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(Movie Review) '1987': Touching story of ordinary people who were brave

All Headlines 14:05 December 20, 2017

By Shim Sun-ah

SEOUL, Dec. 20 (Yonhap) -- "1987: When the Day Comes" is based on a heroic real-life incident in June 1987, when people took to the streets for about 20 days to end the iron-fisted rule of the military regime led by President Chun Doo-hwan.

The story is all the more inspiring because it shows how ordinary people, not heroes, can change the world when they band together "to do the right thing."

[https://youtu.be/WKQSRFlfr50]

It begins with the torture death of 22-year-old student activist Park Jong-chul during a police probe in January of the year, which became the direct cause of the historic June 10 protests. Police want to cover up the case by cremating the body as fast as possible. As the death became known through a newspaper report, however, Chief Park (played by Kim Yoon-seok), the highest police officer in charge of the case, hurriedly announces that the student abruptly died of "heart failure" during police questioning.

But this "odd" explanation only prompts several "conscientious" individuals who became aware of the torture death while at work to summon their courage to let the world know the truth. Their efforts spark nationwide pro-democracy protests that began June 10. The protests changed the tide of modern Korean history by forcing then-President Chun to introduce a set to democratization measures, including a direct presidential election system.

A scene from "1987: When the Day Comes," released by CJ Entertainment (Yonhap)

The central plot revolves around the tense tug-of-war between figures who try to cover up the death -- Chief Park and his subordinate and detective Jo (Park Hee-soon) -- and those who try to unveil the truth -- Prosecutor Choi (played by Ha Jung-woo); Han Byeong-yong, a prison officer played by Yoo Hae-jin; and journalist Yoon (Lee Hee-jun). Except Yeon-hi, Han's niece played by Kim Tae-ri, most of the characters were inspired from the real-life figures who played an important role in finding the truth behind Park Jong-chul's death.

As the story heads toward its inevitable end, we learn how the ordinary citizens ranging from prison officers to priests and to an opposition figure are held together by the special bonds they have with each other to achieve democracy.

A scene from "1987: When the Day Comes," released by CJ Entertainment (Yonhap)

Impressive is the gradual change of Yeon-hi's attitude toward the pro-democracy movement. She initially scorns her prison-guard uncle, who secretly helps a dissident politician, one of his inmates, due to her past. After realizing that the movement is also related to her life through several incidents, she becomes part of the 1-million people that turn out on the June 10 protests.

In his third feature, Jang Joon-hwan of "Save the Green Planet" (2003) and "Hwayi: A Monster Boy" (2013) realistically documented one of the most dramatic chapters in modern Korean history while trying to find as much drama as possible in the story. The filmmaker, however, didn't go overboard with the drama as other films of this sort tend to do.

Another highlight of the movie is the lead actor Kim Yoon-seok's exceptional performance as Chief Park. A native of North Korea, he becomes an ardent supporter of anti-communism after losing his family to communists and defecting to the capitalist South during the 1950-53 Korean War. The only villain among the six main characters, Kim's Chief Park is delivered in a persuasive manner that viewers can somehow relate to.

A scene from "1987: When the Day Comes," released by CJ Entertainment (Yonhap)

The story of romance between Yeon-hi and Lee Han-yeol, a student activist whom she happens to meet on Seoul's busy Myeongdong street, serves as a feel-good diversion from the film that evokes heavy emotion.

Kim Tae-ri, a rookie actress who debuted in director Park Chan-wook's "The Handmaiden," showed a strong presence as Yeon-hi without getting cold feet among veteran actors.

Many famed actors, such as Gang Dong-won, Seol Kyung-gu, Oh Dal-soo, Kim Ui-seong and Moon Seung-geun, also have cameos in the film. The stars volunteered for the small roles to become part of the first movie ever based on the June 10 protests, according to the director.

The ending, which features the real protesters, along with their famous rally song "When the Day Comes," was also a great way to pay tribute to them. This film is highly recommended.

The CJ Entertainment release is set to premiere next Wednesday.

A scene from "1987: When the Day Comes," released by CJ Entertainment (Yonhap)

sshim@yna.co.kr
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