Investigator Park (played by Kim Yun-seok) is a state-sponsored Communist hunter. He doesn't play by the rules when it comes to dealing with pure evil. If Investigator Park needs to make the case, he will use whatever legal powers, violence, and intimidation necessary to force obstacles out of the way. At first glance Investigator Park may be mistaken as an agent of justice. But throughout "1987: When the Day Comes" we mostly see Investigator Park through the eyes of his victims- as a crazed psychopath who cannot be stopped and cannot be negotiated with. Which is a fitting metaphor for the South Korean dictatorship as a whole.
The protagonists, by contrast, are more of a relay team than they are a united group of people actually working together. They're a very diverse bunch, but this is more a hindrance than a stength. When it gets right down to it reporters, prosecutors, political leaders, religious men, and college students don't actually have a whole lot in common. So how do they all end up taking the mantle of democratic action?
That's a more complicated question than it sounds, because in South Korea circa 1987, none of these people were safe. They didn't have the luxury of sitting in fancy offices and agonizing over whether taking such and such action would violate standards of decorum. When Investigator Park and his team decide that you're a Communist sympathizer, that's it. Game over. When the dictatorship begins a war of terror, they don't stop until everyone shuts their mouth, one way or another.
Consequently, of all the protagonists Yeon-hee (played by Kim Tae-ri) is the most instructive, because she's the only one who has to be convinced into supporting the movement. Yeon-hee believes, entirely sensibly, that agitating for democracy is explicitly dangerous. That the only way to do what's best for your family in the near term is to keep your head down. A tortured dead person, after all, can't be of much help to anyone.
But remember what I wrote before about how Investigator Park can't be stopped or negotiated with? Yeah. That's the problem. Everyone in "1987: When the Day Comes" has hit the point where they realize that Investigator Park will never stop hunting them. In the absence of real Communists, the dictatorship will gladly imagine fake ones solely to rationalize its continuing senseless brutality. Yeon-hee realizes that even if she does nothing, Investigator Park will still come for her, because there won't be anyone else left.
The technical design of "1987: When the Day Comes" is just as fantastic as its narrative one. Director Jang Joon-hwan manages huge setpieces and constant stand-offs with incredible skill- especially when we get to the end credits and see the real-life events on which the characters and the story were modeled. The editing too is top-notch. An initially overhwelming number of protagonists become progressively easier to follow as Investigator Park slowly cuts them off from each other. All in all I feel comfortable calling "1987: When the Day Comes" a straight-up masterwork.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "1987: When the Day Comes""
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