A major hit in its native South Korea Min-ho Woo’s (Inside Men) The Man Standing Next is a dramatization of the 40 days leading up to the 1979 assassination of President Park Chung-hee. Text at the film’s start tells us that the filmmakers “have taken creative liberties for certain settings”. I’m not sure just how much liberty was taken. I know some names were changed and people combined into one character. But since his assassin never revealed his full motives I can see where this would be needed.
Kim Kyu-Pyung (Byung-Hun Lee, I Saw The Devil, Ashfall) is the director of the KCIA and President Park’s (Sung-min Lee, The Beast, Black Money) right-hand man. Former director Park Yong-gak (Do-won Kwak, The Wailing, The Man From Nowhere) has defected to the US and is giving the testimony that led to the Koreagate scandal. Kim is sent to deal with the problem.
He finds himself caught between his loyalty to the man he helped bring to power and a growing awareness of how corrupt that man has become. He’s also caught in competition with Head of Security Kwak Sang-cheon (Hee-joon Lee, The Drug King) for Park’s favour. Can he reconcile his duty to his country with his loyalty to its leader? Or will he be forced to take drastic measures to protect one or the other?
Since it is based on actual events we know how it will end. The fact The Man Standing Next works as a thriller is due to the excellent job it does of telling how it happened. The rivalries and manipulations going on behind the scenes. The growing paranoia of President Park. The question of how to deal with the Bu-Ma Democratic Protests. We see the pieces fall into place and the players become locked into their courses of action.
The cast all do an excellent job in their roles, which is a requirement of a film like The Man Standing Next. Byung-Hun Lee is especially good as the man in the centre of it all. He’s utterly convincing portraying someone who’s beliefs are unravelling around him. Woo does an excellent job with his cast, even the supporting players are on point.
The Man Standing Next should appeal to anyone who likes this kind of thriller. It’s one of the few recent movies that run near two hours and didn’t feel overlong to me. The setting, and for some, the unfamiliarity of the events, should also add some interest to the film.
Capelight Pictures will open The Man Standing Next at theatres across the U.S and Canada on February 7th. DVD and VOD release will follow later in the year.