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Lovers and the Despot, The


Stars: Documentary

Director: Rob Cannan, Ross Adam

It's hard to imagine anyone but those with a fascination for Korean (South and North) cinema will derive any more than marginal interest from this documentary, although its events certainly had a traumatic effect on those involved.

Director Shin San-Ok and actress Choi Eun-Hee were, in 1978, superstars of the flourishing South Korean movie industry. Formerly man and wife, they had divorced because of Shin's infidelities, but envious eyes from north of the 49th Parallel had devious plans for reuniting the beautiful actress and her charismatic ex.

That same year, Choi is lured to Hong Kong and kidnapped. Shin is taken soon afterwards and, following abortive and painful attempts to escape, settles for making North Korean films, starring his wife. Repressive dictator Kim Jon-Il gives the director carte blanche to make films that will improve the image of the Communist country in the cinematic world. But still the couple plan to escape, and launch a dangerous bid while in Vienna.

The actual film extracts, with their melodramatic acting, provide some fun, but by and large this is the kind of thing that BBC4 shows around the midnight hour. However, after some initial intrigue, it's not likely to keep you awake for very long.

David Quinlan

UK 2016. UK Distributor: Soda (BFI/BBC). Colour/black and white.
97 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 18 Sep 2016