Lovers and the Despot

An alluring and informative documentary. Fascinating on personal, political and cinematic levels.


The Lovers and the Despot

Ross Adam and Robert Cannan’s stranger-than-fiction documentary THE LOVERS AND THE DESPOT is both terrifying and absurd. The film premiered in the World Documentary Competition at the 2016 Sundance Festival, where it captivated audiences with perhaps the most outlandish true-life story connected to the cinema.

THE LOVERS AND THE DESPOT tells the story of young, ambitious South Korean filmmaker Shin Sang-ok and actress Choi Eun-hee, who met and fell in love in 1950s post-war Korea. In the 70s, after reaching the top of Korean society following a string of successful films, Choi was kidnapped in Hong Kong by North Korean agents and taken to meet Kim Jong-il. While searching for Choi, Shin also was kidnapped, and following five years of imprisonment, the couple was reunited by the movie-obsessed Kim, who declared them his personal filmmakers. Choi and Shin planned their escape, but not before producing 17 feature films for the dictator and gaining his trust in the process.

“A coolly gripping documentary. This real-life romantic thriller/escape saga boasts enough fascinating details and angles to qualify as essential stranger-than-fiction viewing.” –Justin Chang, Variety

“If you’re a newcomer to Choi and Shin’s tale, it’s hard to imagine a better entry point. Though it’s not hard to imagine this given a blackly comic tone, Adam and Cannan’s approach is closer to something like “Argo,” with a propulsive, '70s-thriller-like feel that tracks the central couple with an almost laser-like focus” – Oliver Lyttleton, Indiewire’s “The Playlist”
Not Rated
Documentary, Thriller
Korean, Japanese, English
Ross Adam
Ross Adam
Paul Courtenay Hyu
Dave Calhoun, Time Out

This eye-opening doc tells the story of a glamorous South Korean filmmaking couple – actress Choi Eun-hee and director Shin Sang-ok – who disappeared in 1978 only to re-emerge in communist North Korea as well-resourced and pampered filmmakers close to leader-in-waiting Kim Jong Il. The makers of ...

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