As one of the few remaining ‘closed’ countries in the world, North Korea has continued to fascinate, bemuse, bewilder and scare much of the free world since the Korean War over sixty years ago. In terms of cinema, many documentarians have struggled over the years to steal a peek behind the curtain. The most notable entry is The Propaganda Game, but it’s probably controversial comedy The Interview which has sparked the most publicity. In Ross Adam and Robert Cannan’s new film The Lovers and the Despot, they tell the true story of love, intrigue and obsession.
During the proceeding decades, film-maker Shin Sang-ok was South Korea’s leading light, but by the 1970s his career was on the wane. Along with his ex-wife, actress Choi Eun-hee, they were one of the nation’s most glamorous couples. When Choi is lured to Hong Kong by a North Korean agent posing as a producer, she’s kidnapped. When Shin attempts to track her down, he suffers the same fate. He then spends the next seven years successfully making movies for the cinema-obsessed Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang.
The Lovers and the Despot is a meticulously constructed mix of archive footage, (sometimes confusingly) realistic reconstructions, interviews and rare audio recordings of the ‘supreme leader’. The fact the South Korean government doubt Shin’s incredible story only adds an extra note of intrigue and spice to the affair. The Lovers and the Despot is a remarkable story of Cold War intrigue featuring an unreliable narrator and a movie villain.
The Lovers and the Despot is released on DVD by Soda Pictures today.