그때 그사람들 (The President’s Last Bang)

An MK Pictures Production
Distribution: MK Pictures
Rating: 15 and Over
Genre: Black Comedy
Running Time: 104 Min
Shooting Time: N/A
Release: 2005/Feb/03

WITH 한석규 (Han Suk-Gyu) as Chief Ju; 백윤식 (Baek Yoon-Shik) as Kim Tae-Gyu; 송재호 (Song Jae-Ho) as The President; 김응수 (Kim Eung-Soo) as Secretary Min; 조상건 (Jo Sang-Geon) as Shim Sang-Hyo; 권병길 (Kwon Byung-Gil) as Chief Yang; 정원중 (Jung Won-Joong) as Chief Cha; 조은지 (Jo Eun-Ji) as Miss Jo; 김윤아 (Kim Yoon-Ah) as Guest (Shim Soo-Bong); 김상호 (Kim Sang-Ho) as Jang Won-Tae; 윤여정 (Yoon Yeo-Jung) as Yoon-Hee's Mother; 정우 (Jung Woo) as Han Jae-Guk;

CREW Director 임상수 (Im Sang-Soo) Executive Producer 신철 (Shin Cheol) 심재명 (Shim Jae-Myung) | Screenplay 임상수 (Im Sang-Soo) | Director of Photography 김우형 (Kim Woo-Hyung) Lighting 고낙선 (Go Nak-Seon) Editor 이은수 (Lee Eun-Soo) Music 김홍집 (Kim Hong-Jip) Art Director 이민복 (Lee Min-Bok) Action Choreography 김민수 (Kim Min-Soo) | Assistant Director 서정훈 (Seo Jung-Hoon) 박상현 (Park Sang-Hyun) 정상민 (Jung Sang-Min)

BOX OFFICE
KOFIC Nationwide
TOTAL REVENUE: 5,777,895,500 Won
TOTAL ADMISSIONS: 1,083,962
BUDGET: 5,500,000,000 Won

Photo © MK Pictures

SYNOPSIS

In the 1970s Korea, a strong military goverment is suppressing the people. However, the president is always too busy having parties for no apparent reason and many political parties are looking for a chance to take over. Members of the KCIA(Korean Central Intelligence Agency) are slowly getting fed up with taking care of the president's dalliances. They hatch a scheme to assassinate the president. After two bullets are fired, the country is about to take an unexpected turn. [KoBiz]

REVIEW

Shim Soo-Bong was just a debutante when Na Hoon-Ah, the king of trot, discovered her. She was still using her real name, touring festivals promoting herself. He thought she could make it, become one of the greats, like Patty Kim and Lee Mi-Ja. When Shim, at the height of her popularity, was called to entertain the President, she had a reputation for being a great enka singer. He asked for her specifically, because of his love for Japanese culture and music. But after that momentous night, Shim denied ever singing enka to the President. She said all she sang was that famous song, 그때 그사람 (That Person Back Then). Since then, that song has become synonymous with 10/26. October 26 1979, to be precise. That day, the whole nation stopped breathing for a moment. The 18 years of Park Jung-Hee's presidency came to an abrupt end at the hands of KCIA chief, Kim Jae-Gyu. The man who brought Korea from rags to riches, from a tragedy stricken third world country to a powerful nation with stunning economic growth and great prospects for the future, was killed on the spot on the name of democracy.

That song's name is the perfect title for Im Sang-Soo's 그때 그사람들 (The President's Last Bang. Yes, 들...plural, because instead of going the Hollywood way and presenting an everyday Mr. Justice fighting alone the corrupt system, this is a story about the people, back then. The average people who worked hard to make ends meet, those who suffered at the hands of the Park regime's policies, but also those who became rich thanks to that. The people whose job security and friendship came before politics. To those for whom history only began when it involved them directly, otherwise it was just stuff that aired on TV, or was written about in books and newspapers. In a sense, the English title sells the film short, either making it look like a sleazy comedy about the President's philandering ways, or a somber character study of the most controversial Korean figure of the last 50 years. Centering this film around the people, not giving the President the biggest role, is not only smart from a film structure perspective but also in historical terms. While Kim Jae-Gyu might have hoped his decision was the first step in a positive, new direction for Korea, the "people" thought otherwise. Because you can't change the system until the people are ready for it, until THEY are able to handle any change that comes their way. Those "people," the ones who push the bottons, weren't ready for democracy, weren't willing to compromise themselves for the good of the nation as much as Kim did. No matter what flag-waving, hot blooded xenophobic "patriots" will tell you, one person alone will never be able to change history.

And, certainly, in terms of character development it doesn't hurt to focus on the ensemble. In fact, focusing on the person behind the decoration, humanizing them, bringing them down to a level that everybody can relate to is Im's greatest achievement. So that Park Jung-Hee (Song Jae-Ho) is not the evil "bad guy" who was brought up in Manchukuo, grew up on Stalinist theories and gave them up when it was most convenient, avoiding death to join the Japanese Army. All he becomes is an old 할아버지 (literally Grandfather, but it's how Koreans address senior citizens), whose strong ideology was starting to collapse under the weight of old age, of the mounting burden it caused him. He was just like many other old men, enjoying some booze and the company of young women. Reminiscing about the past, listening to the same music that he grew up with. He was the most powerful man in the country, yet was lonely.

How about Chief Ju (Han Suk-Gyu), ultra slick, cool and calculating. Of quick hands and even quicker wits, the perfect agent. But beyond the bullshit, a family man, someone who had to work hard to put food on the table for his 4 children. Someone who had to endure pompous superiors kicking him around like a ragdoll, or dull youngsters whose muscles only worked from the neck down. A man who was forced to fight against a family friend, whose children knew each other, a man he went to college with. Look even at Kim Jae-Gyu (Baek Yoon-Shik), terribly confident of his ideals but insecure about the people around him. Willing to die for his cause, but letting himself get caught too easily, thanks to his flamboyant handling of the case. Best of all, look at Mr. Shim (Jo Sang-Geon), a man who probably saw many presidencies pass by, who always kept his mouth shut. The only man allowed to enter the President's quarters. The man everybody trusted ...but yet again, someone who had ideals, needs, wants, and the will to change things ... in his own way.

Such a focus on the ensemble would have never worked without a great cast. The amazing Baek Yoon-Shik, who with a single quirky stare can build his character so well you feel you've known him for decades; the man who made an alleged villain have more depth than the film's hero, and generate equal sympathy, in Jang Joon-Hwan's crazy masterpiece 지구를 지겨라! (Save The Green Planet). Is there a cooler actor in Korea? The way he conveys Kim Jae-Gyu's beliefs, aspirations, strengths and weaknesses is an open guide book to any actor in the industry. He gives an air of romantic humanism to the character, that no other actor in Korea could have ever made. Look at Han Suk-Gyu, the man who even played a playboy dentist (Dr. Bong), a British-Korean car designer (the wonderfully cheesy 1994 TV Drama 도전, Challenge) and a philandering husband (주홍글씨, The Scarlet Letter) has finally found his footing. He's the smart version of Song Kang-Ho's barber in 효자동 이발사 (The President's Barber). The everyday man who gets caught in things too big for him to handle. Look at Kim Yoon-Ah, singing like a goddess, acting like she's been doing it for 10 years. And Song Jae-Ho...the great Song Jae-Ho. From 영자의 전성시대 (Young-Ja's Heydays) to 살인의 추억 (Memories of Murder) to a million TV Dramas, perhaps the best senior actor in Korea right now. One of the greatest father figures (along with Shin Goo and Ju Hyeon) of Korean Cinema.

Of course you can take that all away from the film. You can forget about history, politics, bias, fiction or fact. You can decide to consider Im's film devoid of any allegory tied to today's political world; you can erase the actions of Park Ji-Man, the only son of President Park, who stole a page from his father's book and tried to shoot this film into oblivion before it could "confuse" people's minds into thinking Park Jung-Hee wasn't the second coming after all. You can forget about the deleted scenes, which slightly disrupt the pathos and power of the finale, but not enough to ruin the experience. You can do all that, and you'd be still left with one of the most accomplished Korean films of recent memory. The stupendous acting, spot on music, quirky rhythm and pacing, great camera work, brutal dark comedy, the attention to detail in art direction, costumes and props. It's all out there to be enjoyed, and you don't need a degree in Korean History to do that. That is Im Sang-Soo's greatest gift to film fans all over the world. To have made something so hard hitting, so self-critical of its troubled history, so rich in detail and so smart in humanizing important figures in Korean History, without necessarily taking sides, without preaching. Yet, to make something that, all that put aside, can be so funny, lyrical in its stylish romanticism, so beautiful to look at, and so well acted. For that, even if we won't get a chance to see it in its entirety for some time, I only have one thing to say: thank you.

Originally Published on Twitch - 2005/07/24

ACTING GRADES

89 백윤식 (Baek Yoon-Shik)
88 한석규 (Han Suk-Gyu)
84 김응수 (Kim Eung-Soo)
78 윤여정 (Yoon Yeo-Jung)
74 송재호 (Song Jae-Ho)
72 정원중 (Jung Won-Joong)
72 김상호 (Kim Sang-Ho)
70 조상건 (Jo Sang-Geon)
70 정우 (Jung Woo)
65 김윤아 (Kim Yoon-Ah)
65 권병길 (Kwon Byung-Gil)
64 조은지 (Jo Eun-Ji)

89

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