Lee Byung-Hun gives a rousing performance in this true story of the shocking assassination that rocked South Korea in 1979.

In 1961, a military coup d’etat led to the presidency of military leader Park Jung-Hee. During this time, he created the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, and appointed Kim Kyu-Pyung as the director of the KCIA. In 1979, Park Yong-Gak, a member of the KCIA, has evidence against Park, who is believed to be corrupt, and presents its to Washington D.C. in exchange for asylum. When Park gets wind of the situation, he directs Kim to head to Washington to deal with the matter.

After several meetings with the U.S. Ambassador to Korea, Kim slowly finds himself at a crossroads. While he does what he can to remain loyal to President Park, signs slowly point the opposite direction. When Kim learns that the President’s chief bodyguard Kwak Sang-Cheon starts to warm up to Park in hopes to take over Kim’s post as the “man standing next”, Kim realizes that there must be political change in Korea and in hopes for it to happen, he makes a decision that will change the climate in Korea forever.

As of this writing, this film is the number one film in South Korea, and it’s a really good biopic based on the true story and a series of stories revolving around the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, which was deemed defunct after the 1979 assassination of President Park Jung-Hee by the director of the KCIA, Kim Jae-Kyu. A disclaimer in the film said that while the filmmakers used some of the facts, they took their own liberties for certain aspects, including a chance in some of the characters names.

The film’s driving force is the excellent Lee Byung-Hun as Kim Kyu-Pyung, the director of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency who at first view is completely loyal to the President before a series of events forces him to question not only himself but the actions of the President, a former military officer who plans to declare martial law when protests were staged against the President for a sense of abusing his power. With his ability to speak both English and Korean, Lee does a wonderful job in the film as a conflicted man who makes a decision that changes the course of politics in South Korea forever.

The supporting cast is top notch. As the whistleblower Park Yong-Gak, Kwak Do-Hong may look like a character meant for comic fodder, but Kwak does an excellent portrayal who has his worries and finds himself the catalyst for the series of events that led to the assassination. As President Park, Lee Sung-Min gives a sense of ruthlessness and while his past discusses his military background, he seems to be more of a puppetmaster who orders and questions the motives of not only our protagonist, but others in his cabinet. Lee Hee-Joon is great as chief bodyguard Kwak, who can see the weakness in Kim and uses it to his advantage when he confronts Kim in a pivotal scene that leads to Park slowly ousting Kim from the ranks of the “inner circle” and in this case, one can only wish for Kwak to get his and those who know the story can pretty much know what to expect.

Perhaps the film shows the President in somewhat of a negative light because of the actions of his real-life daughter, who was Korea’s first female President only to be impeached due to a bribery scandal that rocked the country in 2016 and perhaps, the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree. However, to this day, the facts are still not known. And yet this is quite a fascinating tale that could have been made by the likes of an Oliver Stone with Woo Min-Ho showcasing a style that may have well been influenced by the director of W. and Platoon to name a few.

The Man Standing Next is a wonderfully made biopic of the story that rocked Korea in 1979, changing the political climate with Lee Byung-Hun showcasing an excellent performance that has to be seen by any fan of Korean cinema.


capelight Pictures presents a Showbox Entertainment production. Director: Woo Min-Ho. Producers: Woo Min-ho and Kim Won-Guk. Writers: Lee Ji-Min and Woo Min-Ho; based on the novel by Kim Chung-Sik.

Cast: Lee Byung-Hun, Lee Sung-Min, Kwak Do-Yong, Lee Hee-Joon, Kim So-Jin, Kim Myung-Sun, John D. Michaels, Seo Hyun-Woo.

Currently playing at the CGV Cinemas in Buena Park, the film will be released at the CGV Cinemas in Los Angeles on January 31.