By Park Chung-a
MBC drama "The Fifth Republic", is at the center of controversy for its portrayal of the former dictatorial president Chun Doo-hwan and dealing with a sensitive political era that has not yet been historically evaluated.
The title "The Fifth Republic", refers to the military regime Chun was president of from 1981 to 1988. The drama follows his assumption of power through a military coup right up to his downfall following a series of democratic movements.
Most of the main characters in the drama, whose real names are used, are still living, including Chun, Chang Se-dong, formerly chief secretary to Chun; Hur Hwa-pyong, key aide to the former president and former lawmaker; Chung Ho-yong, former Army chief of staff; and Lee Hak-bong, former vice director of the Korea Central Intelligence Agency.
Although the drama first started amid high attention from viewers since it began airing on April 23, its ratings have slid recently to just 15 percent last week, the lowest among the dramas of three major TV networks, according to TNS Media Research. The drama's creators attribute the decrease to recent controversy over the beautification of Chun.
Currently, the drama's Internet board is filled with comments that are positive toward Chun, like "Hoorah for Chun Doo-whan" and "We were well-off at that time anyway".
"A macho character who wins the political game with sharp strategies can look cool if we are ignorant of the nature of his deeds. Since Chun tried to carry out a coup d'etat, it is natural that his character is being described as firm and strong", said Kim Chang-nam, a TV critic. However, he said that the essence of the drama lies in defining those who were in power during the Fifth Republic as the ones who tried an unjustifiable coup, blind to authority.
Regarding the viewer's comments, especially from the younger generation who did not experience the `80s, Yoo Jeong-soo, a writer of the drama, says that the controversy will soon calm down when it starts to feature the Kwangju pro-democracy uprising against the suppression of the military regime that occurred in the southern city of Kwangju on May 18, 1980. It was Chun who played the vital role as chief martial law administrator in directing the bloody suppression, which ended in the killing of an official total of 154 civilians and left 3,193 wounded and 70 missing.
Yoo who just finished the part of the script on the tragedy said that Chun's role and deeds around the incident will be clearly revealed for the first time. "The controversy over beautification will naturally disappear", Yoo said.
Another controversy around the drama is that it risks distorting history. Experts say that even though the drama is in the form of a docu-drama, it is impossible to be completely objective in describing recent history.
"Although the drama centers on real incidents, it is natural that the drama cannot help but feature a `viewpoint of an author"', said Kim Kap-ui, a film professor at Dong-guk University. "Since the main characters of the drama have actually received rulings by the Supreme Court, including life imprisonment for high treason and mutiny, there is no way but to evaluate them as villains at the moment".
However, some experts say that since the drama is not a historical textbook, reinterpretation and distortion are inevitable in the drama. "Writers as well as drama producers should always have a specific intention when making a program. Thus subjective interpretation on incidents and characters is a natural thing", said movie critic Kim Si-moo.
According to Lim Tae-woo
, the drama's producer, he deliberately chose the genre of docu-drama so as to maintain objectivity, different from "Hero's Age" that was forced to end early in March due to controversy over distortion and idealization of the actual people who played a main role in Korea's quick economic development from the 1960s to the `80s.
"Personally, I think that the Chun administration should not have come to power at all. However, the script is based on objective facts, including the ruling of the Supreme Court, documents of hearings and news reports at that time", Lim said.
In the same context, the drama uses narration and documentary methods in many parts. For example, when the charisma and charm of Chun's character becomes somewhat significant, narration and documentary scenes are inserted to provide a more objective basis.
Since the drama has chosen to actively reinterpret the character and situation of Korea at that time, it also risks being involved in a libel suit by the leaders of the Fifth Republic who are mentioned in the drama. Recently, the movie "The President's Last Bang
", which featured former President Park Chung-hee, faced a lawsuit by Park's son for satirizing his father.
"The Fifth Republic" airs at 9: 40 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays on MBC.