President Park (Sung-Min Lee) arrives at his Presidential Safe House, with his right hand men. Kwak Sang Cheon (Lee Hee-Joon). Also with the newly appointed president of the KCIA (Korean Central Intelligence Agency) Kim Kyu-Pyeong (Lee Byung- Hun) the date is October 26th, the year 1979. On this evening President Park`s 18 year rule control will come to an end. Park has managed to rule for this long, mainly thanks to head of the KCIA and his department. Tonight is the night that Kim will assassinate the President…. So, what has happened? To push a humble man that just wants to do his duty, for his country, for his people, to kill President Park plus Kwak? Now – We jump back forty days to the lead up to this fateful night. In this time, we will find out what has led a perfectly respectful humble man., who just wants to do his job, to the killing of two of the most powerful men in South Korea. What makes him the Man Standing Next…? Why has he been pushed to carry out such an act?
Writer director Min-Ho Woo delivers one of the best political thrillers that I have seen in years. It's a beautifully crafted cloak n dagger film, that harks back to the days of films such as, All The President's Men and the amazing The Conversation (my favourite film of Coppala's). He captures the feel of the time so well. This is partly due to a very strong cast – Lee Byung-hun is just perfectly cast as Kim. His performance is intelligent and dangerous, as the man that`s forced to deal with the whistle blower Park Yong-Gak (Do-won Kwak) to stop him from publishing his memoirs, while trying to maintain a relationship with the US, and his President – Park. The film does paint Kim in the light and maybe gives a slightly biased look at him; his performance is the heart of the film, the driving force behind it. The scenes between Kim and Park Yong- Gak are the best for me in the film, their meetings, their encounters, are just top notch. The intensity of these meetings builds to the inevitable outcome. Lee Hee- Joon is in fine playful form, I don`t care if you like me mode, Kwak. He has his own motives and is seeking power by getting closer to President Park. Kwak is the man that wants to turn the tanks on the people. He seems to think that one to two million people dying – doesn’t matter, martial law should be declared to control the rioters. Sung-Min Lee is solid as the President, he gives a thoughtful performance of a man losing his grip on an ever changing nation – he will suggest to Kim, in how to deal with the whistle blower, but his hands are clean… Director Min-Ho Woo has the pace for the film down – it is a political thriller that needs to be slow and then pacey as more of the intrigue is revealed. As I said it is so well crafted, plus performed piece of film making, and Min makes it all about the music, atmosphere, the editing, and of course the exceptional cinematography all add to these plus his spot on direction. Nothing is truer to how good this film is made. Is even though you know what is going to happen, it will have you on the edge of your seat, for the last twenty minutes, it is just exceptional film making.
I'd say my favourite genre of cinema, is the 60s and 70s thrillers, whether they are a cop thriller or a political thriller. The sixties and seventies just got this right. Watching The Man Standing Next reminded me of my love for that period of cinema. It also had me reaching for my copy of A Bittersweet Life, as it is a reminder of what an exceptional actor Lee Byung- Hun is, so versatile an actor with great presence on screen Seek this out as this is a one of them rare and actually good modern thrillers .