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American Women's Club of Hamburg

The Lovers and the Despot

Director:Rob Cannan, Ross Adam, UK

In the 1950s and ‘60s, Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee were a powerhouse couple of South Korean cinema. Shin was a famed director and created the production studio Shin films which produced hundreds of films during the ‘60s. Choi was one of South Korea’s biggest actresses and starred in several of Shin’s productions. By the 1970s, due to poor investments and South Korean censorship, Shin was no longer producing much work, and in 1978 the two divorced. Shortly thereafter, Choi was kidnapped by the North Koreans, and when Shin tried to find her, he too was kidnapped. It was all part of a ploy by Kim Jong-il who, as a huge film enthusiast, wished to make North Korean cinema internationally respected. After years of internment and abuse, Choi and Shin manage to convince their captors of their loyalty and then proceed to make seven films in North Korea, generally considered to be some of their best work. Later, they were even able to attend festivals abroad, which ultimately led to their successful escape. Using interviews, photographs, film clips, and, most importantly, audio from tapes Shin and Choi secretly made while kidnapped, directors Ross Adams and Rob Cannanpaint a bizarre and enlightening tale of Kim Jong-il’s eccentric totalitarianism. This is a case where reality really is stranger than fiction, and what makes it all the more fascinating is that despite the fact that both Choi and Shin were kidnapped, most of the world thought (partially due to North Korean propaganda) that they had willingly chosen to move to North Korea. It was only through the tapes that they made that they had any chance of proving their innocence, and by making them, they were risking their lives. The Lovers and the Despot is a fascinating insight into the Kim family, the cult of personality that surrounds them, and the innocent people who get caught in the crossfire. (RF)

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