[K-FILM REVIEWS] 그때 그사람들 (The President's Last Bang)

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그때 그사람들
(The President's Last Bang, KOREA 2005)
GeuDdae GeuSaramDeul (lit. Those People Back Then)

102 Minutes - Super 35mm 2.35:1 - Colour
Rating: 15 and over
Released in Korea on 2/3/2005
Total National Admissions (Approx.): 1,050,000
Produced and Distributed by MK Pictures

Theatrical Trailer (Streaming, Windows Media, 500k)
Special Trailer (Streaming, Windows Media, 500k)
Music Video (Streaming, Windows Media, 700k)
Official Website

Note: The review contains spoilers, major if you don't know anything about Park Jung-Hee

STAFF

Writer/Director 임상수 (Im Sang-Soo)
[바람난 가족(A Good Lawyer's Wife, 2003), 눈물 (Tears, 2000), 처녀들의 저녁식사 (Girls' Night Out, 1998)]
Director of Photography 김우형 (Kim Woo-Hyung)
Music 김홍집 (Kim Hong-Jib)
Editor 이은수 (Lee Eun-Soo)

CAST

한석규 (Han Suk-Gyu), 백윤식 (Baek Yoon-Shik), 송재호 (Song Jae-Ho), 김응수 (Kim Eung-Soo), 정원중 (Jung Won-Joong), 권병길 (Kwon Byung-Gil), 조상건 (Jo Sang-Geon), 조은지 (Jo Eun-Ji), 김윤아 (Kim Yoon-Ah)
CAMEOS: 윤여정 (Yoon Yeo-Jung), 홍록기 (Hong Rok-Ki), 봉태규 (Bong Tae-Gyu), 최동훈 (Choi Dong-Hoon), 임상수 (Im Sang-Soo)


FILM 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.

VIDEO, AUDIO & SUBTITLES

A satisfactory presentation, overall. The print is really clean, and skin tones look natural. There's a few problems with the finer details, some really minor compression artifacts and motion blur but no big deal. The frame giggling doesn't seem as bothersome as other Korean DVDs, and there's no sign of the usual pumping of the whites. Audio is crisp and clear, with really solid Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 tracks. Since the film is mostly dialogue based, there's nothing particularly worthy of mention in the surround department.
Subtitles are above average. Grammatically correct with no pacing and sync flaws. The translation is adequate, but lacks finesse: a lot of viewers will be a little lost when the black comedy leaves the physical and becomes dialogue-based, and a lot of good dialogue is roughly translated or simplified too much. Nothing to worry about for most people, though.

EXTRA FEATURES

Commentary with Im Sang-Soo, Baek Yoon-Shik, and Cine21's Lee Jong-Ho
A really interesting commentary, although a little surprising in terms of content. I thought they'd focus more on the history than the film itself, but thankfully that was not the case. It's always a pleasure listening to a Baek Yoon-Shik interview or commentary, and this was no different. The commentary remained relatively scene-specific for most of its course, with a brief digression or two to put more depth and focus on certain arguments. Amongst other things, they discussed:
-some of the content of the deleted scenes, and what kind of impact it had on the film.
-To contrast the machismo, male-oriented society and atmosphere back then, Im decided to use Yoon Yeo-Jung for the narration.
-Im didn't really feel too comfortable acting in that kind of role in the film, since it was a one scene/one shot with a lot of dialogue. He's sorry they had to suffer through his NGs
-when the guards talk about the national security law and some of its peculiar excuses, Im noted that more than putting an ideological spin to the whole scene, he just wanted to let people know what kind of situation people back then were facing.
- How Baek's acting impressed him even more than expected. Im felt like he was reciting a poem everytime he opened his mouth, slowly pausing after each word.
- The casting of Kim Yoon-Ah. At first Im just thought of a musical actor, but then he knew Kim was a great singer, so he picked her for that. Baek comments how good she was, and that compared to today's starlets she had an old school aura to her singing, creating great atmosphere. When she started singing, the reactions were just natural and not on the script. Baek commented that although Kim was a singer, she showed similar traits with experienced actors.
- About the characters speaking Japanese, Baek commented that even back in school, his teachers would talk Japanese when reunited in the teachers' room. It was nothing out of the ordinary, and not necessarily something stemming from ideological sentiments (more because of the colonization and its obvious consequences).
- The long tracking shots are what Baek remembers the most. Im said he shot several cuts separately and they were put back together via CG.
- Baek complimented (in his own way) Han for his performance. He particularly loved the sense of guilt on his face after killing a longtime friend.
- The three comment that it looks like a totally different movie after rewatching it and doing a commentary. Probably a re-evaluation from critics (who, of course, had mixed reactions) could have been a good idea, too.
- Talked about Im's using the Takaki Masao line, which didn't happen in reality. How that created polarized reactions, and the problems with the shooting stance of many of the actors.
- The casting of Hong Rok-Ki (a famous comedian and tv regular). Im just brought him in because he was an actor. But then again, he's very well known, although any other actor in a scene like that would have been funny. Of course he's very thankful to Hong for working with him.
- How acting in between some great pros was difficult for Im. Baek even asked him to repeat one scene.
- The fact that there's a lot of slapstick, but then again a lot of funny incident happened in real life concerning this case.

Commentary with Lighting Director Go Nak-Seon and Director of Photography Kim Woo-Hyung
For obvious reasons, this was more focused on technical issues, and much less interesting. I would have rather listened to another commentary with different cast members (Song Jae-Ho, Han Suk-Gyu), or maybe getting some historian in there and debating several scenes. What we get here is discussions about lenses, locations, aspect ratios, lighting, shooting angles and similar things. Can't say it was too exciting, but they did talk in detail about several aspects of the shooting.

DISC 2

1979 10 16, 그 영화의 시간 (That Film's Time) 1:27:27
Literally a tour de force, like you can only find in Myung Films DVDs (It's KD Media and MK Pictures, but it's the same people who made the Myung Films DVD, and all of Myung Film is now part of MK). What we have here is 90 Minutes of some of the best film footage ever released on Korean DVD. It's not just two hours of behind the scenes footage thrown out there, without reasoning. We get interviews with the directors and staff leading to making of footage. The Cinematography team explaining how they set up a shot, then more footage showing us how they ended up doing it. Or the sound team having to think about how to solve problems when a storm of students invades the soundscape of the actors and ruins a scene at the Independence Memorial. And it never gets boring, because it cuts from one team to the other, from one situation to dialogue between actors and director before a scene. Features like this should be shown to hardcore auteurists who think 90% of a film lives and dies inside the director's brain. You see how discussion between the cast and Im actually changes a scene so much that the dialogue originally in the script almost disappears. You see how location, weather...any problem really can change how films are shot. It's nothing you'll remember years from now, but it's special, because it gives importance to everything and everybody involved in the film, no matter how significant or not their contribution was.

그때 그사람들 (The People Back Then) 41:36
Again, top notch material here. Basically every single actor in the film gets a chance to speak his mind about the character they're playing, working with the other cast members and the director. It's divided in thematical sectors and opened by little bits of explanation as to why those choices were made.
TWO LEADS
The first segment is about the casting of Han Suk-Gyu and Baek Yoon-Shik, the two main pillars of the film. Baek just says he liked the script, respected the director and his ideas for this film, so it was easy choosing this role. Han was a little more elaborate in his answer; Im comments that Han actually improved the character with his continued rush of questions and ideas on how to make Chief Ju a better, more interesting character. Im was very open from the beginning and let him have a go with the role, and Han worked hard to satisfy him, giving a lot of input. Im also comments how surprised he was by Baek's acting. How someone could make what he wrote sound like a poem, assuming an almost heroic role for him. Baek really liked working with Im, as he was very open to discuss about the characters and how to approach the role.
Im also pointed out how Han and Baek, even though they're the two crucial characters, only were shot together a couple of times (each shot their scenes separately when it was possible). He was impressed by the two in the bathroom scene, when they added a lot of ad-lib and showed how much seasoned pro's like them can help a film.
VETERANS
Im opens saying that nowadays, Korean Cinema is seen mostly by people in their 20s and 30s, so it's only natural that most of the stories cater to that demographic sector, and it's harder to cast veteran actors. It was really hard to cast President Park: at first Im wanted an unknown actor, but then the idea of Song Jae-Ho came up. His soft image and charisma would have been perfect for Im's humanized Park Jung-Hee, so they went ahead with it. Actually both Baek and Song had nothing particularly bad to say about President Park, and even were a little turned off by some of the dialogue in the film. But Baek said as an artist, acting the role as well as he could was his only worry. Song remarked that this is a story about men and their relationship with each other, so he didn't worry too much about politics. Song also suggested to go his way in interpreting the role, since he didn't look at all like Park, so it was useless trying to replicate his mannerisms. Im also talks about Kim Eung-Soo, who acted in all his films even though in small roles. He was so sorry about that he offered him a bigger role in this film. Kim showed how a good relationship with cast and director can help an actor. He was a little nervous about the scene where Chief Kim asks Min if he trusted him: Im just said to not worry about the dialogue, just show loyalty and go with the flow. He really appreciated that.
This segment continues with Kwon Byung-Gil, Jung Jong-Joon, Jung Won-Joong all talking about their roles, and ends with the great Yoon Yeo-Jung. She says Im's cool and cynical outlook was really appealing and loved his hard work.
THE OTHERS
Basically covers all the other small roles, with Jung In-Gi, Kim Sang-Ho, Lee Jae-Goo, Kim Sung-Wook, and Kim Tae-Han. All offer a brief but very personal outlook on their experience.
TWO WOMEN
Im talked about how he wanted to show a kind of childish machismo-influenced mentality in the two girls, and how he thought Jo Eun-Ji fit the bill perfectly.
Jo didn't know much about this period of Korean history, so she had to do some research, ask her parents and the director about it. It was a difficult role. She felt a little awkward meeting Im again (after Tears), but he's very comfortable and fun to work with.
I really loved how this gave space to everybody. Even if some people got just a few minutes to talk about their experience, it makes people understand that filmmaking is not all about the people before the title, but also after. Really enjoyable.

시대와 공간 (Space and Time) 16:40
A really nice interview with the Art Director and Costume Designer, divided in two parts.
In the first half, Art Director Lee Min-Bok shows many design sketches for the sets, and talks about stylistic choices related to Park's personal taste.
Second part is with Costume Designer Choi Seon-Im, who talks about the kind of costumes they had to make. Originally, they tried to stay closer to the kind of fashion popular in the 70s and 80s, but Im hated the costumes, saying they were too old fashioned, so they had to rethink their strategy. Their second attempt was more focused on the personality and status of the single characters: President Park wore dark to show his higher status, Kim Jae-Gyu looked like a stylish middle aged man, while Chief Ju went for the cool youngster look. While the men mostly were wearing dark clothes, they used bright and colourful ones for the women. With some types of clothes needing 5 identical sets (to cover for blood scenes and other problems), they made a total of 1000 pieces of clothing, and had to spend twice what was initially budgeted.

솜어있는 사람들 4:05
Im talks about why people like Im Kwon-Taek always cast crew members in minor roles. He explains that it's neither easy nor cheap to cast talented actors for just a small number of scenes. So what they'd get is either people who would disrupt the harmony between cast & crew or not good enough for the job. That's why they use crew members, and let them act naturally, because they keep the right atmosphere at no additional cost. A number of crew members acting in the film is shown, amongst them Director Choi Dong-Hoon of 범죄의 재구성 (The Big Swindle).

2005/02/05, 관객들 (Viewers) 9:45
Basically a little featurette about audience reaction. At the beginning, a masked man protests about the film and gets criticism from other viewers.
Most people say that the film was fun, that they learned new things about Korean history, that things like this (the Park Ji-Man/Deleted Scenes affair) would never happen in the US, and that it showed a fresh approach to recent history. Smartest comment of the clip: "20 something will love it and have fun, a lot of people in their 30s will get angry."

항변 (Protest) 5:07
Small featurette about the deleted scenes. Director Im and Producer Shim Jae-Myung defend the scenes as an important part of the film. Especially Im says that the images in those 3 minutes were supposed to represent a mirror image of ourselves. Showing those people protesting Park, then crying at his funeral remind us of the society we live in today. He hopes to show the film in its entirety soon.

예고편 (Trailers)
극장용 예고편 (Theatrical Trailer) 2:02
I like everything about this trailer except the final line by Han Suk-Gyu which feels forced. But if every trailer was like this one, there'd be more big hits in Korean Cinema. Cool, great jazzy soundtrack, and tells you what you need to know about the film without giving too much away.
해외 프로모션 영상 (Overseas Promotion Video) 4:03
First, the good news: there's no "Deep Throat" shooting platitudes with a baritonal voice like "In a time of despair, one man...." No big spoilers, and it's subtitled.
Bad news: it's too linear, it makes the film look like something it's not (a somber political thriller), leaves out the really cool dialogue and uses normal lines instead, and is terribly apathetic in tone. It sure wouldn't make me want to watch the film If I was a casual Hollywood buyer and/or viewer.

TV SPOT
Really well made, although I'm not sure about the music cue towards the end. 0:30

뮤직 비디오 (Music Video)
Version 1: Jaurim's "Truth" (From Album no. 5 - All You Need Is Love) band in the center while foreigners eat like pigs in the background. Then they get shot by Baek Yoon-Shik. 3:28
Version 2: same song. Edited for TV, I think, since there's no blood. 3:28
Version 3: same song, no blood, no bullets shot. 3:28

스틸 갤러리 (Still Gallery) 2:59
Very nice still shots from the film, behind the scenes and more. If it wasn't for the symbol on top they'd be exactly like the stills you find in websites, which as you probably know is a rarity when it comes to Korean DVDs. Background music, the end credit song (Jaurim's 우리에게 내일은 없다 - There's No Tomorrow For Us - from their fifth and latest album, All You Need is Love).

만든 사람들 (Cast & Crew)

A very extensive profiles section for the cast & crew. Although for obvious reasons the data is not complete, it's nice to see they took the time to introduce the filmmakers and stars to the public.

OVERALL
Amazing film, good presentation, some of the best extra features ever seen on Korean DVD. The only reason you shouldn't buy this is if you're waiting to see the ENTIRE film. It's probably the first time I'd be excited to see several releases of the same film. A must buy.

DVD Specs

Audio: Korean Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0
English and Korean Subtitles
2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, NTSC, Dual Layer, Region 3
Released By KD Media on 6/21/2005

Related Links:
DVD
Jaurim 5th Album

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