[HanCinema's Film Review] "26 Years"
By Vasia Orion | Published on
Works that tackle grim history are never an easy thing to make. But when that history and its wounds are still fresh and the sociopolitical circumstances of the events the work is based on are not just something which had its closure, handling them becomes a very daring and very serious move. "26 Years" is a story based on a comic and on the true and bloody events of the 1980 Gwangju Uprising.
The film follows five people whose lives and families were ruined during the massacre of civilians by government troops in Gwangju. Three of them are contacted by the other two and told of the their plan. To enter the home of the former president who was in charge during the incident, ask for acknowledgement of the suffering he caused and assassinate him. Him being hidden in his heavily guarded home means the group only gets one chance at their revenge and their planning and timing need to be impeccable.
The movie was indeed a risky project to start. For a few years, it had difficulty getting off the ground, as people were reluctant to fund it due to its political content. Given the actual person whose avatar's murder is the goal of the movie is still alive and still unpunished and since no government and few producers would be comfortable with such a topic, this is not a surprise. After receiving money through crowd funding, the project was finally made. Looking at it now, it is a most important achievement.
While the work does take a pretty clear stance about the incident and the people involved, it is not a work of easy solutions. Rather than getting too political and risking further unwanted criticism, it instead focuses briefly on the anger and pain in people who were touched by them as well as their revenge. It also shows the contrast between a society which has moved on, but never forgotten, and the difficulty of letting go when that unfairness is something you have to personally live with. There are no solutions here and no closure in something which never got it, but there is exposure of something which needs it.
Due to the delicate nature of the matter, there is not much focus on the villain of the story. While understandable given the reality it is based on, it is a shame from a storytelling point of view, as it would have made the former president someone to hate more easily. That said, this is a different experience for non-Korean viewers and perhaps for the intended local audience, there is no need for more. It also allows Jang Gwang's moments in the final act to be all the more blood curdling, in what is a short, but amazing performance by the actor as the villain.
The movie is fast-paced and the drama compelling, especially given the premise, but perhaps it is a flaw that it plays too much like an action thriller, rather than a drama. It is exciting enough, sure, but it would have been interesting to see a more character-focused piece, given the topic. We do get some exploration of the characters, but not nearly enough, as the focus is the need for justice, rather than the impact of the incidents long-term.
It would be odd to call "26 Years" fun. It is good if we think about entertainment value, but more than anything, it is a sad reminder of how little human lives can matter to those who take them at will and how important an injustice can be in shaping a person. The movie no doubt has a much greater emotional impact for domestic audiences, but its themes are such that any viewer can relate to, to a degree. It is a sad experience, but worth watching.
Written by: Orion from 'Orion's Ramblings'
Available on DVD from YESASIA