Japan / South Korea 2002 : Junji Sakamoto : 138 mins

In 1998 Kim Dae-Jung was elected President of South Korea – but 25 years earlier he’d been lucky to escape with his life when, leading the main opposition party, he was kidnapped in a Tokyo hotel. Agents of the Korean dictatorship were blamed – but were they working in cahoots with the Japanese government? Sakamoto’s film dramatises these pivotal events in Japanese-Korean relations – if ‘dramatise’ is the right word for such a ploddingly neutral, soporifically careful form of film-making. The closest western parallel may be the meticulous approach to factual material adopted by Michael Mann in The Insider, except with all the visual flair and atmospherics removed. The results are soporifically dry and slow, dragging their way painfully far beyond the two-hour mark in what feels increasingly like a gratuitous display of length-for-length’s-sake self-importance.

There’s an abundance of on-screen titles and captions telling us what’s what and who’s who, a sure sign of a scriptwriter (Arai Haruhiko adapting Eisuke Nakazono’s book ‘Rachi’) who’s bitten off more than he can chew. And there seems little or no attempt to get even the most basic period details right – this is the mid-70s in name only. On the plus side, there are some unexpected flashes of humour in the early stages, which sketch in preliminary events with brisk economy, and Choi Il-Hwa turns in a nicely modulated, apparently very accurate version of the ‘Korean JFK’, codenamed ‘KT’ by his opponents. Leads Koichi Sato and Michitaka Tsutsui aren’t so fortunate, however – they’re lumbered with thinly-drawn characters who are thrown together in a conspicuously redundant and unconvincing romantic subplot.

17th March, 2002
(seen 16th February, Berlinale Palast, Berlin – Berlin Film Festival)

by Neil Young
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