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Screening of ex-justice minister documentary at Jeonju IFF sparks controversy

Poster of “The Red Herring,” directed by Yi Seung-jun (At Nine Film)
Poster of “The Red Herring,” directed by Yi Seung-jun (At Nine Film)

The Jeonju film festival organizer’s decision to screen “The Red Herring,” a documentary about the beleaguered ex-Justice Minister Cho Kuk, at the festival that kicks off next week has sparked controversy.

Those who are critical of the screening and the film said that it is inappropriate to present a film that takes Cho’s side after a court found that his wife had forged documents in their daughter’s university application.

“We have witnessed that films like ‘Candlelight Revolution’ that represents the left do not do well. That kind of movie cannot appeal to the public,” Seo Min, a professor at Dankook University College of Medicine said on his YouTube channel. “Cho Kuk, as if selling books was not enough. Do you need more money?”

On the other hand, Kim In-guk, a priest at Okcheon Catholic Church, posted a picture of the movie’s poster with the words: “We have to cry more,” on his Facebook, in what was regarded as a show of support for the film’s release.

The controversial film depicts what happened to Cho from the day he was appointed as justice minister on Aug. 9, 2019, to his stepping down on Oct. 14.

“The film does not say whether the ‘Cho Kuk scandal’ is right or wrong. It is a story about media and prosecutors’ framing, and the questions that were not asked. This film intends to revisit August to October in 2019 for that purpose,“ the film’s director Yi Seung-jun said in a statement announcing the film’s May release.

Director Yi has directed “In the Absence” which deals with the Sewol ferry sinking in April 2014. This film became the first-ever Korean documentary to be nominated for an Oscar in 2020.

Shortly after resigning as justice minister, Cho was indicted on 12 charges, including suspicious investments at a private equity fund and bribery for his daughter’s scholarship. He is currently on trial.

At the beginning of this month, Pusan National University nullified the 2015 admission of the former justice minister’s daughter to its medical school for using forged documents in her application.

Cho’s wife, Chung Kyung-sim, in January, was sentenced to four years in prison for forging documents to help her daughter gain admission to a medical school and for making illegal investments in a private equity fund.

Jeonju IFF on Wednesday declined to comment on the issue, telling The Korea Herald that it is currently discussing whether to release an official statement on its decision to screen “The Red Herring.”

The 23rd edition of Jeonju IFF will kick off April 28 and run through May 7 at five theaters in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province. According to the event organizing committee, around 217 films -- 123 foreign films and 94 Korean films -- from 56 countries will be screened at this year’s film festival.

By Song Seung-hyun (
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Korea Herald daum