After the end of Korean War, it took a while for the South to get back on its feet. While the country made great steps forward both economically and technologically in the subsequent decades, it has repeatedly flirted with oppressive and authoritarian regimes. During the presidency of Park Chung-hee, who first came to power in 1963 using the newly established Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) to support his campaign, his constitutional reforms led to more and more protests. The Man Standing Next picks up events during the final weeks of his reign.
It’s 1979 and Park’s (Lee Sung-min) power is absolute thanks to the support of the KCIA, who suppress any opposition support. Kim (Lee Byung-hun) is appointed as his new second in command and head of the intelligence agency, but faces stiff rivalry from the president’s chief of security (Lee Hee-joon). When a high-profile defector (Kwak Do-won) threatens to spill state secrets to America, tensions escalate rapidly.
Whilst it’s based around the final year of the Fourth Republic, The Man Standing Next fictionalises events, to a degree, as it hurtles towards its bloody conclusion. Woo Min-ho’s film is drenched in beautiful period detail, transporting the viewer into the political intrigues and personal power struggles of the era. A top cast deliver excellent performances all-round but it’s Lee Byung-hun who really shines. The Man Standing Next is a stylish and muscular political drama.
The Man Standing Next screens at Glasgow Film Festival.