The Lovers and the Despot is Kim Jong-il Conceived

South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee, who is now pushing 90, was lured to Hong Kong in 1978 to talk about a film role but while playing with her female greeter’s young daughter on the waterfront, Choi was called over to a dock, where she was pulled onto a speedboat and whisked to a cargo ship bound for North Korea.

It gets weirder.

Choi's ex-husband, “The Prince of Korean Cinema” Shin Sang-ok, soon arrived in North Korea under mysterious circumstances.

Whether Shin, as he claims, was also abducted or he willingly waltzed into North Korea, this is not in dispute: Kim Jong-il had brought the couple back together because he loved global cinema, hated his country’s own movies and wanted them to help elevate North Korean filmmaking to world-class status.

While fulfilling their captor’s dream, Choi and Shin became lovers again.

Presented mostly in Korean with English subtitles, British writer-directors Ross Adam and Robert Cannan’s compelling documentary The Lovers and the Despot begins with Choi recalling her happy days as a movie star in South Korea.

She appeared in her first film in 1947 and went on to star in many of Shin’s productions before they married and adopted two children. But the reign as South Korea cinema's “it” couple soon got rocky. Shin was a talented filmmaker but a terrible businessman.

Shin Studio would collapse due to mismanagement and the Choi-Shin marriage would collapse due to the director’s affair with a younger actress.  The couple eventually divorced.

With her time as a leading lady ticking down, Choi went to Hong Kong to recapture stardom. 

Shin swore he was looking for Choi when he was kidnapped by Kim’s goons.

Doubts about his story, his published comments that North Korea's  dictator gave him the expensive tools and artistic freedom he’d been denied in South Korea and the couple's happy demeanor in photographs and on film hung a cloud of suspicion over them. Even their children wondered if they'd been gladly abandoned. 

So while the kidnapping-for-cinema angle is gripping at its core, the mysteries about how it all really went down add more layers to The Lovers and the Despot.

Here is the trailer:
Imagine the thriller Bong Joon-ho could make out of this material.

The Lovers and the Despot was written and directed by Ross Adam and Robert Cannan; and stars Choi Eun-hee, Shin Sang-ok, Pierre Rissient, David Straub and Kim Jong-il. Now available on demand via cable and satellite services and streaming on iTunes, Amazon Video and other streaming sources.

If you want to see it on a big screen, you'll have to schlep to the Royal in Los Angeles, Laemmle NoHo 7 in North Hollywood and Playhouse 7 Cinemas in Pasadena starting today (Sept. 23). To see if an Orange County theater ever gets added, check and recheck:

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