Remember “Parasite”–that incredible Korean film of a couple of years ago? (yes–2019 was two years ago!) Since then I have been rather enamored with South Korean cinema. I googled “best Korean movies” and discovered this gem. The Man Standing Next was released in theaters last year and is now streaming but it would seem to to a very quiet reception. And I’m not sure why. It’s gripping, intelligent, with strong, convincing performances. Based on the nonfiction book The Chiefs of Namsam it is considered an accurate portrayal of the forty days leading up to the 1979 assassination of the corrupt President Park Chung-hee . For some reason except for Park’s, the names have been changed–not sure why. I’m usually not a good audience for political intrigue movies because I’m easily prone to confusion. If you have the misfortune of watching one with me, be prepared to answer a lot of questions (“Now who is that and why did she say that?” kind of probing.) Realizing I know practically nothing about Korean politics or history, it helped to do a quick Wikipedia prep session. Filmmaker Woo Min-ho has chosen to focus on the motivations of the major players, most of whom had been fellow revolutionaries and then high level officials with the KCIA, South Korea’s CIA during Chung Hee’s eighteen year regime. It is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. (significantly Iago is an important code name.) As usual there is an American agenda that seems to deliberately contribute to the chaos and the obfuscation of injustices. It’s pretty confusing and fuzzy. Just trust me, it’s crucial to the plot. But there is so much else going for this film that you won’t mind. If you are looking for a compelling thriller and an opportunity to expand your knowledge of Korean history this is the film for you.
“The Man Standing Next” (Amazon)