Like his father Kim Jong-Il, North Korea’s new young leader Kim Jong-Un is viewed by much of the outside world with a heady mix of incomprehension, ridicule and fear.
In early March, people were shaking their heads in bemusement at photos of Kim partying with flamboyant former NBA star Dennis Rodman in Pyongyang after watching a basketball game together.
One month later, they’re wondering if he might be on the brink of tipping the Korean peninsula into a catastrophic conflict.
The current crisis, with its nuclear threats and Kim’s lurid exhortations to his troops to “break the waists of the crazy enemies and totally cut their windpipes” has placed the young leader firmly in the global spotlight.
But while more of a public personality than his introverted father ever was, Kim remains an enigmatic figure, especially on a personal level.
He’s young, but it’s unclear how young, with reports ranging from 28 to 30. He has a stylish, attractive wife, but how many children he has or what gender they are is a mystery.
As far as personal tastes go, his apparent affection for amusement parks and Disney characters sits oddly with his position as supreme commander of the world’s fifth-largest army with an emerging nuclear arsenal.
An often-used media qualifier, and one that has taken on an ominous ring in recent weeks as tensions between Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington have soared, is “inexperienced.”
While Kim Jong-Il was well groomed before taking over from his father — founding leader Kim Il-Sung — Kim Jong-Un had barely warmed the successor’s chair when his father died in December 2011.
And after less than 16 months in the job, he has taken his country to the brink of conflict in the very first crisis he has faced.
For Alexandre Mansourov, a North Korea expert and visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University, Kim’s personal inexperience is worryingly matched by the outside world’s inexperience in dealing with him