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(Movie Review) 'National Security': riveting, unnerving story of tortured activist
By Shim Sun-ah
SEOUL, Oct. 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korean director Chung Ji-young, who shot an arrow toward the country's judicial branch with his controversial film "Unbowed" released early this year, changed his mark this time.

   In the new film based on the memoir of a political dissident tortured harshly under military rulers in the 1980s, Chung vividly showed how torture can totally destroy human dignity and how cruel those in power can be.


The shocking film, "National Security," is set to open in local theaters in late October, about a month before the presidential election.

   With the country's modern history still an issue in the election, the movie is expected to trigger strong social and political controversy.

   Kim Geun-tae, the real-life figure played by actor Park Weon-sang in the film, was detained by the state intelligence agency and tortured for 22 days in the basement of the agency's former building located in Namyeong-dong, Seoul, in 1985 as a democracy activist. He later worked as a health and welfare minister under the liberal government led by President Roh Moo-hyun and as a senior advisor of the main opposition party. He died from a brain disease in December last year at age 64.

   The movie spends most of its 110-minute running time giving a realistic portrayal of how Kim was tortured.

   In the film, the protagonist named Kim Jong-tae is kicked and beaten by cops after being taken into custody on his way back home from a public bath together with his family. The level of torture then goes up as he refuses to admit spying charges against him -- ranging from waterboarding and pouring water mixed with red pepper powder on his face to electric shocks.

   Kim does not lose his political convictions and pride in the face of serious violence against him, but eventually succumbed to the brutality of a torturing specialist known as "the Undertaker."

   The torturing specialist was modeled after a real-life figure named Lee Geun-an, the notorious police investigator who was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2000 for brutally torturing democracy activists.

   Watching Kim wailing naked in the underground interrogation room out of physical pain and a sense of humiliation is unnerving and even painful.

   Director Chung said he wants the entire nation to remember the suffering of the pro-democracy fighters.

   "People simply think there were people who were tortured but don't know exactly what kind of torture the people received and how they suffered," he said during a news conference. "Today's Korea exists thanks to their sacrifices and pain. I want all of us to be able to share those things," he said.

   During the conference that shortly followed a preview of the film during the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), Chung did not hide his hope that the movie would influence the upcoming presidential election and even said he wants all candidates in the election to see the film.

   "I don't know if this film could have an influence on the election, but I hope so," the 65-year-old director said.

   "It would be nice to produce an influential film as a director. That's what filmmakers do," he added.