‘The Lovers and the Despot’ an eye-opening documentary: Review

There’s limitless potential when it comes to documentaries about life in North Korea.

With little known about the repressive nation, stories that shed some light on the mysteries therein are so inherently fascinating that the bar for achieving success is perhaps a bit lower than it might be for other subjects. “The Lovers and the Despot,” which chronicles Kim Jong-il’s 1978 kidnapping of South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee and famed filmmaker Shin Sang-ok (her ex-husband) to make movies for the North, tells the sort of strange story you’d expect out of this hermetic place.

The details of Kim’s cinematic obsession are vividly spelled out by filmmakers Ross Adam and Robert Cannan, illustrated with clips of Shin’s North Korean movies and ample footage of the familiar, coordinated mass displays of patriotism.

But with the addition of audio recordings of the leader packed with odd, personal details, the movie digs below the spectacle and gets closer to humanizing this world than many previous efforts.

‘The Lovers and the Despot’

Documentary by Ross Adam and Robert Cannan

Not rated

Playing at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, Landmark Sunshine Cinema