When intelligence agencies go to war with the sitting president, who is the hero and who is the villain? The answer depends on whose endgame you ultimately side with. While it may be difficult for some to understand the nuance behind South Korean history and politics, The Man Standing Next does its best job (with a few creative liberties) to tell the story behind the assassination of South Korean President Park Chung-hee.
Set in the 1970s, former KCIA director Park Yong-gak (Do-won Kwak) travels to the United States in order to condemn South Korean President Park (Sung-min Lee) in front of Congress. President Park doesn’t take kindly to having his public image tarnished so he sends Current KCIA director Kim Kyu-Pyung (Byung-Hun Lee) to the States to defuse the situation. It is there that Kim learns that President Park has been defrauding Korea for many years by funneling state money into numerous Swizz bank accounts. Kim is then caught between a rock and a hard place as President Park orders the assassination of the former director and Kim’s good friend, leaving Kim to choose between his country and his president.
The Man Standing Next is an excellent story of espionage and government politics at play. Based on the real-life conflict that led to then-President Park being assassinated by his own KCIA director, the story gives a thrilling look at an internal battle between friendship and loyalty. The cast gives a stellar performance but the standout is Lee Byung-Hun, his character’s internal dilemma of continuing to support a boss and a friend who has clearly lost the best interest of his country is a gut-wrenching predicament. Yet despite knowing that he would go down in history as a traitor to his nation, Kim did what he felt he needed to do a fighter for the revolution.
Now whether you believe that Kim was truly a patriot is a debate for another day, keep in mind the film does take liberties with some of the facts. Ironically, President’s Park real-life daughter Park Geun-hye, was recently elected as Korea’s first female president only to be impeached due to a bribery scandal. The truth is always somewhere in the middle and for you guys who trust your government as far as you can throw them, The Man Standing Next is a solid pick one of the top films in the early film year.