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The Lovers and the Despot
by Rose Finlay

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.