The Lovers and the Despot


Sundance 2016

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Ross Adam, Rob Cannan
Completed 2016


‘The Lovers and the Despot’ is a sensational romance-thriller documentary, a story where art, love and megalomania collide.

In the aftermath of the Korean War, ambitious young film director Shin Sang-ok and emerging talent Choi Eun-hee enter into a glamourous romance and rise to the very top of South Korean society. But their movie-world idyll is shattered after Shin has a scandalous affair and antagonises dictator Park Chung-hee, who cuts short his career. Unable to reconcile, Choi and Shin divorce. Then their lives takes a bizarre turn.

Choi is kidnapped by whimsical dictator's son and movie obsessive, Kim Jong-il, who imprisons her in his summerhouse. Shin desperately searches for his ex-wife, but is abducted and thrown into a North Korean concentration camp. Kept apart for five gruelling years, they are finally reunited by Kim, who declares them his very own filmmakers. As their film careers start afresh, their love for each other is rekindled. Realising that escape from North Korea itself is impossible, only production trips to the far fringes of the Iron Curtain offer them hope. They must first gain Kim’s trust, then find a way to elude their agent minders. Any mistake will mean certain death.