It has been said that
Im Sang Soo is practically the only director now making films that take a long look at the lives of contemporary Koreans without losing their historical sense … There are few texts as good at understanding the sensibilities and concerns of modern Koreans as the films of Im Sang Soo.1
Director Im refers to his most recent three films as his “Modern History Trilogy”.
The most obviously “historical” film in that trilogy is The President’s Last Bang (그때 그사람들, 2005, roughly translated as “Cometh the hour, cometh the man”), which screens as part of the Tiger Asian Film Festival soon.
The synopsis provided by the Korean Film Council, KOFIC, doesn’t give much away:
In the 1970s Korea, a strong military goverment is suppressing the people. However, the president is always too busy having parties for no apparent reason and many political parties are looking for a chance to take over. Members of the KCIA (Korean Central Intelligence Agency) are slowly getting fed up with taking care of the president’s dalliances. They hatch a scheme to assassinate the president. After two bullets are fired, the country is about to take an unexpected turn.
The film is an irreverent look at the last day of Park Chung-hee’s life, and does not pretend to historical accuracy. But the film opens and closes with some documentary footage which, in the usually-seen version of the film, is cut. The film came under attack from elements of the Korean press and from President Park’s son, Park Ji-man, and one of the outcomes of the resulting legal battle was the excision of the documentary footage which, it was argued, might lead to confusion between fact and fiction.
The version of the film to be shown at the Tiger film festival is, reportedly, the rarely-seen full, uncut version.
The other two films in the “Modern History Trilogy” are The Old Garden (오래된 정원, 2006) and A Good Lawyer’s Wife (바람난 가족, 2003), which ranks very near the top of my own all-time favourite Korean films.
Im started his film career as assistant to another Im, the prolific director Im Kwon Taek, working on such films as Son of the General and Fly High, Run Far. His solo debut came in 1998 with Girl’s Night Out (처녀들의 저녁식사), followed by Tears (눈물) in 2001. The first of these films shocked the Korean cinema-going public with some of its explicit dialogue between three single women talking about what turned them on. The original title of Tears, which like Jang Sung-woo’s Timeless, Bottomless Bad Movie, focuses on delinquent teenagers, was Bad Sleep – a euphemism for sex – while a rough translation of Im’s third film (A Good Lawyer’s Wife) is Adulterous Family. Im therefore jokingly refers to his first three films as his “sex trilogy”.
Come and quiz Director Im about sex and history this week. Friday 30 May, 7pm at the Korean Cultural Centre and Saturday 31st May, 8:30pm at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, where the Q&A is combined with a screening of The President’s Last Bang
(automatically generated) Read LKL’s review of this event here.
- Hun Moonyung in in the preface to KOFIC’s just-published book on Im Sang Soo, the latest in their Korean Film Director series