The Lovers and the Despot is the story of a Korean star (Choi Eun-hee) who goes missing in 1978.
Sometime later, so does her filmmaker husband (Shin Sang Ok), leaving their children and friends behind. Shortly after their faces are seen again, in North Korea.
Oh North Korea, what not to say about this troubled little place? A few years ago due to Seth Rogen and James Franco, they were willing to go to war with America, all for a film even though in my opinion, Team America was more “offensive.” And yet, it turns out that Kim Jong Il is actually into movies so much that he had Korea’s favourite acting/directing duo kidnapped!
The film begins with an eerie recording of Kim’s voice. According to Choi, who is the only living survivor of the two, they hid a tape recorder in her bag why? Just so they had some evidence. The film is expertly inter-cut between the usual talking heads and footage from South Korea’s film archive, most of them starring Choi and directed by Shin. It’s gripping from the start, listening to their now grown up kids relive the ordeal, a Korean secret service agent as well as friends and family gives the doc much weight. It is chilling right from the get go, that such a tiny little island could pose such a threat.
Choi was the first to be kidnapped having being tricked into Hong Kong. Shin though it seems had it much worse. Not only was he held prisoner, contrary to the nice living quarters his wife was given but he was subjected to five years of torture, mainly for running away. And yet there are those that believe he went willingly, unfortunately he passed away in 2006.
As stated earlier, directors Robert Cannan and Ross Adam keep us glued to our seats by cutting to movie clips, mainly from Shin’s films, that do well match the actions that are being told.
The man himself, Kim Jong-il (obviously not interviewed here) comes off as quite the charismatic charmer and joker. He’s only seen through archival footage but there’s something about those audio recordings that can send a chill down anyone’s spine. Maybe it was how Shin (and the rest of the country) had to fully submit to this man, praise him out of fear. It’s a hard watch for sure but does bring to light a few things, which I won’t mention here because that would be spoiling.
Gripping to say the least. This is a real story, with real characters and events. Both tragic and terrifying, a real winner here.