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'Bang' Has Pop But Lacks Explanation

2005/02/03 | 358 views | Permalink | Source

By Joon Soh
Culture Editor

Whether intended or not, the new local film "The President's Last Bang" has certainly created a sensation in the past month. Based on the 1979 assassination of President Park Chung-hee, the news of the film's production was met with opposition from conservatives and from Park Ji-man, the president's son, taking legal action to prevent its release.

The film now finds itself at the heart of a debate on freedom of speech, with the cultural world banding together to voice their anger over the court's decision to disallow the use of documentary footage in the otherwise fictional film.

Given the political controversy that "Last Bang" has stirred up, it will be difficult to separate the movie from the politics. And the film doesn't make it any easier, mixing fiction and reality and constantly flipping back and forth between thriller and black comedy.

As the film's sardonic _ and unfortunately sexual _ English title shows, "Last Bang" doesn't quite take its subject seriously. There's a self-conscious theatricality to the film as it recreates a private party held at the president's secret quarters on Oct. 26, 1979, where Kim Jae-kyu, then chief of the Korea Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) shot and killed the president.

The party itself, held by the president (Song Jae-ho) and attended by five guests, including KCIA director Kim (Baek Yoon-sik) and the president's security chief Cha (Jung Won-joong), is presented as if taking place on a stage. The portrayal of the president is harmless, if somewhat disrespectful. He is a man who enjoys drinking and speaking in Japanese, and has a penchant for the companionship of young women, which on that day included a ditzy young woman (Cho Eun-ji) and a popular singer (Kim Yoon-ah).

But the film makes the president a relatively minor character, one of many involved on that day. "Last Bang" gives equal weight and attention to such characters as the KCIA agents who plot the assassination, the silent but ever-present butler, the cooks and the caretakers of the quarters.

At the heart of the film is Baik's portrayal of the KCIA director. Wearing an enigmatic smile throughout, it's hard to tell what the character is thinking, and whether he should be considered a hero or a villain. The same goes for his cohorts, who include the tough-talking KCIA chief Ju, played with the right amount of bitterness and humor by Han Suk-kyu.

In fact, it's difficult to tell what is the point of the story, as the film refuses to give a lot of historical context to the characters' actions. (And with the removal of documentary footages there's now even less explanation.)

Instead, Im Sang-soo, the film's director, curiously chooses to add a large element of farce, creating a certain distance from the reality of the event. And viewers familiar with Lim's previous work, which included last year's "A Good Lawyer's Wife", an interesting meditation on infidelity, will be surprised by the mean streak in "Last Bang" that's equal to "Old Boy" director Park Chan-wook's theater of cruelty.

With its twisted humor and grim tension, the film is engaging throughout, though the pleasure at times borders on voyeurism. But those looking to learn about what really happened at Park's last moments may want to look elsewhere.

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