Review: The Lovers and the Despot


“The Lovers and the Despot” is a movie about a fascinating story. It is a story of love, betrayal, hero worship, international politics and film making. Unfortunately, although the story may someday be told, it is not told in this movie.

the-lovers-and-the-despot-reviewPresumably, writer/directors Ross Adam and Robert Cannan did the best they could with the information they had. There are only three persons who could possibly put the story together. One is Kim Jong-il and the two are South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee and director Shin Sang-ok. Kim is talking to no one, unless it is about the schedule for his next missile launch. Director Shin has been dead for nearly a decade. That leaves actress Choi who is interviewed extensively in the movie.

The problem with a deeply political film based on highly sensitive international government intelligence is that it is impossible to believe anything in the screenplay. Although a supposed ex-CIA spy is interviewed, his perspective is null. Since we have paid them to lie to us, what could possibly make us believe anyone in this movie is telling the truth? The recordings of Kim could easily have been faked and whatever stories are told or reported about the director and the actress have been redacted until they are so many paper dolls.

It might have made a better film if the film makers had started off with a work of narrative fiction and then filled in the gaps with interesting speculation. As it is, all of the information is so guarded and piecemeal nothing fits together to convey any message, except what we might imagine.

What is known is that Shin had huge support from Kim and cranked out seventeen films in a little over two years. It is not clear any of them were released internationally. The clips in this film indicate they were standard production pieces that would not have seen the light of day in the USA, or anywhere else with a developed film industry. The one clip shown is from a Titanic knock-off and is truly horrendous. It is so amazingly bad it justifies the cost of admission all by itself. That Shin moved on after that to work for Disney in the USA and direct three 3 Ninjas movies rounds out the unbelievable.

The critical missing piece of the puzzle is his real motivation for going to North Korea. There are implications it was to get better financial support than he was getting in South Korea. If this is true, this plus a few other key pieces of information would have made a great story. Instead, the final product seems more of a cover-up than a revelation.

The kidnap stories of both victims are dubious at best. It would have been a better film if Choi would have come clean and revealed something with content instead of going on about her life, her love of Shin and other non-content containing factoids.

Rating: 4/10

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