Film Review: “Dear Dictator” by writer / director Lee Sang-woo – queue the Cypress Hill “here’s something you just cain’t understand”


Review by: Mut Asheru

Let me start by saying “I didn’t see that coming!” Writer / Director Lee Sang-woo’s (이상우) DEAR DICTATOR (친애하는지도자동지께) is the best film ever! Just kidding. It is pretty damn good though.

What can I say without giving too much of the film away? Hmmm, how about the synopsis?

Buk-seong, Young-rim and Woosuckare live in the ghetto. I don’t know why but I never even imagined that South Korea had ghettos but I now know that it’s a possibility which is why I’m labeling this film as an eye-opener. I know they have poor people. What nation doesn’t? But the reality has never HIT me until just now. Thanks Sang-woo for destroying my “all-the-streets-in-Korea-are-paved-with-cheese” dreams. AGAIN.

I think pulling the proverbial draws off Korea’s ass is his specialty. With that said. I didn’t realize I was watching one of his films until it was over. In order to prevent fan-girling on my part, I try to go into films these days knowing a little as possible. Anywho. One day, a spy from North Korea begins recording the lives of these 3 men and capturing the complicated series of events that happens between them. Sang-woo switches between steady-cam and hand-cam to let us know when we’re a part of the characters intimate audience versus the North Korean third party’s intrusiveness.


Casting was a big win here. Kim Young-geon (김영건), Shin Won-ho (신원호) and Seo Hyun-seok (서현석) delivered the goods. Selling well the tale of living a complicated broke-ass existence and basically flippin the fuck out from the stress and injustice of it all.

DEAR DICTATOR had an immediate impact on my guts. Why? Because I thought I was watching North Korean defectors living a down-and-out existence because they were refugees and as such couldn’t secure a proper job à la American style. Just when you think the grass is definitely brown and decayed on the other side. Sang-woo (“Mother is a Whore”, ”Fire in Hell”)and filmmaking crew flip the script. Smart.


Shot in reality-show style “Dear Dictator’s” cinematography handled by Kim Min-soo   (김민수) is gritty and extremely raw. Polish would have diminished the film’s effectiveness. After all…poverty ain’t pretty. Neither is parental abuse, murder, or rape. You got that right. Sang-woo doesn’t do pretty. He does real, perverted and morbid. Abruptly so.

*screened at the 15th Jeonju International Film Festival, JIFF 2014*

No rating, 102 minutes
Director: Lee Sang-woo (이상우)
Cast: Kim Young-geon (김영건) , Shin Won-ho (신원호), Seo Hyun-seok (서현석), LEE Joo-min (이주민)
Screenwriters: Lee Sang-woo (이상우)
Producers: Pierce Conran
Cinematography: Kim Min-soo (김민수)
Art Director: Lee Yoon-kyung (이윤경)
Music: Kang Min-kuk (강민국)
Editor: Lee Chae-hyun (이채현)

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