October 11, 2005


Director Im Sang-SooOn October 14, Kino will release THE PRESIDENT’S LAST BANG, the new movie from director Im Sang-Soo about the 1979 assassination of Korea’s President Park by his Chief of Intelligence. The movie has caused huge controversy in Korea and there has been a legal injunction filed to remove footage from the movie. Director Im gave this interview when he was in New York recently to attend the New York Film Festival where his movie premiered.

Why did you make this movie now?
Mr. Park was assassinated when I was in high school and, coincidentally, the safe house where he was murdered was also very close to my high school. When it happened, everyone was sobbing about the president’s death, but my father was very happy. That’s my family tradition.

Currently the political party is a liberal party, so I thought this was the right moment to bring the matter up.

Actually, Western people sit back and laugh and enjoy this film, but in Korea nobody laughs, they are very sincere about it because they feel very close to the assassination of Mr. Park. And they feel a kind of pain, because maybe many of them were weeping at his funeral. But that time is gone, and our views on it have changed, and some people feel confused by this. So they can’t enjoy it like you Western people.

What kind of research did you do for this movie, especially the characters played by Baek Yoon-Shik (the Chief of Intelligence, Kim Jae-Gyu) and Han Suk-Gyu?

Actually, it was easy to research this. I used original documents, trial documents mostly, because the trial was open to the public. What you saw in my film is what happened. Right now, there is surviving historical footage but it is only of the facts: the trial and the investigation. But, of course, I think the trial documents were first worked out in the basement torture rooms, so maybe you cannot completely trust them. So the documents remain but nobody knows what really happened that night.

Baek Yoon-Shik and Song Jae-Ho who plays President Park Chun-Hee, are from an older generation and they’re more Republican than Han Suk-Gyu. But Baek Yoon-Shik gave a very famous quote saying that he is not doing this movie for political reasons or to make a statement, he’s doing it as an actor to be in the best film.

**Spoiler Question**

The ending of the movie is very disappointing for the audience. Why do you think Kim Jae-Gyu bungled things so badly?
The problem is that the Chief of Intelligence, Kim Jae-Gyu (Baek Yoon-Shik), went to the military headquarters, not the KCIA (Korean Central Intelligence Agency) headquarters. If he had gone to the KCIA headquarters he would have been able to grab power and his coup would have been successful.  Nobody knows why he went to the military headquarters instead, but there is one conspiracy theory about this: maybe he was led to believe that the American CIA would support his actions. But I think maybe they deceived him about that.

Why wasn’t that portrayed in the film?

It’s just a conspiracy theory – I have no proof and I have to pretend to be objective in my films. Although I did include some lines referring to this. 

**End Spoilers**

Director Im Sang-Soo on the set Was President Park’s love of Japan and Japanese culture widely known while he was president?
It was widely known to intellectuals, but not to the general public. He was a Japanese officer when Korea was a colony of Japan and his job was to hunt members of the Korean Independent Army in Manchuria. He loved Japanese culture, and thought of himself as half-Japanese, but for political reasons he pretended to bash Japan in public. That this kind of guy became president of Korea is the most tragic thing in Korean history.

There are parts of this movie where people act ridiculously. What did you think the value of treating the assassination this way was?
I think my film is very serious film, but you may find very silly thing or comic things in it. But I would say that our serious lives contain such stupidity.

Who is giving the voiceover at the end of the movie?
The actress who was with the President that night.

Was she the only survivor?
No. The singer and the actress are alive, and the mother and daughter at the start of the film are fictional. The butler is still alive but he disappeared. He must still be in Korea, but no one knows where.

While researching the movie did you talk to anyone from that night?
No one.

Did anyone get in touch with you?
Yes. The son of the president’s secretary called me, and he wanted to meet me and say something on behalf of his father. But I rejected his invitation. Very politely.

Did you change anything in the movie from what happened that night?
I changed some very small things. But I say again that what you saw in my film is what really happened. Because I say that, that’s the reason why they are very furious with my film and sued it and why CJ Entertainment [the distributor] abandoned it. Because I say it’s true.

During production were you aware of the potential difficulties the movie would face?
No. In Korea we have the constitutional right of free expression. We’ve accomplished many things in our recent history.

So during production, with the media’s help, there was no article about the film, and the content wasn’t released to the public. But one reporter got a copy of the script before the movie was finished and he wrote an article saying that this movie was bashing President Park. Then Mr. Park’s son saw the film a week before the premiere, and two days before the film’s release we got the injunction saying we can’t include the documentary footage in the release print.

Was the injunction politically motivated?
Frankly speaking, the judge in the case is a strong candidate for the Supreme Court so he needs to play the game, save face and do what’s good for him.

The person behind the injunction is Park Geun-Hye, the daughter of the president and the leader of the right opposition party. In the funeral footage at the end of the movie, she appears in the footage and I think it personally hurt her feelings, and it would have hurt her politically.

Have you spoken with her?


Are you appealing the decision?
Yeah. The trial is ongoing. It’s a very silly judgement. It was tremendously painful to me when I saw the re-edited film. The right of final cut is not mine, it’s my producers, so I couldn’t help it. But the trial is ongoing and someday my director’s cut will be shown.

After the injunction, CJ Entertainment abandoned the movie as well. Were you disappointed?

Definitely. I can say that any time. I can say that to the head of CJ Entertainment. You have to understand Korean society. CJ is a kind of chaebol, and the chaebols were created by Mr. Park, so in a way they are partners. So how can they release this movie about their partner?

But why didn’t it occur to CJ earlier that this might be a problem?
Because they are stupid. They read script but they don’t know how powerful this film will be. When they saw the edited footage they were shocked and they had many meetings at CJ headquarters and finally abandoned it.

Will this film hurt your career?
We will see. I don’t know. I’m a little bit worried because the ultra-wing press hates me. But hey, I’m a brave man. I’ll continue.

Many recent Korean movies, like JSA, have talked about Korean politics and they always seem to face trouble. Do you think Korea is still living in a fantasy about its recent history?
Maybe, but a few are struggling for the truth. You know, I don’t see JSA as political. I don’t think it’s close to my film at all.

Did you feel responsible to history and the people involved in the assassination when you made this movie?
Personally I really enjoyed making this film because all the actors were very professional and they did a very good job. As I said, Korean people could not enjoy this film because they don’t want to face the facts. They’re too close to it in their own lives. But as a film director I think that’s my duty, to make them face the facts of what happened.

I don’t want to frame or blame Mr. Park - it was 25 years ago. I just want to depict a certain mentality in which every human relationship is based on hierarchical power, and every problem is solved by violence. I want to depict that kind of mentality. I saw “The West Wing” on TV recently and all the characters are so politically correct, so decent, so sincere, it’s just a fantasy about politics. I ask you Americans whether you believe politics are closer to the way they are on “The West Wing”, or closer to the way they are in my film.

(THE PRESIDENT'S LAST BANG opens in New York on October 14)

October 11, 2005 at 05:25 PM in Interviews | Permalink


great stuff Grady. I read tons of interviews in the Korean Media, but this was amongst the most sincere. and Im is always a great entertainer even when talking about serious things.

Posted by: x | Oct 11, 2005 8:09:33 PM

"He was a Japanese officer when Korea was a colony of Japan and his job was to hunt members of the Korean Independent Army in Manchuria. He loved Japanese culture, and thought of himself as half-Japanese, but for political reasons he pretended to bash Japan in public. That this kind of guy became president of Korea is the most tragic thing in Korean history. "

Sounds like the counterpart to Taiwan's Lee Teng Hui!

Posted by: oj | Oct 12, 2005 8:50:30 PM

I can say Im sang is right about himself. He's a brave soul to produce a film like that in Korea. I think Korea needs more people like him who are not afraid to face the truth because the truth remains unchanged. I really thought the film was well done and surprisingly informative. Y'now to be honest with you, I don't really understand what 's the big fuss about President Park and his achievements in Korea. I mean lets face it, he came to power vie brutal violence subverting the legit government by coup and he reigned with iron fist for 18 years. It's almost like a low-life thug coming into your organization with a gun and making himself the CEO. And if you don't happen to agree with him he'll just fire you from your position or kidnap you from society. Essentially, President Park wasn't serving his country or his people, but rather he was serving himself and his family at the expense of his country and his people. He isn't worth an ounce of admiration because his power came from illegitimate sources. From the warm barrel of his gun and not from his people.

Posted by: Kevin | Feb 27, 2006 12:08:47 AM

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