One of my morbid childhood memories is associated with those pulpy anti-communism magazines published for South Korean elementary school students. Whenever I found nothing to read, I zealously read these magazines in my classroom because they told me lots of fun stories about how vicious North Korea’s fearless leader Kim Il-sung was or how much those poor North Koreans were oppressed and brainwashed by their evil dictatorship or how many times North Korea threatened our country with their spies and their soldiers. I must confess that I was particularly excited by the stories about the Rangoon Bombing in 1983 and the bombing of KAL 858 in 1987: Secret agents! Time Bomb! Ka-boom! And (of course) the prompt arrest of North Korean scums by our proud South Korean agents! Hooray!
As far as I remember, the magazines also featured a bunch of horrible stories about Kim Il-sung’s naughty son Kim Jong-il, who has been recently succeeded by his equally naughty son Kim Jong-un after his death. The stories graphically described how he had the right stuff as a future despot even when he was very young or how evil he was as a dutiful heir full of new diabolical plans to please his daddy dearest, and, to be frank with you, these stories were pretty entertaining to an 8-year-old boy of myself.
Looking back from now, I have some reasons to believe these rather fantastic stories about Kim Jong-il were mostly fictional although North Korea and its dangerous lunacy are the undeniable fact of my life in South Korean society. But these stories remain memorable to me none the less, and that was the main reason why I was rather amused by “The Devil’s Double”, the story about Saddam Hussein’s psychotic son Uday Saddam Hussein and his unfortunate double. To my amusement, the movie tells its believe-it-or-not story uncannily with the exact broad tone of the anti-communism magazines of my childhood, and it certainly made me cringe with the horrific moments which would not have been out of place in these magazines.
The story is mainly told through Uday’s double Latif Yahia(Dominic Cooper), who later published a book about his unbelievable experience which has lots of reasons to be doubted for the lack of clear evidences to support his claim(isn’t it strange that both CIA people and the former inner circle members of Uday said they do not know him?). When Iraq was in the middle of the Iran-Iraq war, Latif was a military officer at that time, and we see his lucky survival on the battlefield through flashback as he is suddenly sent to Baghdad for meeting Uday Hussein(also played by Dominic Cooper), who wants Latif to work as his double because of Latif’s close resemblance to him.
Latif does not like this order, because that means his life will be forever shackled with Uday. He initially refuses, but Uday is not a guy to whom he can say no; not only Latif gets a harsh treatment for his refusal, but also the safety of Latif’s family is threatened. Seeing that he has no choice in his circumstance, Latif eventually accepts his new job, so he has to fully commit himself to being Uday even though he cannot fool Uday’s father Saddam Hussein(Philip Quast): “God is great. He gives me two sons. Now I have three.”
While becoming self-loathing amid the enormous luxury of Uday’s lifestyle, Latif is forced to hang around Uday, who treats him like a new pet he has recently bought while enjoying his company. As they move around nightclubs and parties with Uday’s mistress Sarrab(Ludivine Sagnier), the movie shows us the dark, decadent, and delirious side of the Hussein regime during the 1980-90s, and the movie comes to us as a sort of crazy cross between “The Prince and the Pauper” and “The Last King of Scotland”(2006) with a touch of “Scarface”(1983). Nobody dares to criticize Uday because he is the eldest son of Saddam Hussein, and Uday loves to wield that fact with his gun in front of others as a spoiled man child gleefully intoxicated with power, booze, drug, sex, and violence.
And he does lots of barbaric things just because he can. He blatantly picks up young schoolgirls with his sports car for raping them later, and he even rapes a young bride right at her wedding. He has many torture videos to watch(I heard that he tortured Olympic athletes just because they did not do well at the matches), and, at one point, he brutally murders one of his father’s close associates with a big knife while everyone watches him in horror. Even his father is really sick of his son’s crazy behaviors: “I should have gelded him at birth.”
The movie becomes monotonous as Uday’s monstrosity continues its vicious rampage during its second half, but Dominic Cooper’s fabulous duo performance holds our interest even when the story feels disjointed and awkward around the finale. Cooper plays Latif as a decent man gradually influenced by the evil surrounding him while functioning as the voice of reason in the story along with Raad Rawi, who plays Uday’s no-nonsense security chief, and he also has lots of fun as Uday, who is naturally a far showier character than Latif. The attraction/repulsion inside the relationship between his two characters always feels palpable on the screen thanks to him, and it is a little shame that the movie does not dig more deeply into this interesting relationship than it could have.
Despite its shortcomings including the unconvincing ending, “The Devil’s Double” is an interesting fiction even if its ‘true story’ is entirely false. The director Lee Tamahori made a slick work of lurid fascination which fascinated and horrified me as much as those North Korea stories did, and, though he is not fully utilized in the film, Cooper is electrifying to watch. The recent Iraq war was wrong for many reasons, but, after watching the film, you may be a bit glad that it got rid of one crazy hyena casually stomping on the powerless without feeling no remorse or guilt about it at all.