Kim Jong-il, The Movie Buff Despot

Former North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il plays a starring role in one of three intriguing documentaries opening this week. The other openings feature a veteran documentary cameraperson and the tastemaker who helped jumpstart punk rock.

The film featuring Kim Jong-il proves particularly interesting thanks to its astounding strangeness. Film-loving heads of states are nothing new. But it’s doubtful any head of state went as far as Kim Jong-il did to satisfy his cinephilia.

Also worth noting is a debut film set in Los Angeles’ Koreatown. It’s a tale of both family dynamics and growing gay awareness.


Kirsten Johnson is the cameraperson for such seminal documentaries as Citizenfour and The Invisible War. Johnson’s first film as a director draws from over a quarter-century of footage she shot for various productions. Rather than narrate the film, Johnson organizes the material as a collage. The film draws equally from autobiography and critical inquiry into her own role as a cameraperson.

Opens September 30 at the Opera Plaza Cinemas, the Shattuck Cinemas, and the Smith Rafael Film Center

Danny Says

Danny Fields had a talent for sussing out late-20th century cool culture. Fields’ contemporaries considered such acts as Iggy Pop or The Ramones as troublemakers. Fields considered them purveyors of fresh new sounds. Anecdotes about working with these influential acts or meeting other rock legends pepper this entertaining backstage trip through a cultural tastemaker’s life.

Opens September 30 at the Roxie Theatre

I Belonged To You

This romantic comedy is based on a series of Zhang Jiajia’s short stories. It concerns a pair of radio disc jockeys who discover that the audience members they reach have stories which mirror their own problems with love and heartbreak. That realization causes the duo to deal with issues far beyond their personal lives.

Opens September 30 at the AMC Van Ness 14

L.O.R.D.: Legend Of Ravaging Dynasties

In this computer animated motion-capture fantasy film, the kingdoms of Water, Wind, Fire, and Earth battle for ultimate supremacy over the continent of Odin. Yin Chen, a monarch who’s also a powerful master of the Soul, takes ordinary Water resident Qi Ling as his apostle. That act ultimately leads to revelations regarding the Water Nation’s buried secrets.

Now at the AMC Metreon 16 and opens September 30 at the Presidio Theatre

The Lovers And The Despot

In this strange-but-true story, a divorced film couple’s lives get forcibly intertwined with that of notorious dictator Kim Jong-il. Married couple director/producer Shin Sang-ok and actress Choi Eun-hee made successful films together for years before divorcing in the 1970s. The couple were forcibly reunited after being kidnapped by North Korean agents and imprisoned for years by that country’s government. Dictator Kim Jong-il turned out to be a movie buff who made Shin and Choi his personal film talent. What happened next before Shin and Choi eventually escaped needs to be seen by the viewer.

Opens September 30 at the Clay Theatre

M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story

This Indian biopic attempts to trace the life of cricket superstar Mahendra Singh Dhoni. As a small village boy, Dhoni dreamed of playing for the Indian national cricket team. However, despite Dhoni’s repeated setbacks, he struggles to have his incredible talent noticed by elite cricket bodies. If a review is accurate, the film’s latter half fudges greatly on the behind-the-scenes intrigue in Dhoni’s rise in professional Indian cricket.

Opens September 30 at the Century 12 San Mateo

Operation Mekong

When two Chinese commercial vessels sail down the Mekong River into the Golden Triangle, the ships’ crews are ambushed. 13 sailors die at gunpoint and 900,000 methamphetamine pills are recovered. A Chinese narcotics task force headed by Captain Gao Gang goes into the notorious drug manufacturing region to learn the truth behind the murders. The trail leads to notorious drug cartel leader Naw Khar. But it’ll take a multinational effort to bring down the criminal. Inspired by the true story of the Mekong Massacre.

Opens September 30 at the AMC Metreon 16, the Century 20 Daly City, and the Presidio Theatre


Working woman Ansheng’s life gets utterly disrupted by the publication of a semi-biographical novel. The book is based on her doomed high school friendship with classmate Qiyue. Freed of her self-repression of her memories, Ansheng discovers a long buried secret which symbolizes both their youth and their friendship.

Opens September 30 at the AMC Metreon 16

Spa Night

David Cho lives in Los Angeles’ Koreatown with his struggling immigrant parents. After the family restaurant goes belly up, the parental pressure is on for David to go to college. But David’s already under stress hiding his sexual orientation. A job on the sly in an all male spa/gay cruising spot may help the confused young man find himself.

Opens September 30 at the Roxie Theatre

About the Author

I’m a film reviewer for the Beyond Chron blog. Agnes Varda and Hirokazu Kore-eda are among my favorite filmmakers. I occasionally break down and watch a good action film…but don’t tell anyone.

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