Movie depicting the story of Park Jong-cheol captivates audiences

Posted on : 2017-12-17 09:36 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
The activist’s death sparked the June 1987 Democratic Uprising
A scene from the film
A scene from the film

“Wow, what a well-made movie!”

The whole audience remained in their seats until the ending credits had rolled. What kept them pinned in place was the feeling of both weight and warmth that radiated throughout the theater. At one point, a viewer called something out and the audience erupted into applause. It was the hidden heroes of the heated history of 1987, celebrating the experience of encountering their own faces from 30 years ago across the screen.

A special event took place on the evening of Dec. 13 at the CGV Yongsan iPark Mall theater in Seoul. For a preview screening of the “1987: When the Day Comes,” the real-life figures behind the story – a dramatization of the Park Jong-cheol incident, where an activist’s death during torture helped spark the June 1987 Democratic Uprising – were gathered in one place to view the film.

“There had been several attempts to make a movie [about Park’s story], but none of them panned out. I think Jong-cheol would have been thrilled that the world has changed enough for this movie to get made,” said Park’s older brother Jong-bu, 60, before the screening. Park was unable to contain his anticipation for the film.

“I’m curious to see how it’s portrayed,” he said.

In a waiting area set up by the production company, audience members cheerfully took pictures with the actors who played them. But all of that seemed forgotten as tension filled the seats once the movie began playing. Gasps erupted during scenes showing Park Jong-cheol’s torture and the death of Lee Han-yeol, a Yonsei University student who was killed after being struck by a tear gas canister fired by police during a demonstration. Some viewers burst into tears at a scene in which Park’s father spreads his son’s ashes in a river with the words, “There’s nothing I can say to you…”

After viewing the film, the real-life counterparts said that while some elements had been adapted to make them more cinematic, the film was well made and stayed true to the facts.

“It seemed like a good mixture of tension and truth,” Park Jong-bu said, adding that it was “unfortunate that the part about the prosecutors’ complicity in the cover-up of Park’s death was left out, even if it was probably due to time constraints.”

Park added that he had “been in communication with the production company and director from the screenplay stage.”

“But my heart still raced when I saw the scenes showing my brother’s torture and death. I don’t think my elderly parents are going to be able to watch it,” he said.

Han Jae-dong, 70, was a prison guard at the time who delivered a letter written in prison by Lee Bu-yeong exposing fabrications in the Park case.

“It really was tense, but the way they fleshed it out to make a movie was entertaining and true to life,” he said.

“Yu Hae-jin [the actor who played Hae] gave a great performance,” he added with a laugh.

Han went on to say, “Despite what the movie shows, I was never tortured. I might have died if I’d been caught, but I was fortunate.”

Physician Oh Yeon-sang, 60, became a witness to Park’s torture when he visited the anti-Communist operations branch in Seoul’s Namyeong neighborhood for a house call. But he shook his head at a description of him as the “brave person who shared the truth with reporters.”

“It might have been tough if I’d really thought about things, but all I was thinking at the time was that it wasn’t right,” he recalled. “It’s different from courage. I just did what I could.”

Oh also said he liked the film’s thematic message that “everyone is a hero.”

“They always say you can accomplish good things when everyone works together. With this case, it’s like Heaven itself helped out. I liked how the movie did a good job of showing that this was a case where the truth came out because everyone joined forces toward a single goal.”

Choi Hwan, 74, was a prosecutor who refused to agree to Park’s cremation and demanded an autopsy instead.

“The film did a really good job at showing the facts, but the character played by Ha Jung-woo in the movie was very different from me,” he grumbled.

“Ha played me as a ‘tough guy’ who drank on the job and kicked people, but I’m really a quiet person. That part actually bugs me,” he said with a laugh.

The real-life figures shared their hope that many young people will watch the film.

“My brother’s death changed our family’s lives forever, but it also played a part in changing history,” said Park Jong-bu.

“I’m hoping for somewhere between 7 and 10 million [viewers],” he added.

“I hope young people will see it and remember that the candlelight revolution wasn’t some accident, [but] that it was an outgrowth of the democratic movement of 1987. And I also hope they’ll realize the importance of a conscience that acts. Isn’t that what Jong-cheol wanted?”

By Yu Sun-hui, staff reporter

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