KOREAN MOVIES: Once Upon a Time in South Korea... National Security 1985 and 26 Years

South Korea’s presidential elections occur quinquennially (the count beginning with the year 1988) and this year, on December 19, the 18th president of the nation will be elected. It will be the 6th “direct” presidential election in Korean history in which the candidate receiving the highest number of votes will be elected president. As the presidential election draws near, in the midst of a presidential campaign that's intensifying, there are two controversial movies waiting to be released in the late November, less than a month before Election Day.  Coincidentally, both movies are based on the historical events that happened during the era of totalitarian military dictatorship. And ironically enough, the daughter of a former South Korean dictator Park Chunghee is now aiming to become the country's first female president.  She was the de facto first lady of South Korea for about 5 years (August 1974~October 1979) from the time her mother was assassinated until her father was assassinated. In short, maybe it’s like the daughter of Benito Mussolini or Muammar Gaddafi running for president?

Namyoungdong 1985 (National Security 1985)

The movie “Namyoungdong 1985” (aka National Security 1985) is set in the cruel totalitarian military regime of the dictator Chun Doohwan and is based on a true story about the late Kim Geuntae (February 1947~ December 2011) being tortured by South Korea's National Security for 22 consecutive days in September of 1985. About 90 percent of the movie is known to depict graphic scenes of torture administered by Lee Geunan, one of the most evil torture technicians in Korean history. Lee later said torture is a kind of art.

The late Kim Geuntae (1947~2011)

Kim Geuntae was South Korea's democracy activist turned politician. While being an Economics major at Seoul National University in the 60’s, he became interested in and involved with civil rights issues and democratic activism against Park Chung-hee’s atrocious totalitarian military regime. He had been repeatedly arrested and tortured, and had served in prison until 1992.  His exposure to such traumatic experiences since the 60's resulted in developing Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Parkinson's disease, which got worse over time. In 2010, he couldn't even walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding and in November 2011, he succumbed to brain blood thrombus and passed away on 30 December 2011 at age 64.  Democracy blossomed in South Korea thanks to his blood, sweat and tears and his untimely death was a great loss to its democracy. (Click to learn more about Kim Geuntae.) 

The lady in white who cries @0:09 is Kim Geuntae's widow, In Jaekeun 
who received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award with him in 1987.

FYI, South Korea's National Security was known more as Angibu (안기부, an acronym of Gukga Anjeon Gihoek Buseo (국가안전기획부())) or Namyoungdong (남영동) as it was located in Namyoungdong (currently, Galwoldong), Yongsan-gu, Seoul.  Together with Jungjeong (an acronym of Jung-ang Jeongbobu(중앙정보부, “Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA)”)), commonly known as Namsan (남산) as it was located in the Namsan Mountain, Namyoungdong was a place of dread as the torture agents there were infamous for their use of a wide variety of hideous torture methods and devices against civilians.  Accordingly, just hearing those two names, Namsan and Namyoungdong, people automatically became fear/horror-stricken.

The movie was premiered at the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) on October 6, 2012 and the director of BIFF said, “The movie is about how torture destroys human spirit as well as body” and director Jung Jiyoung added, "And about how it destroys both the tortured and the torturers." Jung also suggested the daughter of Park Chung-hee watch it after all the hoopla and all the controversy she got herself into by making comments supportive of her father's 1961 coup d'état and the People's Revolutionary Party Incident (1964~1975) in which eight innocent people were falsely accused and wrongfully executed, just 18 hours after they were sentenced to death. And as expected, her response was silence.

The movie “Namyoungdong 1985” is scheduled to be released on November 22, 2012.

26 Years

Our next movie "26 Years" is based on Kangfull's 2006 comics by the same title which is also based on the historical event that happened in 1980, that is, the Gwangju Democratization Movement (aka, Gwangju Massacre) against Chun Doohwan who was ruling South Korea as an unelected military strongman starting December 12, 1979, about 2 months after the death of Park Chung-hee. The estimated number of total civilian casualties ranges from 4,369 to 5,189.  More accurately speaking though, the genre of this movie is faction, a portmanteau of "fact" and "fiction" in which five individuals cooperate with one another in order to execute Chun (the man) 26 years after they had lost their loved ones in the event. (Note that Kangfull published this comic series on line in 2006.) 

Cuts from Kangfull's 2006 comic series "26 Years"

Making of this movie had come up against a great many unforeseen yet predictable difficulties as investors were spooked and pulled their funding from the movie presumably as a result of external coercion. It was originally set to star Kim Ahjoong (now replaced by Han Hyejin), Ryoo Seungbeom (now replaced by Jin Goo), Han Sangjin (now replaced by Bae Subin), Jin Goo (now replaced by Im Seulong), and Byeon Heebong for the man (now replaced by Jang Gwang) in 2008; it was titled 29 Years as it was expected to be released in 2009, 29 years after the event.

Cheong-eoram, the production of the movie decided to try crowd funding (named Jejak Dure Project) in March, 2012, nearly 4 years after the original production fell apart, and eventually started filming the movie on July 19, 2012, with a new director and new actors/actresses except Jin Goo who had waited all the while and ended up playing the leading role – he was originally a supporting actor in the movie. 

In an interview with Hangyeore News, Han Hyejin said, “I took the role of Shim Mijin right away ‘cause I am an actor and I really wanted to participate in this movie.  So I was/am bewildered by people who worried/worry about me. I think there's nothing to worry about ‘cause it’s really what happened in the past.” She said she had watched the documentary films and pictures related to the 1980 event to be enlightened before filming and became sure that the movie would be one of the most rewarding experiences in her career.

The role Han played in the movie is a shooting athlete-turned-sniper. Unlike other collaborators who want an apology from “the man,” she thinks he deserves nothing but execution. “I want people to wake up at the sound of Shim Mijin’s gun, just like I did. For there are so many people that are ignorant of the Gwangju Democratization Movement, just like I was. I hope the victims and their families know that they are not history, lost and forgotten. I hope they know that we know. And I hope this movie can help them heal their wounded hearts,” said Han.  When asked what she thought of “the man,” she answered, “Well…, don’t you think he’s pathetic and pitiful? The most pathetic and pitiful thing is people not aware of or not admitting their serious wrongdoings.”