‘The Man Standing Next’ Analysis – 40 days to President’s Assassination


In political drama, a wise man, saying the wise things, is either a fool or a hero. Sometimes, the journey from “the fool” to “the hero” happens between hardships, embarrassment and crushing defeats or whatever, the pursuit to defend the truth, is always interesting. The Man Standing Next, tracks the assassination of Korean President, Park Chung-hee back in October, 1979 by his most trusted man Kim Jae-gyu, the director of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA). The incident is counted among the darkest, most controversial and shocking events in modern South Korean history.

Through its narrative, “The Man Standing Next” portrays the adversity of Kim Kyu-pyeong who is a man of divided loyalties. He was the man, standing next to President Park when he started a revolution to announce democracy in South Korea, but even when President Park was not able to maintain the democracy he promised his citizens, Kim makes it his own pursuit to punish the traitors. Things aren’t so simple in politics and war, as they sound, so fasten the belt, it is gonna be a bumpy ride.

A man’s path isn’t always filled with laughs but a storm cannot stop a man with determination.

‘The Man Standing Next’ Summary

“The Man Standing Next” begins with Kim (Lee Byung-hun) taking charge of audience attention with a single line, “When the nation goes haywire, we all die.” He then enters the room, and a gunshot is heard.

The story then moves back to 40 days leading upto President’s Assasination.

Park Yong-gak, former president of KCIA testifies against the President Park in front of the U.S. Senate and promises to lay bare the bitter truths of the President’s military regime in a memoir. President Park orders Kim to take control of the affairs of Park Yong-gak. Kim attempts to talk Park out of publishing his manuscript with the help of lobbyist Deborah Shim. Through Park, Kim learns about a mysterious individual known as Iago, who exclusively does the bidding of the President, matters which should otherwise be handled by KCIA. He learns that President Park is looting the country and depositing money in SWISS Bank accounts.

A tale filled with twists and turns, demonstrating a single man’s struggle, straps you from the first scene to the last, and it is surely one of the most engaging plots written in Korean History. Kim is finally obliged to make a decision on a choice, is he wise enough to choose his country or fool enough to trust his President.

Symbolism in ‘The Man Standing Next’

After learning the truth, Kim’s tragedy is to still follow blindly the man he has trusted and served along with all these years. He thought President Park will bring about a change through his revolution for democracy, a change the country badly needs.  It is almost Shakespearean in nature, which can symbolically be related to Macbeth and Banquo’s idealism, but in this tale, Banquo strikes back.

There are numerous metaphors and symbolic images in “The Man Standing Next”,  that hints of Shakespearean Drama. The extraordinary pattern in the film being, the lead character doesn’t repeat the mistakes that would turn him into a monster. The take is both marvellous and splendid, which is further  complimented by extraordinary performance by Lee Byung-hun. Kim speaks his heart out, in one of his attempts to stop the violent measures  to stop riots taken by President Park,“Intimidation will not work,” which is not so well received by the President and his men, showing clearly that they have forgotten the cries of war they fought for. Kim, who has seen enough exploitation of power, politics and his people, fights back to maintain the authenticity of a democracy by measure, which aren’t legal in the eyes of law, yet necessary.

Adaptation and Screenplay

There have been a previous attempt to narrate the same event in Im Sang-soo’s “The President’s Last Bang”, but that film was chronicled the final three hours before the assassination and its immediate aftermath. The Man Standing Next, however, depicts 40 days leading up to the shocking moment to give us an insight into the mind of the perpetrator and hopefully provide both sides of the story through it.

Lee Ji-min and Woo Min-ho’s script is an adaptation of the non-fiction novel “Chiefs of Namsan”. The screenplay is historically authentic while it also entertains the audience cinematically, without burdening them with facts and figures. The film keeps the heightened tension throughout with conspiracies, plots, and conflicts that lead to an explosive finale. The writing is grippy and fast-paced without any low beats, which clenches the viewer’s attention tightly.

“The Man Standing Next” is the film of the moment, at times when World’s democracy is at stake. It is both engaging and entertaining with a well-pictured plot, driven by thrilling music and exceptional performances. If watching films in other Languages is not an issue for you, Do check out this dazzling political drama directed by Woo Min-ho.

The Man Standing Next (also called Chiefs of Namsan) is a South Korean political drama film directed by Woo Min-ho. The film is streaming on Netflix.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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