1987: When the Day Comes  – An Engrossing and Well-Acted Political Thriller
From the 1980 Gwangju uprising to the 1987 June Democracy Movement, millions of South Korean students and citizens mobilized massive protests against the faux-democratic, recalcitrant government. By the end of June 1987, there was announcement for holding direct Presidential elections and civil rights were restored. Recently in 2016, the South Korean political leadership was once again plunged into crisis as President Park Geun-hye was involved in a major corruption scandal (she was impeached in December 2016 and the constitutional court upheld the impeachment). Thousands of people took to the streets, but it was largely a bloodless revolution, unlike the ones in turbulent 1980s. The recent events have definitely renewed South Korean film-makers’ interest in their modern history, the era the nation started to gradually severe its ties with the full-fledged autocracy. Jang Hoon’s A Taxi Driver (2017) starring star-actor Song Kang-ho showcased the brutalities inflicted by the dictatorship on the dissenting Gwanju townspeople. The other unforgettable incident that evoked public fury is the death of a Seoul National University student under police interrogation in January 1987. Jang Joon-hwan’s 1987: When the Day Comes (2017) examines the tense chain of events set off by that student’s sad demise which supercharged the South Koreans’ call for democratization more resounding than ever.
Considering the strong ties with Blue House (official residence of South Korean Head of State), the anti-communist squad members casually approach prosecutor Choi (Ha Jung-woo) to sign a certificate and allow the body to be cremated. The defiant prosecutor, however, demands an autopsy report. Meanwhile, the police chief and Park try to feed the media with reports that the ‘communist’ student had died of a ‘heart attack’. When truth begins to emerge after the autopsy report, Park cajoles two of his members to take the blame. He knows patriotism won’t just seal the deal, so he adds hefty financial compensation. Extra violent measures were taken to relieve the death of the student from society’s collective memory. The villainous Park is paranoid to the extreme and he is simultaneously working on bringing down an alleged ‘North Korean Spy Network’, which is supposed to have connection with the opposition leaders. By the time of student’s death, the press organizations decide to turn a blind-eye to the strict governmental rules and pry the secrets out of its iron-grip. The movie contains myriad of characters on different layers of bureaucracy, society and media, fighting their lone battles to bring out the truth. Accordingly, director Jang and writer Kim admirably connects all these dots and keeps on eliciting the viewers’ outrage.
Jang’s sly introduction of the characters and fine grip over the different plot-lines would naturally remind us of Costa Gavras’ masterful political drama Z (1969), another historical film about official cover-up, preposterous denials, and police brutality. But despite imitating Z’s style and structure at times, 1987 doesn’t reach the former movie’s masterpiece status. 1987 suffers from overexposure and melodramatic dramatization of the true events, similar to many of the Korean mainstream flicks. The effort to bring in the mainstream audiences forces the film-makers to include cutesy or emotionally manipulative sub-plots which slightly lessen the narrative’s impact. In ‘A Taxi Driver’ (2017), there was a ludicrous climax car chase sequence solely contrived to instill popcorn entertainment. 1987 doesn’t stray from reality as absurdly as ‘A Taxi Driver’. But it also has few overly dramatic elements: for example, ‘Handmaiden’ fame Kim Tae-ri’s donning the role of a politically indifferent youth and her characters’ tentative romantic connection with a student activist or Park’s sudden recollection of his family’s cold-blooded murder in the hands of communists. Moreover, the repeated threats and never-ending violence of the anti-communist squad group also becomes tiring at some point. Nevertheless, the collective force of the fast-paced narrative and Jang’s kinetic visual style kept me intrigued.
1987: When the Day Comes (128 minutes) largely succeeds in playing out South Korea’s pivotal moments of modern political history like a taut thriller. Despite the narrative’s few condescending and sentimental notes, the timely subject matter absorbingly reminds us of the perpetual struggle and awareness essential to break the shackles of unscrupulous political leadership.
“1987: When the Day Comes” WAS SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL.
CLICK HERE FOR OUR COMPLETE FANTASIA COVERAGE.
DIRECTOR: Jang Joon-hwan
WRITER: Kim Kyung-chan
CAST: Kim Yoon-seok, Ha Jung-woo, Yoo Hai-jin, Kim Tae-ri, Park Hee-soon
COUNTRY: SOUTH KOREA
DURATION: 129 MINS
CONTACT: CJ Entertainment