"Kidnapped by Their Biggest Fan"

Content: -1 Discretion advised for older children.

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What You Need To Know:

THE LOVERS AND THE DESPOT is a true story about the kidnapping of famous South Korean filmmaker Shin Sang-ok and actress Choi Eun-hee. Shin and Choi were the celebrity couple of their time and place. They met in the 1950s, fell in love and had two children until Shin slept with a younger actress, resulting in their divorce in 1975. In 1978, Kim Jong-il sent North Korean agents to kidnap Choi, whereupon she lived in isolated confinement for two years. While Shin searched for his former wife, Kim kidnapped him too, but Kim’s minions lock up Shin for five years after an escape attempt. Shin and Choi eventually reunite, rekindling their love. They are forced to become filmmaking slaves to the dictator’s regime until they escape North Korea for good in 1986.

THE LOVERS AND THE DESPOT is an outlandish, compelling true-crime story. The documentary is told through interviews, voiceovers and old footage from Koran movies. The most engaging moments are the voiceovers, making the movie not as appealing as it should be. Also, the more mature content warrants caution for older children.


(B, ACAC, C, Pa, V, S, MM) Light moral worldview exposing the insanity and brutality of North Korea’s communist dictatorship, which kidnaps two South Korean filmmakers to force them to make propaganda movies, one filmmaker says she prayed to God during the two years of isolation she experienced after she was first kidnapped, plus some immoral pagan elements, including a case of adultery and other moral issues; no foul language; light action violence shows North Korean soldiers marching, chanting and pushing one another out of the way to get a better view of Kim, Shin is beaten when he disobeys Kim, but this is revealed through a voiceover, with no bloodshed or guns; light sexual content shows an old photograph and movie clip of Choi and Shin kissing and man cheats on wife with younger actress and has two children with her; no nudity; no alcohol use; no smoking or illegal drugs; and, strong miscellaneous immorality includes lying, kidnapping, revenge, greed, dictatorship, blackmail, bad role models, and dysfunctional families, but mostly rebuked.

More Detail:

THE LOVERS AND THE DESPOT is a true story about a famous South Korean actress and her former movie director husband, who were later kidnapped by North Korea’s Communist dictator and held captive from 1978 to 1986. The movie is a thrilling documentary that tells a bizarre but compelling story and sheds light on North Korea’s evil communist dictatorship, but it depends heavily on voiceovers and interviews and warrants caution for older children because of some mature subject matter.

In the late 1950s, South Korean filmmaker Shin Sang-ok and actress Choi Eun-hee Shin were the “It” couple. They met on set, fell in love and had two children. People adored them, and their celebrity status was known throughout all of Korea.

As time passed, however, their marriage crumbled when Shin Sang-ok fell for a younger actress. He slept with her and had two more children, breaking Choi Eun-hee’s heart. When she discovered Shin cheated on her, she was devastated and never wanted to see him again. The former It couple split up, and Choi Eun-hee left the movie business, taking time for herself and her children.

Two years later, in 1978, a producer reached out to Choi Eun-hee about doing a movie. Holding a desire to get back in the business, she met the producer in Hong Kong, but was fooled. The producer, a secret agent from North Korea, drugged and kidnapped her, then brought her to North Koran dictator Kim Jong-il. In interviews, Choi says Kim treated her with kindness and gave her a little cottage in the woods to live in while expressing his plans to make movies so great North Korea would have more power than Hollywood one day. However, she remained a bird in a gilded cage.

For two years, Choi lived alone in the cottage. She took walks and started a garden to keep her sanity. Fearing for her life, she prayed often, which helped get her through months of isolation.

After Choi’s disappearance, Shin went looking for the mother of his first children. Consequently, North Korea also kidnapped him. Shin tried to escape and jumped on top of a train, desperate to get away, but he’s caught and brutally beaten. Imprisoned and brainwashed, it took five years for Shin to convince the guards he was ready to be a dedicated follower to Kim.

So, he was released and brought to Choi. The former lovers embraced one another in tears. When Kim had them together, he told Shin his imprisonment was a mistake by his underlings. He also informed him of his master plan to crank out movies so great, that everybody would look to North Korea, and they would be the ultimate power country. Shin and Choi worked for almost two years nonstop, often sleeping for four hours a night, just to get another movie out. They created 17 movies during their imprisonment until they found the means to escape.

In 1986, they jumped on a ship and escaped to the U.S. Embassy in Vienna. Knowing few would believe their story, they presented years of secret recordings to the Embassy, including many of their meetings with the North Korean dictator. They were finally free. They later moved to Los Angeles, safe from any possibility of being kidnapped again by North Korean agents. They lived together like husband and wife until Shin’s death in 2006. Today, Choi is 89 and still resides in Los Angeles.

THE LOVERS AND THE DESPOT is a thrilling documentary that tells a bizarre story. It also sheds light on the atrocities in North Korea and the terrible nature of dictatorship. However, the most engaging moments are the voiceovers and secret recordings of the North Korean dictator. This mars the drama inherent in the movie’s story, making the movie not as appealing as it should be. Also, the story’s more mature qualities warrant caution for older children.