In 2016, filmmakers Robert Cannan and Ross Adam set out to make ‘The Lovers and the Despot,’ a documentary about the abduction of Korean movie director Shin Sang-ok and actress Choi Eun-hee.
On January 22, 1978, Choi Eun-hee was kidnapped by North Korean agents and taken to the communist country where she was forced to parade around with dictator Kim Jong-il, an avid film fan. Shin Sang-ok was taken a few months later and was sent to prison for five years after attempting to escape. After his release, he was reunited with Choi where Kim Jong-il gave them a directive to make films that would capture an international audience for North Korea.
This is one of the most fascinating stories in cinema history. As the two of them worked on the propaganda films for the North Korean regime, they decided to be dedicated to the craft since Kim Jong-il was providing them with unlimited resources. Through archival recordings, we hear Shin’s desire to be with his family and even a conversation that revealed the plot to kidnap him. Choi, meanwhile, discussed how she was a prisoner, but was determined to hone her craft. She even won an award in the Soviet Union for ‘Sogum,’ a romantic film.
While their desire to keep strong in their craft was there, it was also sobering to hear the torture and pain they felt being captured by the North Koreans. While they were treated better than most prisoners, even being allowed to travel, the two of them worked effortlessly to escape so they could be reunited with their families once again.
The documentary does an excellent job of telling their stories and how their capture, imprisonment, career, and eventual escape was a harrowing ordeal.
Check out the trailer below:
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Some disturbing content, Violence, Minor foul language
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