11 user 56 critic

The Lovers & the Despot (2016)

1:44 | Trailer
The story of the South Korean actor, Choi Eun-hee, and her ex-husband and film director, Shin Sang-ok, who were individually kidnapped and reunited by dictator and film fan Kim Jong-il to force them to develop North Korea's film industry.


Ross Adam, Robert Cannan
5 nominations. See more awards »





Credited cast:
Eun-hie Choi Eun-hie Choi ... Self
Paul Courtenay Hyu Paul Courtenay Hyu ... Shin Sang-ok
Sang-ok Shin Sang-ok Shin ... Self (voice)


In 1970s South Korea, actor Choi Eun-hee and her ex-husband, film director Shin Sang-ok, were divorced, estranged and both struggling with stalled careers. Unfortunately, both their lives seemed changed forever when they were individually kidnapped in 1978 by their biggest fan, Kim Jong-il, despot of North Korea. With persuasion and brute force, the movie obsessed Kim planned to use them to develop the Hermit Kingdom's film industry and get it out of its mindless propaganda mentality. Through the words of Choi, their family, associates and US intelligence personnel, you will follow the story of the bizarre slavery of this couple even as they rediscovered their love and secretly gathered evidence of the dictator's crimes. All the while, they struggled to play along with the world's most dangerous film geek as they desperately planned their escape. Written by Kenneth Chisholm (kchishol@rogers.com)

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


They were kidnapped by their biggest fan.


Unrated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


Ross Adam became interested in the story of the kidnapping because it seemed too outlandish to be real. See more »


Features The Forty-First (1956) See more »


Korean Spring Song
Performed by The Kim Sisters
Words and Music by Hai Fong Kim
Published by Combine Music Corp, EMI Apriil Music Inc.
Courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment Inc.
See more »

User Reviews

Fascinating if flawed stranger than fiction doc
26 January 2017 | by jamesfairburnSee all my reviews

Not knowing much about this story I was naturally intrigued to watch this doc. In a way, its a shame that even a few of the major elements of plot are given away in the promotion for the film, because its clear the film makers approach is to not take the viewer's preconceptions of the story as given, and the initial pace setting up the context and characters reflects this. It is an amazing story, and for the most part well told in an atmospheric noir fashion.

Personally, I am in favor of some kind of initial build up, as most modern docs, and fiction films too, have a pretty rushed pace. I liked the tone and eerie atmosphere in the first half, especially when we hear from some pretty amazing secret tape recordings. But I also feel that in the second half something was missing, I wanted to hear more about the couple's experiences in North Korea and I get the sense that much was left on the cutting room floor. Perhaps there will be a directors cut?

Overall, it is a pretty compelling documentary worth your time, as so much of it simply beggars belief, but I do wonder if a more interesting approach to the story could have been found. Having seen the excellent Listen to Me Marlon, could the film makers could have achieved the same kind of effect, just using tapes and movies?

One thing though, if you are going to watch it, don't read anything more about the story, just do it.

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Official Sites:

Official site [Japan]




Korean | English | Japanese

Release Date:

23 September 2016 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Die Liebenden und der Diktator See more »

Filming Locations:

Seoul, South Korea


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$14,925, 25 September 2016

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
See full technical specs »

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