North Korea is now warning that the release of a new American comedy about a plot to assassinate leader Kim Jong Un would be an "act of war."
If the US government doesn't block the movie's release, it will face "stern" and "merciless" retaliation, an unidentified spokesman for North Korea's Foreign Ministry said in state media.
He didn't mention the movie by name but was clearly referring to The Interview, which stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as a producer and talk-show host who land an exclusive interview with the North Korean dictator and are then asked by the CIA to assassinate him.
The "reckless US provocative insanity" of mobilising a "gangster filmmaker" to challenge the North's leadership is triggering "a gust of hatred and rage" among North Korean people and soldiers, the spokesman said, in typically heated propaganda language.
The film's release would be considered an "act of war that we will never tolerate," he said.
With no independent press of its own, North Korea often holds foreign governments responsible for the content of their media. Pyongyang regularly warns Seoul to prevent its conservative press from mocking or criticising its leadership, something banned within authoritarian North Korea, where the Kim family is revered.
Trailers have been released for the movie, which is set to hit New Zealand theatres in October.
The current leader's late father, Kim Jong Il, was a noted movie buff, lauded in the North for writing a treatise on film. He also ordered the kidnapping of prolific South Korean director and producer Shin Sang-ok in 1978, who then spent years making movies for Kim before escaping, Shin said.
A spokesman for The Interview studio Sony Pictures didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, but the film's co-writer, co-director and co-star mocked the controversy on Twitter.
"Apparently, Kim Jong Un plans on watching The Interview," Seth Rogen tweeted last Friday. "I hope he likes it!!"
— Seth Rogen (@Sethrogen) June 20, 2014
The Knocked Up and Bad Neighbours funnyman later posted Wednesday that "people don't usually wanna kill me for one of my movies until after they've paid 12 bucks for it."
People don't usually wanna kill me for one of my movies until after they've paid 12 bucks for it. Hiyooooo!!!
— Seth Rogen (@Sethrogen) June 25, 2014
It's not the first time that North Korean leadership has served as comic fodder: a puppet rendition of Kim Jong Il served as the villain in the 2004 film Team America: World Police, and comedians Margaret Cho and Bobby Lee respectively impersonated the North Korean dictator on the NBC comedy series 30 Rock and the Fox sketch show MADtv.
Randall Park, a Korean-American actor, is portraying Kim Jong Un in The Interview.