There is the Kim Jong Un burnished by North Korea's propaganda machine: He is smiling. Saluting. He peers intently through binoculars during a test missile launch. Or crackles with charisma as countrymen and women fawn over him like a rock star.
Then there is the Kim Jong Un who remains hard to untangle: He harbors a reputation for being cutthroat against those who cross him — even his own family members. He threatens to rain missiles on America, while holding a fondness for basketball, Dennis Rodman, Michael Jackson and high-quality cognac. He maintains a signature hairstyle — shaved on the sides, flat on the top. He was the subject of a Hollywood movie, "The Interview," which depicts his fictional assassination.
As the tit-for-tat rhetoric between the reclusive nation and the United States continues to heat up, understanding what makes the North Korean despot tick is paramount, observers say.
But one thing hasn't changed during his five-plus years on the world stage: He is as enigmatic as ever.
Trump 'would be honored' to meet Kim
President Donald Trump said in an interview published Monday that he, "would be honored" to meet with Kim if the right conditions were met.
"If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it," he told Bloomberg News. "If it's under the, again, under the right circumstances. But I would do that."
Is Kim rational?
In an interview Thursday with Reuters, Trump warned of a possible "major, major conflict" with North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs.
When asked what he thought of Kim, who assumed power after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in 2011, Trump sounded almost empathetic:
"He's 27 years old. His father dies, took over a regime. So say what you want but that is not easy, especially at that age. I'm not giving him credit or not giving him credit, I'm just saying that's a very hard thing to do. As to whether or not he's rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he's rational."
Trump went on to say Kim is "a pretty smart cookie," in an interview with CBS News that aired Sunday.
"At a very young age, he was able to assume power. A lot of people, I'm sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it. So obviously, he's a pretty smart cookie," Trump said.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley touched on the soundness of Kim's mind when she told reporters in March: "We are not dealing with a rational person. It is an unbelievable, irresponsible arrogance that we are seeing coming out of Kim Jong Un at this time."
But to suggest Kim — and the North Korean regime — are poised to fly off the handle at a moment's notice is overblown, some political scientists say.
Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the research group the East-West Center in Hawaii, wrote in 2013 that "North Korea seems to be crazy, threatening to use recently acquired nuclear weapons against South Korea and the USA." But the North "and its young leader Kim Jong Un are not crazy. Rather, the regime is ruthless and desperate."
Roy has cautioned that while Pyongyang might puff up its chest, its threat to attack seems to come with a caveat that the U.S. must be the one to strike first.
Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Kookmin University, wrote in Foreign Policy magazine in April that throwing around labels like "madman" and "crazy" is dangerous because Kim's family has proven to be effective in staying in power for all these decades following the Korean War.
"Today, Kim Jong Un is in control, and he has the same long-term task as his father and grandfather: to ensure the survival of the regime under the control of himself and his eventual familial successor," Lankov wrote.
He keeps everyone guessing
The speculation surrounding Kim's whereabouts was rampant in 2014. He had not been seen publicly for 40 days. The world's media reported possible health ailments after he packed on weight that summer and was seen walking with a limp. Was it a brain hemorrhage? Or gout? Or diabetes? Some outlets said an internal power play to overthrow him was in the works.
But photos released that October by the North's leading newspaper showed Kim using a cane to tour a scientists' facility in the country's capital. No official explanation was given for what happened.
Ko, a Japanese-born Korean dancer, caught the eye of Kim Jong Il in 1972, when her troupe performed at his party, according to The New York Times.
"She took interest in the palace intrigue and the games that went on with the elite," Madden said. "She had spent a number of years working Kim Jong Il's close aides so that when the time came, her son was pretty well-positioned."
Little was shared about Kim growing up, and he was kept out of the public eye.
"Anyone that approached him had to do so with Kim Jong Il's express written permission," Madden said.
Kim and his siblings were shunted off to international boarding schools — his was a German-speaking institution in Switzerland. Kim is said to be a fan of basketball, and the Chicago Bulls in particular. One of the team's stars, Dennis Rodman, has visited the country and met with Kim, calling him a "friend."