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Film / The President's Last Bang

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The President's Last Bang is a 2005 Black Comedy film from South Korea, directed by Im Sang-soo. It is a satirical dramatization of the bizarre Real Life events surrounding the 1979 assassination of South Korean President Park Chung-hee.

At the time of his murder in 1979 President Park had been the ruler of South Korea for 18 years. Since 1972 he had been dictator in all but name, having rammed through a new Korean constitution that made him president-for-life. President Park is a decadent lecher who cavorts with prostitutes and other pretty young women brought to him by his security forces. (The movie does not mention that Park had been left a widower when his wife was killed by a North Korean bullet meant for him in 1974.) When he is not fondling nubile women or getting drunk with his buddies, President Park is demanding a more vigorous crackdown on the unrest and political protests then roiling South Korea. The person expected to crush the protests and crack down on opposition is Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) director Kim Jae-kyu. Kim loathes President Park, as well as Chief Bodyguard Cha, head of the president's security detail, who is a rival to Kim and is discrediting him to Park.

On the night of October 26, 1979, President Park goes to a KCIA safe house at Seoul for a party. Two women are brought in to entertain the president and provide breast pillows for his head: pop singer Shim Soo-bong and random university student Shin Jae-soon. At the party, Cha and Park go a little too far with their insults and mockery of Kim Jae-kyu. So the KCIA director, who is already in a bad mood due to his poor health, his constipation, and his irritation at having to run whores for the president, decides on the spot to murder Park and Cha.

Bloody chaos ensues.

This film provides examples of::

  • Adaptation Name Change:
    • Ju, Kim's sidekick, is an Expy of KCIA agent and ex-South Korean Marine colonel Park Seon-ho.
    • Min, another KCIA agent, is an expy of KCIA agent and ex-Army colonel Park Heung-ju.
  • Artistic License History: Director Kim confidently assures the emergency Cabinet meeting that "the Soviet Union hid Brezhnev's death for a week", so they can keep Park's murder quiet for a couple of days. The assassination of Park happened three years before Brezhnev's death in 1982.
  • As You Know: A rather clumsy bit of exposition to Kim from his doctor. "You're the director of Korean intelligence. You know a lot of state secrets."
  • Bad Boss: Cha punches Ju in the chest for failing to get the old lady and her daughter out of the Blue House and for chewing gum. He does this to anyone who would upset him, even for the smallest of things.
  • Based on a True Story: A very faithful record of events. Ever since the assassination, debates have continued about whether or not it was planned or spur-of-the-moment. The film gives Director Kim dialogue indicating that he'd been thinking about assassinating Park ("We've put this off too long") while also showing that the immediate cause of the murder was Kim getting pissed off at dinner at a KCIA safehouse.
  • The Big Board: A large map of the Korean peninsula seen in Army headquarters.
  • Black Comedy: The tone of the whole film, as the events of the assassination and the aftermath are portrayed as a gory farce. One scene features a general barking orders on the phone while not wearing pants. Kim's gun jams after he fires one shot at Park, and he has to go off to get another one. (This really happened!) The Army Chief of Staff can't get into his own headquarters because the guards don't recognize him.
  • Blatant Lies: When the PSS agents heard gunshots, Ju tells them that it's nothing to worry about. It doesn't help that they're not convinced with a weapon aimed at them.
  • Bowdlerise: Following a lawsuit from the real Park's son, the Seoul Central Court ordered the filmmakers to delete newsreel clips of both protests against the Park administration and Park's funeral. The theatrical cut shows a black screen with titles noting that the scene was deleted due to orders from the government; both times, the screen remains black for exactly the amount of time that the newsreels were supposed to appear. The footage was restored a year later after the court order was overturned.
  • Cassandra Truth: When Yang insists that President Park was murdered by Kim, the initial reaction was that his judgement was affected by too much alcohol drinking.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Or rather, Chekhov's lack of a gun. Cha angrily rejects his underling's suggestion to carry a weapon, saying President Park doesn't like the sight of guns when he's drinking. This leaves both of them defenseless when Director Kim comes in shooting.
  • Defiant to the End: President Park went out courageously, at least.
    Park: Director Kim, are you going to shoot me again?
  • Dirty Coward: Both Cha (the chief bodyguard!) and Yang run for it after Kim starts shooting. Cha at least has somewhat of an excuse, being a target of Kim's who was shot in the arm. Yang is just a Dirty Coward, running away while President Park is bleeding heavily but still very much alive.
    Shin: Are you fucking kidding me? Come here and help us!
    Yang: You're brave girls. Wait here. I'll be right back.note 
  • Dirty Old Man: President Park, as lovingly detailed in the early scene where the madam describes how her hooker woke up to find the president fondling her naked body.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Soo-bong was arrested afterwards simply for being present in the murder and was not allowed to sing on TV or the radio until 1981.
  • Dutch Angle: A rather extreme one as Chief Agent Ju is shown from above and upside-down as he approaches Director Kim for the hurried assassination planning session.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: A showy tracking shot through the safe house, showing Park, Cha, and Yang drinking, then panning to another room where the KCIA agents are loading their weapons, then continuing to track down the hallway to the kitchen where the cooks are relaxing and drinking with the bodyguards.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The opening scene shows some bikini-clad young ladies splashing about in the President's pool. Then a madam with a pretty young hooker that Park fondled tries to get the KCIA to use her again. Then Park appears, and his first line is "So what happened to my special seal testicles?". The president is firmly established as a libertine.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Calls up his family before he would be eventually arrested for participating in the assassination.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Kim insists that the military shouldn't be used against protestors too heavily or more antigovernmental riots will spring up.
    • Ju doesn't want to shoot any of the PSS agents in the safehouse since one of them served with him back in the ROKMC.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: There are a few brief epilogue scenes, but most of the film dramatizes the evening and early morning of Oct. 26-27, 1979.
  • Eye Open: KCIA director Kim is introduced with a tight closeup on his eye, while he's at a doctor's appointment.
  • Fake Video Camera View: Used for a scene of Kim's interrogation at the end.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Anyone familiar with how Park Chung-hee got killed will know that the culprits are either imprisoned or executed by the death penalty.
  • Foreign Culture Fetish: The film's version of Park openly admires Japanese culture (despite Japan's previous occupation of Korea during the first half of the 20th century), to the point of where he occasionally slips bits of Japanese into casual conversation.
  • Historical Domain Character: Just about all the speaking roles, since the film is a pretty accurate account of a Real Life historical event.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Chief Agent Ju, who has just participated in the murder of the president, saying "It's not like we've committed a crime, for Christ's sake."
  • Idiot Ball: After the emergency cabinet meeting at Army HQ, with the situation very much in flux and power up for grabs, Director Kim takes a nap. While Kim is getting some shuteye, Secretary Yang alerts the Army Chief of Staff to Kim's role in the murder.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink:
    • Kim gets the waiter's teapot and drinks the water after he ran to the adjacent house where the chief of staff was eating dinner.
    • Soo-bong and Jae-soon retreat to a side room after witnessing the murder of Park. They start pounding vodka shots.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: The president insisted that the Americans keep preaching about democracy when a small number of countries actually practice it in the 1970s, which was true in that time.
  • The Kingslayer: Kim eventually loses his temper from all the abuse he suffered and murders Park.
  • The Lancer: Ju, Director Kim's second-in-command. He helps him orchestrate the murder.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: The film doesn't hesitate to show how brutal and without scruples the KCIA is, featuring agents laughing as they talk about the many ways they can easily arrest someone on flimsy pretext of being a communist or torturing them. And Director Kim is pushed into his murder plan in large part just because he's insulted one too many times at dinner. Still, he's shown to have doubts about crushing protestors while Cha eagerly wants them slaughtered by tanks and when plotting in secret with his men claims to be acting for democracy.
  • Lured into a Trap: Truth in Television when soldiers from the DSC arrest Kim on the pretext of meeting with the Army chief of staff.
  • Misery Builds Character: Park said that the punishment he received from his Manchuaria days influenced him on his road as president.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Kim kills Park and Cha after they go too far in mocking and insulting him.
  • Number Two:
    • Ju is second in command of the KCIA.
    • Cha is this in President Park's administration, despite his "official" role as the man in charge of the Presidential Security Service.
  • Omniglot: Kim and Park speak Korean and Japanese. Park, in fact, started his military career in the Japanese Army during WWII.
  • Only Sane Man: Ju is this in the KCIA hierarchy, when he's doing things that the Presidential Security Service should be doing in the first place.
    Ju: Why should the KCIA take care of shit like this? The [Presidential Security Service] should be doing this shit.
    PSS Agent: We've done our share.
    • He also realized that one of the agents recruited isn't very smart, despite serving in the marines.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Kim flips out and decides to kill President Park and Chief Bodygard Cha pretty much on the spur of the moment after enduring one too many insults at dinner.
  • Running Gag: Ju constantly popping bubble gum in his mouth.
  • Serious Business: Ju thinks that the Presidential Security Service bringing in two girls to the KCIA safehouse is one.
  • State Sec: The Korean Central Intelligence Agency's true function, as the secret police of President Park.
    Park [to Kim]: You're supposed to beat and scare the shit out of people.
  • Take That!: When the film originally released, the Seoul Central Court required that nearly 4 minutes of footage be excised following a lawsuit by the real Park's son. Rather than edit the film around these cuts, Im Sang-soo decided to instead replace the cut portions with blank screens as a jab against the ruling.
  • This Is Not a Drill: Happens several times, like when Chief Agent Ju gives his KCIA underlings shoot-to-kill orders and explains that "This is a real situation."
  • Tragic Mistake: For Director Kim, agreeing to Army Chief of Staff Jeong Seung-hwa's suggestion that they drive to Army headquarters instead of KCIA headquarters in the immediate aftermath of the murder. This allows Jeong, after he finds out that Kim was the shooter, to arrest him and every other KCIA agent involved.
  • Unusual Euphemism: The two pretty girls summoned to entertain President Park at the party are referred to as "two oysters".
    Soo-bong: "Two oysters? How vulgar."
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Accompanied by narration explaining how Kim, Ju, and all the other KCIA shooters were executed.
  • Yes-Man: Yang was appointed to be Park's drinking buddy, much to Director Kim's disgust.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: After being told of his disease by the doctor, Kim decides to assassinate Park so that he can go down in case he would be arrested or killed.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: The KCIA mobilizes every available agent to hide while barricading the safehouse during a confrontation with the PSS.
  • Zerg Rush: The KCIA does this when they mobilize to take out President Park's PSS security detail.