Sundance: Magnolia Nabs Korean Kidnapping Documentary ‘Lovers and the Despot’

The Lovers and the Despot
Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Magnolia Pictures has acquired worldwide rights to the documentary “The Lovers and the Despot,” following its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

The film, directed by Rob Cannan and Ross Adams, centers on the 1978 kidnappings of South Korean director Shin Sang-ok and actress Choi Eun-hee by operatives of the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, a film fanatic. It will have its European premiere next month in the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival.

Magnolia is targeting a 2016 theatrical release.

After a string of successful films, Choi was kidnapped by North Korean agents and taken to meet Kim Jong-il. Shin, who had recently divorced Choi, went searching for her and was also kidnapped.

Following five years of imprisonment, the couple was reunited by Kim, who declared them his personal filmmakers. Choi and Shin produced 17 feature films for the dictator and escaped in 1986 in Vienna by requesting political asylum at the United States embassy.

“Rob and Ross have captured a jaw-dropping, true-life story whose plot could have been pulled straight out of a Hollywood spy thriller,” said Magnolia President Eamonn Bowles. “‘The Lovers and the Despot’ is a powerful, elegantly crafted film that needs to be seen to be believed.”

The movies is a Hellflower and Tigerlily production, and was presented by the BFI and Creative England, co-funded by BBC Storyville in association with the Documentary Company, Influence Film, ZDF/arte, NTR and SVT with support from Media Programme of the European Union, Sundance Institute Documentary Fund and TFI Documentary Fund.

Producers are Natasha Dack Ojumu for Tigerlily Productions, Cannan and Adam. Exec producers are Lizzie Francke, Richard Holmes, Nick Fraser, Kate Townsend, Sheryl Crown, Maggie Monteith, Victoria Steventon, Cristina Ljungberg and Sandra Whipham.

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