The Lovers and the Despot: Archive Documentary

Woven together from interviews, archive footage and feature films, Cannan and Adam’s documentary charts the story of the kidnapping and reunification of two luminaries of the South Korean film industry, director Shin Sang-ok and actress Choi Eun-hee, at the hands of film-mad North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il.

Shin and Choi’s daringly captured recordings of Kim highlight the intimate relationship they had with the “Great Leader” and the unprecedented creative freedom that they enjoyed whilst making seven feature films on the North Korean purse.

Without fully uncovering Shin’s story (he died in 2005), the film portrays the director’s relationship with Kim as strangely affectionate and the dictator seemingly shows admiration for his captives.

As the tale is wound up with the couple’s escape, footage of hyperbolic wailing and chest-beating North Korean crowds upon Kim’s death create the most absurd moments. These scenes hammer home an important message about the world’s most secretive state: truth is stranger than fiction.

Ruby Beesley

The Lovers and the Despot, Rob Cannan & Ross Adam is available on DVD (Soda Pictures).

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1. Still from The Lovers and the Despot.