As the people on the street chant Death to the Dictator, one man steps in.
It is the 26th of October 1979. The President of South Korea has arrived at his safehouse, where Korean Central Intelligence Agency director Kim Gyu-pyeong waits. Director Kim talks with two subordinates. They are overthrowing the government and killing President Park tonight. The three go their separate ways. Kim himself goes to see the President…
A gunshot serves as a record scratch. You’re probably wondering how they all ended up in this situation.
On the 16th of May 1961, an army began a military coup, which established the Third Republic as well as South Korea’s first intelligence agency: the KCIA. The KCIA was basically the wing of the dictatorship, and the director was the right-hand man of President Park: the titular Man Standing Next.
It is 40 days before the 26th of October. An investigation has found that the KCIA has been silencing anti-Park statements in America by bribing members of Congress every year since 1970. This scandal has been called Koreagate.
Wait…hold on…it was called Koreagate? Really? Oh, it was called Koreagate. I guess that every scandal in America got a -gate suffix back then. And while he may not have coined Koreagate, it is said that former Nixon speechwriter had popularized it in his attempt to drown the notoriety of Watergate in an ocean of scandals attached to the Carter Administration and Democrats in general. To be fair, Koreagate was indeed bad and illegal. But this shows that right-wing projection is not a recent phenomenon. Gosh it sounds goofy, though perhaps not as goofy as Bananagate, which included a suicide. Well, now we have Balloongate, so whatever. ANYWAYS…
Today, former director of the KCIA Park Yong-gak, is testifying before the Subcommittee on International Organizations of International Relations. That’s a mouthful. Anyways, Park Yong-gak claims that he is here on behalf of his beloved country, where human rights are violated and justice is nowhere to be found. He admits that he was complicit in the erosion of democracy, but he hopes that his confession will help to topple the man most responsible: President Park.
Speaking of President Park, Kim Gyu-pyeong goes to see him, and states that his men had tried to prevent Yong-gak from testifying. As he is getting a shave, President Park does not immediately respond. Kim does get pushback from Gwak Sang-cheon, Chief of Presidential Security. Not even a North Korean leader would say what Yong-gak did. President Park does ask about a memoir. Kim tells him that Yong-gak has been spilling his story to the media and the FBI as he believes that getting attention is his only way of staying alive. So, what must be done about a traitor, President Park asks rhetorically. Kill him, says Gwak. Kim says that he will go to America and take care of it quietly. President Park dismisses Gwak and speaks to Kim privately in his office. Kim says that he will bring back the memoir no matter what. President Park is quiet for a moment and then asks if Kim wants him to step down as well. After all, it has been 18 years. Kim is silent for several seconds, but then proclaims that he will stay be President Park’s side.
It is the 18th of September. Director Kim arrives in DC. KCIA Agent Ham Dae-yong drives him to where Park Yong-gak is staying. I am not sure how Kim gets inside, but he does, and finds himself with a gun pointed at his head. Yong-gak takes a while to lower the gun, but eventually does…and eventually puts on a shirt. He asks Kim if he knows what being the KCIA director even entails. He also says that Kim will have his plates full competing with that idiot Gwak. Not responding to any of that, Kim merely tells Yong-gak to come home with him. Yong-gak says that he was serious about seeking asylum, and warns that Kim will suffer the same fate as him. Kim asks about the book, and offers to pay for the manuscript. Yong-gak refuses, so Kim orders him to hand over the book and beg President Park for forgiveness. Yong-gak knows that he is dead if he hands it over, but Kim tells him that he is dead if he doesn’t. He has until Kim flies back tomorrow to decide. And Kim walks out.
Kim meets with Deborah Shim, a lobbyist who had brokered the meetings between Park Yong-gak and the various members of Congress. Shim insists that she is the victim here. She came from a poor country to a place where the people couldn’t differentiate North Korea from South Korea. She had endured the racism for years in order to serve her country. And now her country has shunned her while the FBI threatens to imprison her if she doesn’t cooperate. Kim is unsympathetic. But he does offer her quite a bit of cash if she reports on Yong-gak’s actions to his DC agent. He then mentions her family back home, which she interprets as a threat. And then he walks off, leaving the cash without waiting to hear her answer.
Kim meets with Park Yong-gak at the Washington Mall. Yong-gak asks Kim why he wanted the revolution, referring to the 1961 coup. Kim asks him back. Yong-gak says that he wanted it only because Kim did. Kim seems genuinely puzzled. Wasn’t it Yong-gak who did? And now Yong-gak is confused. That’s some ideological fervor right there. Kim asks Yong-gak if he had brought the manuscript. Yong-gak gives him the bag with a bunch of pages inside. Kim tells him to wait for all of this to blow over and then he can return home quietly. Yong-gak tells him that he is giving Kim the papers, so that even if he does die, it will not be by Kim’s hand.
Park Yong-gak tells Kim that President Park has a personal intelligence agency beyond the KCIA, headed by someone whom the CIA has called Iago. Yes, like in Othello. Kim demands evidence. Yong-gak says only that the CIA has been looking into President Park’s money trail and has found that he has been funneling money into Swiss bank accounts and slush funds behind the KCIA’s back. Yong-gak thinks that it is possible that this secret agency has been around since the revolution. He doesn’t know who Iago is, but is certain that it is someone from the President’s inner circle. He then tells Kim that he believes that the Americans will support President Park for no more than a year, and then it will all be over. Kim says that the President has been making preparations to slowly step down and that he will be helping him. Yong-gak does not believe that. They then look at the huge statue of Lincoln. Yong-gak says that Lincoln here is like God in a temple, but he still got shot and died. He then asks Kim why they risked their lives for the revolution. Kim doesn’t answer, so Yong-gak walks away.
On the evening of the 20th, Kim goes to the Presidential safehouse and gives Park Yong-gak’s memoir, Traitor of the Revolution, to President Park. Park reads a bit from…Park’s memoir, about how he was a great wartime leader, but remains on the battlefield long after the war is over, as evidence of defeat. President Park calls Yong-gak one of the many beasts trying to tear him apart, and says that he has to leave them something. President Park asks Kim if Yong-gak wants him dead. Kim says no; that Yong-gak has come around and regrets deeply. For Kim’s own sake, he asks for President Park to forgive Yong-gak. President Park seems…reluctant to do that. Then Kim asks about Iago. President Park feigns ignorance and glares at Kim into silence. With that out of the way, the President makes a rice wine cocktail. He pours some for Kim and then…for himself. Huh. I thought that Kim would do that for him. Okay, totally not a metaphor for something. The President then goes on to reminisce about their military days. They were great. Kim sheepishly agrees.
It is the 21st of September in the President’s Blue House. Kim arrives to see Gwak’s people tearing up the entire place looking for secret listening devices. Gwak walks up to Kim and asks how the KCIA could not know that the CIA had bugged the President’s office. Kim tells Gwak to have all of these people leave and bring in KCIA members, but Gwak counters that he could never trust someone so incompetent. Kim tries to warn Gwak that President Park is about to arrive, but he is already here.
Naturally, President Park is furious at the notion of the Americans bugging his desk. Kim meekly promises to look into it. Gwak says that they should send an envoy and let the UN know. President Park demands that they bring the ambassador here and have him kneel before the South Korean flag.
Kim goes to see US Ambassador Robert Adler to complain. And…erm…I was pretty sure that Lee Byung-hun spoke English more comfortably than this, but perhaps it is for the character. Adler insists that he had no idea. Kim says that the President will condemn this and inform the UN. Adler then brings up the Swiss bank accounts. Well, Kim’s demeanor turns quite suddenly. Kim tells Adler that the situation in South Korea is unique; the human rights situation is improving. The country is like a trouble-making teenager; it is willing to change, but will fall off the track if pushed too hard. Adler is unmoved. Park has been in President for 18 years, the amount of time for a boy to become a man. Kim insists that things will change. He will make sure of it.
KCIA Assistant Secretary Kang Chang-su is accompanying Kim on the drive back from the less-than-successful meeting. He tells Kim that he had looked into those people whom Gwak had brought in for the bugs. For some reason, there was a professor. He was educated in America and had been training the wiretap team. Kim simply tells him to find out more about the professor. It is about that time when they see…a tank. It appears that Gwak has deemed a tank necessary to protect President Park. Kim is furious; this is terrible optics. When the car reaches the tank, Kim gets out and yells at the tank, as if Gwak is inside.
Chief Secretary Kim Gye-hoon agrees with…Kim that having the tanks guard the President is moronic. Talking with him the next day, Gye-hoon says that seniors in the area had heart attacks, fearing that the tanks signaled a Communist invasion. Others also seemed to have reservations. Gye-hoon tells Kim that Gwak had kicked assemblymen in the knees at National Assembly. He asks Director Kim to do something, though he says that there is a rumor that President Park cares only for Gwak. Kim says only that he has to look after the idiot. Wait…which one is the idiot here?
Well, whichever one Gwak is, he has officially gotten walking spoiler alert General Chun Du-hyeok appointed to Security Commander. After congratulating the General, Gwak asks if he is on bad terms with Director Kim, since Kim had objected heavily to Gwak’s recommendation of Chun to Security Commander. Chun cannot give an answer because Kim has made a surprise visit. Though Gwak had hoped to avoid talking with Kim, he dismisses Chun to speak with Kim alone, acting like he had wanted to talk with him anyways.
Kim brings up Gwak’s behavior at the National Assembly. In a totally nonthreatening manner, Gwak starts cleaning his revolver as he says that he had heard that members of the opposition party had gone on hunger strike. So, Gwak went to feed them, something that he says the KCIA should have done. Kim says that the KCIA doesn’t do that anymore. Then what do they do? More words are exchanged and Gwak eventually points his pistol at Kim, then taps him on his chest. Eventually, Kim pulls out his own gun and presses it against Gwak’s face. When Gwak laughs, Kim smacks him with the gun. A group of Gwak’s men run into the office and pull the two away from each other. Gwak demands that Kim be court martialed for mutiny and shot for pulling a gun on him in his own office. Nevermind that Gwak had pointed his gun at Kim first.
It is the 22nd of September in Myeong-dong, Seoul. A man goes into a…rather unglamorous-looking office full of audio recordings. He listens to one recording, which sounds suspiciously like Director Kim telling someone to keep tabs on a New York Times reporter in case he interviews a Governor Kim. Hmmm…The man turns this big reel into miniature audio cassettes and puts them in a safe.
That night, another man takes the tapes from the safe and goes to meet with yet another man, who takes the tapes in exchange for Park Yong-gak’s manuscript. Uh oh.
Gwak and Kim meet with President Park the next day. It is Gwak who informs President Park that Governor Kim had met with the New York Times reporter to demand that the USA put pressure South Korea. President Park asks what should be done. Gwak says that they should expel the governor at once for this clear act of hostility. Director Kim counters that the USA would not take it well if the President would respond that way over an interview. Gwak asks if he works for the KCIA or the CIA. Director Kim then adds that the public will react negatively to the expulsion. It is then that new Security Commander comes in to inform President Park of…something.
Chun shows the President a magazine, which the President uses to smack Director Kim in the face. President Park then leaves the room with Chun and Gwak. Kim looks at the magazine. Ruh Roh. Yong-gak’s memoir has been made public and now the South Korean public knows about it.
Park Yong-gak is venting to Deborah Shim. This publication is going to get him killed. Shim tells him that he should have buried or burned the memoir. He insists that he got rid of it; only the FBI and the KCIA have copies. Did Director Kim screw him over? Shim asks why Kim would risk exposing President Park’s secrets? Yong-gak says that there are no secrets in the memoir; everyone knows that he is the bad guy, that the President is the bad guy, that everyone is bad. That is no secret. He has accepted death as long as he doesn’t go down alone. He just wants to return home, but he cannot as long as those others are in charge.
Yong-gak calms down a bit. What if…what if the President gets pushed out…who would replace him? Who would have good relations with America? They won’t trust a soldier, but they do know Kim Gyu-pyeong. Shim agrees that Kim would at least be a better choice than Gwak…but what is Yong-gak thinking? Yong-gak asks Shim if she thinks that it is a bad idea, but she deliberately says nothing. Yong-gak then says that Kim would not last long unless he wakes up. The President will not let his number two man live.
Flashback to when Park Yong-gak was the Director of the KCIA. There is a pesky councilor named…Kim…who has opposed the Third Constitutional Amendment, and is getting the backing of other councilors. Sidenote: I tried looking up what this amendment was, but got lost in the weeds, so I have no idea what it is or was. Anyways, President Park asks what Director Park recommends. Director Park responds that he will only follow the President’s order. President Park gives no order, saying only that Director Park has his full support to do as he pleases.
So, Director Park personally tortures Councilor Kim.
President Park congratulates Director Park’s contribution for getting the Third Amendment passed…and then suggests that he take a break. The torture of a Councilor looks bad in the media and both political parties are unhappy. He says that Director Park should have gone easy on Councilor Kim. Now Director Park has made the President look like the bad guy. This seems like somewhat less than full support and more like throwing Director Park under the bus. Then President Park asks if Director Park has been buying up land. Initially confused, Director Park gets on his knees and insists that he has never had money issues, nor was he blinded by selfish interests. The President rejects his denials and leaves the room. The most optimistic interpretation of this exchange is that Park Yong-gak has been fired. And Yong-gak is probably not that optimistic.
It is the 26th of September. Director Kim arrives at KCIA headquarters in Namsan and meets with Assistant Secretary Kang. Kang tells him that the professor had wiretapped Director Park when he was in Washington. And he is downstairs.
Of course, Professor Lim is the guy who was working with all of those audio reels in the unimpressive office. And downstairs is where the interrogation rooms are where people get tortured. Director Kim goes to intimidate the guy. Lim says that he is just a freelancer. Kim asks him about Director Park. Lim says that he met a KCIA agent in Washington. He was posing as an exporter and went by the name James Ryu. And this Ryu hired Lim to wiretap his own boss? Yes. And when Lim returned to South Korea, the Security Division hired him to wiretap Director Kim.
That night, Kang tells Kim that James Ryu is actually Yoo Dong-hoon, and is at the Paris Embassy. He had been an aide to Gwak when he was in the airborne and Gwak was the one who recommended him to KCIA. Kim tells Kang to send Agent Ham to Paris.
It is the 29th of September in Paris. Agent Ham is trailing Yoo as he walks around the city with Ambassador Yoon Tae-ho.
I am guessing that this is supposed to the 30th given how time zones work. In any case, Gwak meets with the President to talk about Yong-gak’s cozying up to the Americans. Gwak asks if they should kill him.
Director Kim encounters the President walking through the hall with Gwak, Chun, and Chief Secretary Kim. He tries to talk to the President, but President Park walks right by him, acting like he doesn’t exist. Gwak does turn back to call Director Kim an idiot.
It is the 1st of October at the South Korean Embassy in Paris. During the day Yoo makes a phonecall in his office. At night, Ham goes in to collect the listening device. He listens to the recording of Yoo talking to someone (Gwak?) about Ambassador Yoon having invited Park Yong-gak to Paris. The someone tells Yoo to tell Yoon to carry out the plan. What plan?
It is the 2nd of October and there is a Welcome Party for the Speaker of the House. Ambassador Adler warmly greets a big shot Mr. Johnson, who has arrived with…Deborah Shim? That seems a bit awkward. I had figured that she was a political pariah. But I guess that she had made herself useful to the Americans that they let her enter American territory in South Korea. Gwak is there and he also gives this Mr. Johnson a warm greeting. If Gwak recognizes Shim, then he doesn’t react. Everyone is playing nice.
Sometime later, Shim approaches Kim, who seems to have been by himself the entire time up until then. She claims that the US embassy is on the best site in Korea according to some feng shui friend in Hong Kong, while the Blue House is on the most ominous site. Perhaps dragging the owner out of the house would be for his own good. When Kim doesn’t respond, Shim gets less subtle, saying that Park Yong-gak cannot wait any longer. Finally Kim speaks, asking what that means. It means that it is time for a new owner. Kim asks if Shim is nuts. She says that it is only a matter of time and everyone in this room has thought about it. The real question is who will take it. Kim calls it a dream. Shim says that it is a dream to Yong-gak, but not to Kim.
Even later later, Kim goes upstairs to some dark secluded internal balcony to observe the people down below. Shim seems to know that he is there, but no one else seems to notice or care. He watches them all. What is he thinking? What will he decide? What will he do? With 24 nights left before the Inevitable, anything is possible.
A little bit of context beyond what the movie provides in the beginning. President Park’s government was actually the Third Republic of Korea. The First Republic was established in August of 1948 after the American military forces transferred rule over to Koreans. Syngman Rhee, a prominent politician from the government in exile during the time of Japan’s occupation of Korea, was elected the first president. In June of 1950, North Korean forces invaded the South, starting the Korean War, which would last until July of 1953, though I am pretty sure it never truly ended. Perhaps due to that or taking advantage of it, Rhee held an iron grip on his authority and labeling critics as communist enemies. When he gained control of Parliament in 1954, he passed through an amendment exempting himself from the eight-year term limit. He could have theoretically been voted out in 1956 had the main opposition candidate not gotten ill and died. Murder? I don’t know, but he did have the runner up charged with espionage and executed in 1959. The people had enough by 1960. Rhee won again in March, but protests broke out. After repression of one protest led to the death of a student, protests broke out all over. By the end of April, Rhee had to resign.
The Second Republic was too unstable and could not control the chaos within the country and within the political system. It lasted just over a year before Park Chung-hee launched his coup in May of 1961 and established a provisional military government. In December of 1963, Park was elected president and established the Third Republic. He proved to be an authoritarian no better than Rhee. His authority was founded on anti-communism, and the seeming lessening of aggression against communism on the part of the Nixon Administration during the 1960s and early 1970s made him desperate. The October Restoration of 1972 was a sort of self-coup, where Park dissolved the National Assembly and declared martial law, similar what Ferdinand Marcos did in the Philippines just a couple weeks earlier. So…yeah, he was serious business.
This movie depicts a very very sensitive moment in modern South Korean history. Its decision to fill in only some gaps and alter parts of known history may be pretty standard for movies based on historical moments, but it may make for some odd viewing. For certain, the notoriety of this event means that most South Koreans know the bare bones of what happened, if not more details. I guess that this movie is for them. And the movie did okay, making just under $35 million on an $18 million budget. Nothing to scoff at. That said, history buffs who know more than the normal viewer has to accept that certain aspects are fictionalized and dramatized, as is stated at the start. On the other side, while the movie does take the viewer on a tangible emotional journey, it rarely holds the viewer’s hand in terms of the story, so anyone who has no idea about the events going in may get lost fairly quickly. I admit that I had a little trouble following the story upon first watch. It could be because the fictionalization leads to plot holes or just ambiguous events that I cannot look up because they did not actually happen.
Like with the other South Korean movies based on recent history, lot of the names are changed to dodge libel laws. Some are barely changed while others are changed a lot. Kim Gyu-pyeong is based on Kim Jae-gyu. Park Yong-gak is based on Kim Hyong-uk. Gwak Sang-cheon is based on Cha Ji-cheol. President Park is based on Park Chung-hee. Chun Du-hyeok is based on Chun Doo-hwan. Kang Chang-su is based on Park Heung-joo. Kim Gye-hoon is based on Kim Gye-won. Robert Adler is based on Richard L. Sneider and/or William H. Gleysteen Jr. Deborah Shim is…probably based on Park Tongsun, though Wikipedia doesn’t say that.
The movie overtly states at the beginning that, while it is based on a non-fiction book about the real events, it took liberties in parts. And…yeah. Aside from the name changes and turning Park Tongsun into Deborah Shim, there were other deliberate choices. Director Woo Min-ho admits that the 40 days framing device was pure nonsense for the sake of narrative momentum. Similar to The Death of Stalin compressing the timeline. While Park Yong-gak testified to the International Committee on Blahblahblah in September of 1979, Kim Hyong-uk testified in June of 1977 against Park Tongsun. Additionally, he had accepted money to not publish his memoir, but reneged and published them in Japan in April of 1979, quite different from the somewhat confusing exchange for audio tapes between mystery men that took place in the movie. Kim Hyong-uk was actually fired as KCIA director in 1969 for refusing to support President Park for a third term, which was in violation of the Constitution of the Third Republic, which limited the President to two terms of four-years each. replaced by Kim Gye-won who, as said above, was briefly in the movie under a different name. And then there were two other directors before Kim Jae-gyu was appointed in 1976. The movie seems to depict Director Kim and former Director Park as former friends for dramatic purposes, when there does not seem to be evidence that their real-life counterparts were that close.
At the same time, the movie seems to present the characters as both human and unknowable. Not necessarily mysterious, but holding missing pieces. Why did they engage in a military coup in 1961. Perhaps the real people had their reasons, but the characters in this movie don’t seem to remember. What would make them stick with that revolution? What would make them commit such acts of violence against their own people? The movie asks that question, but provides no answers. It fills in some gaps in what is truly known with dramatic speculation in order to make a coherent narrative, but not always.
Why would a loyal soldier like Director Kim want to kill President Park? The movie actually provides several possible answers. Some are personal and petty, but others are more principled and reasonable. The movie lets the viewer decide, while implying that perhaps Kim himself did not really know. There are scenes where a person has to make a decision, but it cuts to the decision being carried out, skipping over the final steps to getting to that decision. In one key scene, the movie does not cut the time, but just switches to an angle where the viewer cannot see or hear the characters. It can be frustrating, but it is deliberately so.
We cannot know what is truly in someone else’s heart, especially not in the hearts of those responsible for the torture and murder of both masses and individuals. In this movie, we can work with only the portrayals of the characters. The movie seems to acknowledge this. Still, it does make a few decisions. Director Kim can call to mind Lee Byung-hun’s character in A Bittersweet Life from fifteen years earlier, a top man politically close to the leader, who carries out all orders until he cannot. Of course, there are differences. Director Kim does seem to understand political optics, which is often why he gently pushes back against the more extreme actions proposed by Gwak. He remains loyal to the President, but he insists to others that the President is changing or at least will change for the better. He also gets angry a lot, mostly at Gwak. Yet, we often see him as plagued by a troubled conscience and indecisiveness, not exactly effective traits for a spy chief.
Actually, I am not sure that Park Yong-gak comes across as an effective leader of an espionage ring. He seems to be a little bumbling and easily misled. Perhaps that is why the KCIA had gone through so many directors. The times when both Yong-gak and Kim come across as truly threatening is when they are confronting someone in an KCIA interrogation room. And more is implied than shown. The movie says outright that their hands are dirtied and bloody, but it kind of sidesteps just how bad these two men are in order to present two big baddies in the form of President Park and his main bodyguard Gwak.
Gwak likes to squawk. He talks big and loud. He shows little regard for the secretive nature of the KCIA. He has no patience for Yong-gak’s guilt or Director Kim’s focus on optics and pragmatic concerns. His duty is to the President and the President alone. He indulges in the President’s most authoritarian tendencies, proposing big moves of intimidation, dominance, and violence. All he knows is force and displays of force, although his inserting his own spy into the KCIA suggests that he is not above underhanded tactics. Is he Iago? Who knows?
Then there is President Park himself. I am not sure how accurate the movie’s depiction of him is, but President Park seems like…well, a small man. Not just in stature, but in personality. The few times that he displays unrestrained rage, he seems like a child throwing a tantrum. More often, though, he is restrained and cold. His power over people comes not really from anything other than him being in power, like a king. But Park is not a king. He was elected first president in 1963 and, theoretically, he could be voted out of office every four…uh…six years? Yeah, theoretically. I have written above only a brief summary of his iron grip. By 1979, however, he was on the precipice. The people wanted him gone. So, he could either step down…or absolutely crush his own people like the Khmer Rouge did. Great examples; Marcos and the Khmer Rouge.
As Park loves to wield his power over the populace and the opposition with merciless iron, he prefers to play quiet mind games with those around him. He occasionally talks about giving into the protesters and stepping down. Is he being sincere? Of course not; it is a loyalty test. He does that dictator thing of letting the leaders of various departments squabble amongst each other and showing preference to whoever seems to display the most loyalty. One method of doing that is pretending to give his subordinates a long leash. Sometimes he asks them what they would suggest in approaching an issue. He says that he will fully support whatever actions that they take to serve him, but that only implies that they are not to disappoint him by holding back. The truth is whatever Park says in any given moment, and his subordinates have to predict how that might change down the line if they want to stay on his good side. They are left squirming in the ambiguity that Park deliberately created and maintains. For Park, the job gets done and his own hands are clean; and if there is fallout to what his subordinate did, he can act like the subordinate is trying to take advantage of him by throwing that “full support” statement back at him. What a sneak.
And then there is Chun, the walking spoiler alert, standing on the sidelines, quietly in the back, waiting for the opportunity. Is he Iago? Who knows.
Also, it amuses me a little that America is kind of portrayed…somewhat positively? Or at least neutrally. Despite the whole thing being kicked off by American politicians taking bribes, every member of the American government depicted in the movie seem like righteous knights in the pursuit of justice, in stark contrast to pretty much ever South Korean politician. For sure, there are flawed American politicians, but we do not see them in that light, just like the only righteous South Korean politician is seen getting kicked and kicked into submission. Even the wiretapping of President Park could be seen as justified as he is a goddamn psychopath. Still, while relations between the two governments were very frosty at this time, history has shown what the American government allowed and supported around this time, even in South Korea specifically and…well…anyways…
I cannot really talk about this movie without talking about the other movie that also approached the topic. Released in 2005, The President’s Last Bang dramatizes a much smaller period of time before the assassination and the immediate aftermath. While The Man Standing Next is a thriller drama, The President’s Last Bang is an absurdist satire. The President Park in that movie is a degenerate prick who loves sex and Japanese music while the KCIA director is an impotent oaf who is smarting over getting excluded from a helicopter ride. The movie was highly controversial and irreverent…and I didn’t enjoy it very much. It wasn’t exactly The Death of Stalin. I don’t know. Maybe I just have more safe tastes, but I prefer The Man Standing Next so much more. The same could be said about the Korean audiences. The President’s Last Bang seemed to be reviled when it came out. But The Man Standing Next came out less than two years after Park’s daughter, Park Geun-hye ended her own very controversial presidential term after being impeached. And with several other movies dramatizing other events of those times, this event was ready to get a more proper cinematic treatment.
Uh…yeah. This movie is very good. It may be a little hard to follow if you don’t have context, but…well, I gave you some context. So…yeah.
WTF ASIA 254: Buffoon (India: 2022, approx. 117 minutes)
WTF ASIA 255: First Love (Japan: 2021, approx. 119 minutes)