12.12: The Day

International Festival Premiere | In Competition


Guest star:
KIM Sung-soo, director
JUNG Woo-sung, actor
KIM Won-kuk, producer

In December 1979, South Korea appears to be on the verge of a transformation. Longtime dictatorial president Park Chung-hee had been assassinated in late October, a shocking development that upended the political system and ushered in hope among the populace for democratic reforms. The newly-appointed president has given signals that he is open to bringing about change, and even the military – by far the most powerful institution in the country – gives no indication it will stand in his way. Imagining a new and freer future, ordinary citizens and the media begin talking about a so-called “Seoul Spring.” Yet discord is brewing beneath the surface. An ambitious general named Chun Doogwang (in real life, he is named Chun Doo-hwan) is leading the investigation into the former president’s assassination – a position that gives him considerable power if he wishes to take advantage of it. More crucially, he has also led the formation of a clandestine organization within the army called Hanahoe, the members of which have pledged absolute loyalty to each other. High-ranking figures within the military who support the rule of law, such as the Army Chief of Staff and General Lee Tae-shin, who is in charge of the defense of Seoul, are aware of Chun’s reckless ambition and wary of his intentions.
But even they don’t anticipate the lengths he will go to in order to seize power .
In a secret meeting with other members of Hanahoe, Chun designates December 12 (the “12.12” of the English title) as the day to launch a coup, depose his superiors and gain absolute control over the military.

12.12: The Day is based on real events, and although some minor liberties have been taken in the portrayal of certain characters and details, on the whole it reflects historical research. Director Kim Sung-soo says that as a teenager in 1979 he heard gunshots ring out on that fateful night, but it wasn’t until years later that he learned the full details of what had happened. But the consequences of Chun’s power grab were clear for all to see: it changed the course of modern Korean history, and ushered in an even more oppressive and violent future .
For those familiar with the suffering of the Korean people in the 1980s, 12.12: The Day is an almost unbearable watch, a bracing depiction of how all this might have been averted if just a few more people had been willing to perform their duties with conviction.

At the same time, scene by scene director Kim Sung-soo creates such an overwhelming sense of tension and suspense, the end result is both total immersion in the film and a steadily building sense of outrage. It may not sound like the formula for a commercial hit film, but Korean audiences responded to it with a rare passion, turning it into the highest-grossing movie of the past five years. (Its release is particularly remembered for a meme in which viewers record their heart rate on a smart watch while watching the film, and post screenshots to social media.) Much praise is due to all members of the cast and crew for creating such a thought-provoking and well-made film, but special mention must be given to Hwang Jung-min, for his visceral, unforgettable portrait of a dangerous man willing to do anything to gain power; and to Jung Woo-sung for one of his most memorable performances as a principled, inspiring figure who should have been the hero on that night. Even for those who know nothing about Korean history, this is a film that will stir deep passions, and leave viewers with much to ponder about how power is gained, and how peace and stability must be protected.

Darcy Paquet
Film director: Kim Sung-soo
Year: 2023
Running time: 142'
Country: South Korea
26/04 - 7:15 PM
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
26-04-2024 19:15 26-04-2024 21:37Europe/Rome 12.12: The Day Far East Film Festival Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da UdineCEC Udine cec@cecudine.org