[Originally posted 09/20/05 in the TIFF '05 thread]
THE PRESIDENT'S LAST BANG (S. Korea / 2005)
The Presidents Last Bang (Geuddae Geusaramdeul) is widely considered as one of the most controversial Korean films of recent years. The reason isn't necessarily its violent or sexual content, but rather its depiction of Koreas former President Park Chung-hee who was assassinated by the head of the Korean CIA, someone who was involved in a power struggle with the heads of the governments other agencies. Directed by Im Sang-soo, whose previous feature was the astute sexual drama A Good Lawyers Wife (2003), Last Bang is presented as a fictional and satirical account of the events of October 26, 1979. (In an interview, however, Im has claimed that he believes his take is true. President Parks daughter took the filmmaker to court which prompted removal of 4 minutes of footage.)
There isnt much doubt about the fact that Ims view of the president would be considered as a "leftist" or a popular one. But, as usual, there are two sides to every story, especially when it comes to politics, so it isnt difficult to come across accounts claiming that President Park, who came into power after a coup in 1961, was a key figure in fighting communism. But Im, along with many others, believe that during his rule only the rich got richer while the rest were stomped upon (the director has gotten a lot of mileage out of comparing Park to President Bush). The problem with this technically polished film is not the potency of Ims view but rather the method of its presentation, along with his seemingly lack of knowledge about the motive of the killings.
Much of the film unfolds on the evening of October 26th as President Park (Song Jae-ho) gets ready to meet the heads of the bureaus, including KCIA director Kim (Baek Yoon-shik) who doesnt see eye-to-eye with Cha (Jeong Won-jung), commander of the presidential guard. One KCIA agent under Kim, Ju (Han Suk-gyu), is responsible for producing the presidents lady of the evening (Im makes it clear from the opening scene that the president was a womanizer). Ju comes up with a young college girl named Cho (Cho Eun-ji) while another singer is also present to entertain the president who has a penchant for Japanese "enka." (He and his staff also switch from Korean to Japanese on a few occasions, the language of Koreas former occupiers!)
Im doesnt leave much to the imagination once the mayhem ensues. But his camera-work, that includes many long tracking shots, is exceptional as we roam from one palatial room to another. The word "democracy" is uttered a few times by Kim who believes that hes performing a service to the country through his deed, but to Im everyone was incompetent, making one wish for a bit more depth and political intelligence. (Also, U.S. president Jimmy Carter is referred to as a moron while Pakistani leader Bhutto was apparently nuke hungry.) Though, Last Bang isnt without its share of acerbic humor: Cho being told to not go overboard during sex in order to prevent herself from going down in history books as a whore is only second to an aid covering the presidents private parts with his hat. Last bang satisfies on many counts, and its certainly preferable to shameless Korean "political" panderers like Tae Guk Gi (2004), but it had the potential to be a lot more.
*Available on DVD in the U.S. (Kino).