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Did President Clinton meet N. Korea's Kim Jong-il or his look-alike?

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"He says he knows a girl whose father is the actor for Kim Jong-il," says Mr. Ha. "Recently Kim Jong-il loses fat. He's very skinny these days. The defector says, If Kim Jong-il looks skinny, the actor can do the same thing."

Some turn resemblance into acting career

Here in South Korea, there's a booming business in Kim Jong-il look-alikes. Dozens of people in recent years have portrayed Kim Jong-il in television comedy shows, nightclub routines, and serious movies and dramas.

After the inter-Korean summit of June 2000, in which Kim Jong-il received South Korea President Kim Dae-jung in Pyongyang, the South Korean government discouraged such satires for fear of upsetting reconciliation with the North.

Still, from time to time South Koreans delight in appearing on TV flaunting the curly-haired bouffant hairstyle, platform shoes, and protruding stomach for which the Dear Leader was known before he disappeared from view for months after reportedly suffering a stroke in August 2008.

The wave of public appearances reported by the North Korean propaganda machine since then to show he's in good health convinces some analysts that North Korean actors are portraying the Dear Leader, too – but in dead seriousness.

"That's possible," says Choi Jin-wook, senior fellow and specialist on North Korea at the Korea Institute of National Unification. "These dictators always need look-alikes for security reasons. Kim Jong-il is giving 'on-the-spot guidance' too often for his health."

Mr. Choi also says that North Korean photo editors are likely pasting in old pictures of Kim from previous times when he was in good health.

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