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Korean director returns with graphic torture drama
Publication Date : 08-10-2012
After highly controversial courtroom drama Unbowed, Korean director Chung Ji-young has returned with another socially conscious, politically themed drama inspired by the true story of late politician and democracy activist Kim Geun-tae.
In spite of its serious subject matter, last year’s Unbowed was often comical and humorous. Yet Chung’s latest movie, unveiled to the press on Saturday during BIFF, is a graphic torture drama filled with violence and injustice. Almost anyone would find the film very hard to sit through. But director Chung wants as many viewers as possible to see the film, especially the current presidential candidates.
“Yes, I do want to invite the candidates,” the director said during a press conference on Saturday.
“I don’t know if they’ll accept my invitation, but I’d really like them to watch this movie. It deals with the history that we must overcome in order to move on to the future.”
The film, titled National Security (called Namyeong-dong 1985 in Korean), is based on late politician Kim’s arrest and torture at the infamous Namyeong-dong detention centre during Chun Doo-hwan’s military regime. The film successfully serves its obvious purpose ― to let its viewers witness the horrors experienced by pro-democracy activists in the ’80s.
Actor Park Won-sang, who starred as the fierce and folksy lawyer in Unbowed, plays Kim Jong-tae, a stand-in for the real-life Kim Geun-tae. The movie follows Kim’s days in the detention centre, as he gets accused of being a pro-North Korean communist and eventually endures all sorts of hard-to-watch torture.
“I gave the character his own name because it wasn’t just late Kim Geun-tae who went through what he went through at the time,” Chung told reporters. “In fact I interviewed a lot of people who were tortured during the time period while preparing for this film.”
In the beginning, Kim is ordered to write about his life in detail. He cannot sleep nor eat until he finishes. When Kim fiercely denies he is a communist, and stresses that his pro-democracy activism against the military regime has no links with North Korea, a “torture expert” named Lee Doo-han (Lee Kyeong-yeong) is called in. Lee’s character is based on real-life figure Lee Geun-an, who tortured late Kim as well as other prisoners at the detention center.
Lee first does waterboarding, to the degree that Kim vomits and eventually loses consciousness. He later administers electric shocks and forces him to swallow chili powder with water. Lee makes sure Kim does not get any external scars, and that he is not killed. Actor Lee Kyeong-yeong is impressive playing the sadistic villain, who would do anything ordered by his superiors.
Lee’s young followers are aware of the injustice, but choose to do nothing about it. Although they witness the violence Kim endures every day, they only care about their own lives. One of them is devastated because his girlfriend is breaking up with him, while the other man is anxious because he does not want to miss baseball on the radio.
“We chose the kind of chili powder that was not so spicy,” said actor Park, who jokingly thanked his parents for giving him such “healthy genes” that helped him pull off shooting the film.
Late Kim Geun-tae stayed active in Korea’s political scene after he was released from the center. He was one of the supporters of Roh Moo-hyun, who became president in 2002. Kim served as Health and Welfare Minister during Roh’s presidency from 2004 to 2005. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease, which may have been caused by his torture, as well as severe post-traumatic stress disorder. He died from complications of Parkinson’s in 2011 at age 64.
Veteran actors Moon Sung-keun and Myeong Gye-nam, who are well known as supporters of late President Roh Moo-hyun, also appear in the movie as cruel officers of the military regime. Moon, who served as the interim leader of Democratic United Party in 2011, also starred as the unjust judge in Unbowed.
Director Chung said he hasn’t found a distributor for the film. The film is scheduled to be released later this year.