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North Korea Threatens War Over New Seth Rogen Comedy

While it's hard to imagine Seth Rogen and James Franco being the proximate cause of World War III, the stars of Pineapple Express have prompted the latest round of blustery threats from North Korea.

Pyongyang has promised "merciless" retaliation if the duo's latest comedy, The Interview, is released as scheduled in October.

To be sure, the plot hits a little close to home — especially for a secretive and paranoid regime: a talk show host and his producer (Franco and Rogen, respectively) score an interview with Kim Jong Un (played by Randall Park) and are subsequently recruited by the CIA to assassinate the North Korean leader.

The country's official KCNA news service called the actors "gangster filmmakers" and said that if the U.S. government allowed the release of the movie, Pyongyang would consider it an "act of war."

A Foreign Ministry official quoted by KCNA berated the movie as "reckless U.S. provocative insanity" that had spawned "a gust of hatred and rage" among the people of North Korea.

"The act of making and screening such a movie that portrays an attack on our top leadership ... is a most wanton act of terror and act of war, and is absolutely intolerable," the official said.

"If the U.S. administration allows and defends the showing of the film, a merciless counter-measure will be taken," the spokesman said.

The controversy has been brewing since the trailer was released earlier this month. Rogen recently acknowledged it in a tweet:

The actor, who also co-directs The Interview with Evan Goldberg, has told Yahoo, "People have the hypothetical discussion about how journalists have access to the world's most dangerous people, and they hypothetically would be in a good situation to assassinate them."

Yahoo says:

"Rogen explained that the original script had been about meeting North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il, but when the dictator died in 2011, they reworked it to focus on his son and successor. The switch to Kim Jong Un, Rogen said, 'actually worked much better, because he's closer to our age, and it made it easier to forge a relationship between his character and our characters.' "

As Slate notes, it's not the first film to poke fun at the North Korean regime:

"Given that it's not exactly a major film market, North Korea has been a pretty safe villain for Hollywood. Kim Jong Un's father, Kim Jong Il, was memorably spoofed in Matt Stone and Trey Parker's Team America: World Policeas a mincing, demented puppet. The elder Kim, a big film buff, never responded to the portrayal."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.