The Lovers And The Despot - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
A FASCINATING chapter in movie history is unearthed in The Lovers & The Despot, a new documentary that intrigues in places but which ultimately struggles to hold the attention.
The film focuses on the true story of glamorous South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee and her ex-husband Shin Sang-ok, a passionate director, who were kidnapped by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il and, after years in captivity, forced to become his personal filmmaker.
Co-directed by Ross Adam and Robert Cannan, it is built around first-person interviews with Choi herself, as well as family members and key witnesses, mixing in archive footage from Shin’s films as well as newsreel shots and classic photographs.
But it glosses over some of the darker elements and fails to properly get into the mind-sets of its victims. Shin, for instance, was tortured for five years before being reunited with his ex-wife in North Korea, while Choi also speaks of the difficulty of being kidnapped for so long, but kept herself busy by gardening.
There is little sense of the struggle, though, that must have taken place. Hence, while Adam and Cannan do offer an insight into what it takes to brainwash someone, their film fails to probe as deeply as it should.
And while there are humorous asides, such as one of Shin’s attempts to escape by getting on a train that went round in circles, the lethargic pacing of the film makes this a very long journey.
The resulting film undoubtedly boasts curiosity value for anyone interested in Korean history, or cine-philes who are fascinated by all facets of the film world. But its overall appeal is limited.
Running time: 98mins
UK Release Date: September 23, 2016