together,” said one blogger.

But hopes that North Korea can return to the project are unlikely to bear fruit soon. After two deadly attacks on South Korean territory last year, ties between the two are worse than they’ve been in years.

“Crossing the border to teach skills to new North Korean colleagues isn’t going to be any easier and so many things are unpredictable,” Kim said.

Reuters Life!

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오콘 김일호 대표는 7일 " '뽀롱뽀롱뽀로로' 첫 시리즈 50여 편중 7~8편이 북한 평양의 한 스튜디오에서 공동 제작됐다"며 “투자자로서 대북사업을 하던 하나로통신이 남북 협업을 권고해 이를 ‘의미 있는 사업’이라 흔쾌히 받아들여 진행했다”고 전했다.

김 대표는 "당시 평양 스튜디오에 김일성종합대학, 김책공대 출신 등 우수 인재 20여 명이 모여 1년 여간 제작에 참여했다"며 "남측 인력이 비자를 받아 며칠씩 평양에 머물며 지도를 했는데 북한 인력들이 워낙 우수해 가르치면 빨리 따라오는 등 적응을 잘 했었다"고 전했다.

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