‘1987’ to depict birth year of Korean democracy

By Yoon Min-sik
  • Published : Nov 22, 2017 - 18:09
  • Updated : Nov 22, 2017 - 18:09

The monthslong protests starting from October last year -- which took place mostly at Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Plaza and toppled former President Park Geun-hye’s scandal-ridden administration -- may seem like just yesterday to many Koreans.

“Whether it is 1987 or 2017, the plaza has always belonged to the people. I wanted to tell a story in which the people are the main characters,” said director Jang Joon-hwan of his upcoming film “1987: When the Day Comes” in a press conference Wednesday.

Born from the ashes of the 1950-53 Korean War, the young state for decades was ruled by authoritarian leaders, including Chun Doo-hwan, whose iron-fisted control over the country brought bloodshed in the Gwangju Democratic Uprising of 1980.

Press conference for “1987: When the Day Comes” took place on Wednesday in Seoul (Yonhap)

The movie is inspired by real-life reporters, college students and everyday people who fought the Chun regime during the fateful year of 1987.

“It was a painful incident of the past, and I felt that this movie can tell the story to the audience without the tone being too solemn,” said Ha Jung-woo, who plays Choi Hwan, a real-life prosecutor who fought to uncover the truth behind the death of student protestor Park Jong-chul.

Park’s death in January sparked nationwide furor and protests against Chun’s regime. The struggle eventually led to the June 29 declaration, winning the people the right to elect their president for the first time since 1971.

It will be the second film this year to depict the people’s struggle for democracy. “A Taxi Driver” -- inspired by the aforementioned Gwangju movement -- has so far proved the biggest hit of the year in Korea.

Jang said, “‘1987’ is not unrelated to the story of Gwangju, which was a sad page in modern history.

“The year 1987 is when people stepped up and won their right to pick their own president. I was deeply moved by the fact that the people accomplished democracy in such a short period of time, which took centuries in cases of other countries. .. I feel like the story could give us a chance to look back at us and work toward further developing and maturing our democracy.”

The movie’s main villain -- played by Kim Yoon-seok -- is Park Cheo-won, a government official hell-bent on enforcing his ideology. He is determined to muzzle any voice against the government.

“(Park) has been suppressing so many things in his own life that it (his ideology) has become his life’s principles. ... He is a tragic person, a monster created by his own times. Rather than vilify him, I wanted to depict how such a person came to be,” said Kim.

Standing opposite of Park is the character of Choi, who Ha said was designed to ease the audience into the movie.

“The movie starts with the officials attempting to hide the truth behind Park Jong-chul’s death, and my role is to make sure that doesn’t happen. I wanted the audience to view the incidents through my (character’s) eyes,” he said.

Yoo Hae-jin, who played a supporting role in “A Taxi Driver,” reprises a similar role of an everyday man contributing to justice.

The up-and-coming Kim Tae-ri plays a vivacious college freshman who is dragged into the dynamics of the democratization movement, and Lee Hee-joon plays a reporter trying to dig up the dirty truth.

Perhaps the most interesting character is Jo Hang-gyeong, played by Park Hee-soon, who was one of the policemen directly responsible for Park Jong-chul’s death.

“I was particularly pressured in playing the role because he was the one who caused Park’s death. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t offend anyone and depicted exactly what happened,” said Park.

“The movie is not about drawing a line between the good and the evil. They were all citizens of Korea, and what happened cannot be traced back to one person. It was the situation that drove them. I wanted to focus on how such tragedy happened, instead of talking about who is good and bad.”

Jang’s “1987: When the Day Comes” is set to hit local theaters Dec. 27.

By Yoon Min-sik (minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)