Dir. ImSangsoo. S Kor. 2005. 102mins.
The mostambitious feature yet from director Im Sangsoo (A Good Lawyer's Wife),his fictionalised telling of the assassination of South Korean President ParkChung-hee was released only after the late statesman's daughter had documentaryfootage removed on the grounds that the film was not accurate.
But then ThePresident's Last Bang does not pretend to be. Instead Im sardonically tellsevents in fast and furious measure in a political drama that should appealbeyond Asia, becoming a natural entry for international festivals and a soliditem for sympathetic distribution networks. The film played in DirectorsFortnight at Cannes.
The demise ofPresident Park (Song Jaeho) in October 1979 partly came through the power strugglebetween the various agencies responsible for his safety.
Exasperated headof Korean intelligence Kim Jae-gyu Kim (Baik Yoonshik), recently removed fromthe President's favour by Cha (Jeong Woonjong), commander of the presidentialguard, decides to shoot the leader and his aide during a party.
But despite thedeath of the president, Kim's ploy backfires through excessive self-confidenceand lack of careful preparation. Instead of taking over the country, he isthrown in jail, to be executed with many of his cohorts.
Im's scriptswiftly paints, with economical sequences, a totalitarian regime based on fearand oppression, in which security agencies brutally stomp on disobedience,regardless of the cost to human lives.
Throughout herepeatedly stresses the lack of any ideological or idealistic purpose thatmotivated the demise of the tyrant: every character is driven by personalinterest or by fear incurred after years of abject obedience to theirsuperiors.
Using dry witand a cynical eye, Im's script introduces, in quick succession, a variety ofcharacters; politicians, security agents, army officers, guards and a sinisterbutler whose ominous presence and barely whispered innuendoes seem to givefatal proceedings the right push at the right moment.
No time iswasted in building up any of the characters, their actions sufficientlyeloquent on their own to make extrapolation superfluous while the plot isinexorably driven forward.
Brief sarcasticnotes - such as the reflection in the operating room window of two driverseating while the presidential autopsy proceeds - are inserted every once in awhile but never disturb the course of events.
Acting is asenergetic and purposeful as one would expect from the top level cast. SongJaeho, as the late president, almost elicits pity for his loneliness at the top- his wife had been killed in a previous attempt on his life - were it not soapparent that pity is something he does not deserve.
Crystal clearcamera-work and expert editing deftly cut between parallel developments, helpto round up this modern Asian take on Julius Caesar in which actions speaklouder than words.
The jeering strains of rhythmical tangos on thesoundtrack help underline Im's jaundiced view of the events.