Even Director Chung admits he may have gone a bit too far.
When asked if he would do anything different if he had it to do over, he responded “No,” but admits the film might be a little over the top.
Director Chung Ji-young was in Irvine on Sunday, August 11for the Silent River Film Festival to receive an award won the previous year for his film, “Unbowed”. He also accepted an award on behalf of veteran actor Ahn Seung-ki, who starred in the film, based on a true story about a man unjustly imprisoned and caught up in a corrupt court system.
With regard to his latest project, “Nanyeong-dong 1985” (“National Security”), Director Chung acknowledges that the value of the movie is not entertainment, but historical catharsis. “Only by opening the festering wounds can we allow the rotting flesh to heal.”
The critically acclaimed director opens gaping wounds in “National Security”. The film is not entertaining in the traditional sense at all. Indeed, the film is remarkably difficult to watch and has had its fair share of walkouts. Depicting a problematic and perhaps embarrassing episode in Korean history, “National Security” was not produced with mass appeal in mind, but with a broader perspective: bring a painful past into the light of day and, in doing so, help to heal the wounds history has left in its wake.
Based on the autobiography of Kim Geun-tae who died in 2011 after a successful political career, the movie is set in 1985, during a time of pro-democratic protests against the military dictatorship of Chun Doo-hwan. Kim Jong-tae, a one-time leader of the Youth Federation for Democracy is kidnapped in front of his family by the National Police and held in a single room for 22 days. In an effort to incriminate ‘enemies of the state’ Kim is tortured alternately by starvation, waterboarding and electrocution. Begging to confess to anything the torturers wanted was not satisfactory. He was not released until be could ‘convince’ them he believed his own lies.
With few exceptions, the entire movie was filmed in a single, colorless, featureless room. Furnished with only a cot that seldom saw use and a desk where the forced confessions were wrenched from the victim, the room exuded a feeling of coldness and death. Kim Jong-tae was either naked or wrapped, shivering, in an equally drab blanket. In sharp contrast, guards came and went, cheerfully bantering with one another about girls and baseball and how this confession was going to garner promotions for them all.
At first blush the film’s focus appears to be the torture and, indeed, the realism of the torture scenes is shocking and rather traumatizing. In fact, however disturbing the scenes may have been for the viewers, it is hard to compare with the angst felt by those directing and acting out the horrific incidents. Director Chung remarked that a major difficulty was in creating realism when they weren’t really sure how ‘real’ should look. Dedicated actors and a bit of experimentation soon solved the issue of realism, producing an effect that was painful to witness.
The truly compelling aspect of the film was the gradual but measurable change in the guards. As the torture continued and Kim became weak, as their certainty began to waver that this was for the common good, one by one, small changes were made in the mannerisms of the guards and in their interactions with Kim. Some grew more hostile, some more empathetic. The acts of torture shook everyone profoundly, not just the victim. In the final analysis, the effects extended far beyond the dark, dreary, gray room.
Intensely thought provoking. Emotionally purifying. Shockingly honest.