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Film on President Park's assassination in dispute

2005/02/01 Source

"The President's Last Bang", directed by Im Sang-soo, is igniting heated disputes over its sensitive content involving the assassination of Korea's late president Park Chung-hee.

It's not just its English title that is provocative (Im hasn't explained why he came up with the name) but also the way it was presented to the press as well as a legal wrangling with Park's son.

With a horde of bodyguards protecting the Yongsan CGV cinema, the film's premier last week revealed some controversial footage, portraying Park as a leader who often speaks in fluent Japanese with his lieutenants in the Blue House and engages in not-so-graceful drinking parties.

Conservative politicians and a group of people who still remember Park as a "respectable leader" that pulled the nation out of poverty with his aggressive economic development drive during the 1960-70s, are sharply criticizing the movie and its producers.

Baik Yoon-sik plays the KCIA director who assassinated President Park Chung-hee.

The movie starts with a scene suggesting the sexual adventure Park allegedly enjoyed during his final years as the iron-fist ruler. Referring to the secret sex party for Park, a middle-aged woman says, "He is really incredible. In the early morning, he said to my daughter, 'You're so beautiful, so beautiful' and caressed my daughter, so she served him naked".

Although MK Pictures, which produced the movie, has repeatedly denied there are scenes about Park's lurid relationships with women and his pro-Japanese stance, the screening showed otherwise.

Park Ji-man, son of the late president, filed an injunction application for the film on Jan. 11. According to the documents submitted to the court, he argued, "It is a violation of privacy that the film describes the late president enjoying Japanese songs and begging for life when assassinated. The scenes portraying his private life in a negative way or as a gangster-like person who admires Japan cannot be accepted".

The court ruling on the case is due today.

Movie critics said the footage that follows the ending credit might cause some legal problems. Director Lim says the movie is a fiction, but the last scene shows Park Geun-hye, daughter of the late president and leader of the main opposition Grand National Party, standing in the funeral ceremony, a style that can be misunderstood as part of a documentary film.

The historical fact is that on Oct. 26, 1979 the president's long-time right-hand man and the powerful anti-spy agency KCIA Director Kim Jae-gyu shot the president right in the middle of his own banquet. The fatally wounded president was rushed to the military hospital but was declared dead on arrival.

Baek Yoon-sik, who starred in "The Big Swindle" and "Save the Green Planet", plays Kim in a deadpan and sometimes funny manner. Baek's acting itself is not bad. His facial expression and body language are believable, amplifying his renewed energy and proving his value as a seasoned actor again.

But the movie is about Park's assassination and the film does not explain how and why Kim actually came up with the fatal scheme. The background situation is that Kim was booted out of an official presidential trip to a seawall completion ceremony for the reason there was no seat spared for him in the helicopter.

And the film suggests Kim got deeply upset and felt humiliated by arrogant Cha Ji-cheol, the head of the Presidential Secret Service at the time. Even with these two factors considered, Kim's own motivation - he murmurs about the "new day" - remains ambiguous.

What is relatively clear is that director Im is keen on showing the sacrifices of "ordinary men" in the process dictated by "order and obedience", a culture nurtured by the military rule during the turbulent era.

One of the ordinary people is none other than Mr. Ju (Han Suk-kyu), who is the right-hand man of the KCIA director. On the day of the shooting, he is busy making female guest arrangements for the president's banquet. And Ju rounds up a selected group of men to assist Director Kim in a shootout following the assassination.

Han, who is undisputedly one of the most celebrated actors in Korea, seems to have given his best shot playing the hapless minion of the KCIA director, but the acting is far from impressive. He winces, shouts, chews gum and squats in an awkward position holding a shotgun, but the character seems neither convincing nor inspiring.

One of the noticeable aspects is that director Im constantly puts emphasis on the ordinary people who simply faded away in the assassination case: men who fire their guns at their superior's orders, a college girl (Cho Eun-ji) and a popular singer (Kim Yoon-ah) who are invited to the tragic banquet and Presidential Security Servicemen who get killed in the crossfire.

The related scenes seem designed to intensify irony rampant in a society where a military ruler's command was absolute and people in the chain of command were forced to follow orders. Yet it is not clear whether this cinematic irony is what the director really wants to present as a theme or he just aims to create some media buzz by focusing on the controversial aspects of Park's assassination.

At a news conference following the preview, director Im fielded questions about the motive in selecting the sensitive topic. "Controversial films can be good, and movies without such elements can be good", he told reporters.

Asked on whether the perspective is too biased, Im said, "I don't know which way my perspective is biased. I did not make this film to criticize somebody or political circles. And because this is extremely sensitive, I shot the film trying to be as objective as possible".

Im stressed that the film is a sort of eulogy for some innocent victims who got sentenced to death in hurriedly arranged court rulings, a group of people who did not know what was really happening.

"I might say all of us just know only the surface of the incident. In fact, one of the key reasons for undertaking this film project is that we do not know what really happened. The surface is based on historical facts, while details are purely my imagination", Im said.

Notably, a group of foreign reporters and correspondents were invited to the preview last month, and even English press materials were distributed there, obviously targeting the foreign movie market. But director Im seemed to have a different idea.

Asked whether the film is too difficult for foreign viewers, especially concerning the near-absent explanation about the assassination motive, Im said, "Thank you for your sharp criticism, but I don't really care about the U.S. film market".

By Yang Sung-jin

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