Spies, Lies, and North Korean Video Tape, THE LOVERS AND THE DESPOT Film Review
‘The Lovers And The Despot’ tells the tale of a South Korean Actress, Choi Eun-hee, and director, Shin Sang-ok, who were captured by North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un in the 70’s. Both were held captive with the intention of using their artistic talent in cinema to make films for N. Korea. In the midst of their tumultuous time in captivity, the two found a way to record their conversations with Kim Jung Un, which include incredibly odd dialogue from the dictator himself, where he describes himself as a ‘midget’s turd.’
This movie is wyrd. Not weird, but full on W-Y-R-D. Funny enough though the two word’s definitions aren’t too far off from one another, save one important detail, the concept of fate. You see the word wyrd, coming from an old Germanic langue and serving as the root word for weird, refers to a fateful action, one with purpose but still unexpected. Whereas, weird, though it still retains the same definition archaically, it is popularly thought to mean a strange coincidence—that is to say, action sans fate. The reason why I apply this word to describe, ‘The Lovers And The Despot’ is that everything happens too cinematically and conveniently for this documentary to come off as a true story.
I want to reinforce that I am not a historian, nor should I be considered an authority on the matter of N. Korean and S. Korean relations. Nor do I want to defend the obvious dictator Kim Jung Un. I do, though, want to inject a healthy amount of skepticism to the dialogue surrounding this film. For one, this whole tape recording of the dictator feels fishy. The only confirmation we get that this is the dictator’s voice is a S. Korean operative who had spied on Kim Jung Un. Another odd feeling that comes up is how the whole story arc’s in a very dramatic way, almost too dramatic as it feels like the end of one of the film’s Choi Eun-hee might act in or Shin Sang-ok might direct. Also, who better to stage this story than a husband and wife, directing and acting team?
Overall, the documentary is funny in all the right parts and entertaining, with such a bizarre story it easily pulls you into find out more. Directed by Robert Cannan and Ross Adam, they never keep the film on the same note for too long, it is well shot with thrilling reenactment scenes. I do not think my skepticism of the authenticity of this story should keep you from seeing the movie. In fact, it should encourage you. See and decide for yourself. As the old adage goes, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.