Song Gi-yeol is a broken man, sick and near death, who is picked up by the police off the streets of Seoul. They bring him to a sort of hospice center filled with terminally ill patients, where he is given food and lodging, but prevented from ever leaving. It looks like he has reached his end, but ironically, it is here that he will discover the man he has spent his entire life chasing.
Jagko (a nickname which means “Crooked Nose”) is a notorious partisan who once fought on the side of the Communists. During the Korean War, Song, a former police officer, captured Jagko and was poised to receive a handsome reward. But Jagko escaped on the way to the police station, and Song is then suspected of letting him go. Over the next three decades, Song’s life falls into a downward spiral, during which his only hope is to find the man who eluded him that fateful day in the mountains.
Featuring a complex web of flashbacks and differing perspectives, Im Kwon-taek’s Jagko is about the conflicts that have plagued the Korean peninsula since the 1940s. Although not a war film, Jagko’s heroes are symbols of the enduring damage wrought by ideological strife. Song’s inability to let go of old battles ultimately leads him to ruin. Jagko, meanwhile, is the more nuanced and interesting character, forced to spend three decades hiding from the police under an alias.
Jagko was shot in the brief window between the assassination of President Park Chung-hee in 1979, and the full assumption of power by General Chun Doo-hwan in 1980. Its release was then delayed for three years. Today it stands as a humane and nuanced portrait of a man who committed what the military dictatorship considered the most serious crime possible: that of fighting for the other side. Having lived through the Korean War himself, and witnessed the tearing apart of his home village due to ideological conflict, Im Kwon-taek’s entreaty for peace comes across as unusually heartfelt.