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With election looming, political movies flourish : Upcoming releases reflect scandals that have rocked nation

Mar 17,2017
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Timed perfectly with the upcoming presidential election set for May, a number of films that revolve around sociopolitical themes like “A Taxi Driver,” left, which depicts the democratic uprising involving students in Gwangju in 1980, and “The Mayor,” about an ambitious Seoul Mayor, are slated to hit theaters in the upcoming months. [SHOWBOX]
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[JOONGANG ILBO]
Films often highlight the ugly truth behind major social and political events that are often not too far off from reality.

And ever since ousted president Park Geun-hye’s corruption scandal erupted in late October, movies that bear a resemblance to reality like last year’s “Pandora” - about chaos caused by the government’s lack of preventive measures and the president’s incompetence after a nuclear disaster - and this year’s “The King” - about corrupt prosecutors that director Han Jae-rim made “to portray the absurdities of Korean society with satire and farce” - drew large audiences to theaters.

The list of films dealing with sociopolitical issues will continue to grow this year, starting with the upcoming “Ordinary Person.” Scheduled for release next week, the film revolves around a man (Son Hyun-joo), whose life gets turned upside down after he becomes mired in an illegal scheme led by a National Intelligence Service agent. Set in 1987, the film depicts the authorities’ abuse of power and people’s sacrifice during the tumultuous time in the country’s history.

Next up will be “The Mayor.” Directed by Park In-je (“Moby Dick”), it revolves around an ambitious Seoul mayor (Choi Min-sik), who is running for his third term in the city’s highest position. Along the way, he commits crimes and fabricates stories to tell the media without any hesitation, revealing the veiled, dirty side of elections.

The main protagonist Choi said, “I tried to portray a politician’s craving for authority and his meticulous plans to obtain it through his ability to change himself in different situations like a chameleon.” Slated for release in April, the film has become especially relevant ahead of the presidential election set for May 9.

The citizens’ passion to remedy injustice, seen by the weekly candlelight vigils that thousands of people attended to demand Park’s resignation, is also seen in “A Taxi Driver.” Directed by Jang Hun of the award-winning “The Front Line” (2011). His new film touches on the democratic uprising involving students in Gwangju that took place in May 1980, during which citizens took up arms and formed civilian militias to protest the authoritarian rule of military leader Chun Doo-hwan.

The film depicts the journey of a German journalist, who heads to Gwangju to report on the shocking news that was suppressed from being covered by Korean media. The movie unfolds from the perspectives of two outsiders: the foreign journalist (Thomas Kretschmann), and his taxi driver (Song Kang-ho) who had no idea what was happening in Gwangju.

Another movie that depicts people’s efforts to rectify injustice is “1987.” The story revolves around the case involving student activist Park Jong-chul who was tortured to death during a police interrogation in 1987. Director Chang Joon-hwan (”Hwayi: A Monster Boy”) will be behind the camera, in which actors Kim Yun-seok, Ha Jung-woo and Gang Dong-won will appear.

Though filming has yet to start, the movie is planned be released later this year.

The recent meddling in state affairs by someone unqualified serves as an inspiration for another film in pre-production. Tentatively titled “Gate,” the script was inspired by the Choi Soon-sil scandal that eventually got Park impeached.

The movie will follow a prosecutor who loses his memory after a car accident, and will feature Shin Dong-yeop (“Untouchable Lawmen”) behind the camera.

It is not a coincidence to see the increase in films inspired by real-life political events hitting theaters ahead of the presidential election, according to film critic Kang Yoo-jung, who also teaches at Kangnam University.

“These films based on sociopolitical events are more commonly seen in cinemas in presidential election years because they tap into people’s desire for a change [to make the world a better place.]”

However, Kang says there are also limitations to these movies. “Though problems need to be resolved realistically and rationally, films often have drastic endings - either a hero solves everything or a villain takes over. There are limits to trying to solve long-term problems with short-term solutions.”

BY JIN MIN-JI [jin.minji@joongang.co.kr]