June 23, 2021
Based on a real 1979 MILITARY coup, this year’s Oscars submission from South Korea captivates with alliances, betrayals – and a climax worth waiting for
The Man Standing Next review – a thrilling scramble for political power in 70s South Korea
This is a suspenseful but fiendishly complex political thriller from South Korea, which was the country’s submission for best international film for the most recent Oscars, though it didn’t make the final five shortlist. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not a solid film, but viewers whose introduction to Korean cinema was director Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, which rightly won all the big prizes the year before, should be warned not to expect anything quite as audacious or accessible here.
In fact, director Woo Min-ho’s drama feels aimed more at a domestic audience, covering as it does the tense days in 1979 when a military coup and an assassination determined who would ultimately come to power. Although based on actual events, a disclaimer at the beginning warns that some dramatic licence has been taken to tell the story, which was in turn based on a novel. At the centre of the story is President Park (played by Lee Sung-min), who has been the top dog for 18 years. His de facto second in command is the head of the Korean CIA, Kim Gyu-pyeong (Lee Byung-hun, excellent), a narrow-faced civil servant who shuttles diplomatically between Seoul and Washington DC, where another compatriot, Park Yong-gak (Kwak Do-won), is testifying before a US congressional committee and threatening to publish a memoir that will spill the beans about corruption in the highest ranks of the government.
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