Kingmaker

EUROPEAN PREMIERE

Kingmaker
킹메이커 (King-me-yi-keo) 

South Korea, 2022, 123’, Korean
Directed by: Byun Sung-hyun
Screenplay: Byun Sung-hyun, Kim Min-soo
Photography (color): Jo Hyeong-rae
Art Direction: Han A-reum
Costumes: Jo Hee-ran
Music: Kim Hong-jib, Lee Jin-hee
Producers: Lee Jin-hee, Park Jun-ho
Cast: Sul Kyung-gu (Kim Woon-bum), Lee Sun-kyun (Seo Chang-dae), Yu Jae-myeong (Kim Yeong-ho), Jo Woo-jin (Secretary Lee), Park In-hwan (Kang In-san), Lee Hae-young (Lee Han-sang)

Date of First Release in Territory: January 26th, 2022


The presidential election of 1971 was a pivotal moment in South Korean history. Having taken power in a coup a decade earlier, President Park Chung-hee felt secure in his position and continued to stage direct presidential elections. But he never seriously considered the possibility that he might lose. In the 1971 campaign, when the opposition New Democratic Party made the surprise decision to nominate Kim Dae-jung, a charismatic speaker from the southwest region of the country, it was assumed that Park’s political machine would cope with the challenge easily. But in the end, Kim very nearly won the election. Unnerved, within a year Park declared martial law and pushed through a new, draconian constitution that abolished direct presidential elections indefinitely. (Two and a half decades later, after South Korea embarked on its path to democratization, Kim Dae-jung would finally be elected president.)
Viewers watching Kingmaker will not hear the name Kim Dae-jung mentioned, but he is one of the two main characters in this story. His name, and the names of other well-known figures of that time period have all been changed. (It is risky in today’s Korea to shoot films using real names.) Nonetheless, viewers familiar with modern Korean history will easily recognize who is who, since the historical details all coincide, and even the performances echo the manner and behavior of the real-life politicians.
The film’s second major character is a name from the shadows, rather than the spotlight of history. Eom Chang-rok was a real-life election strategist who worked closely with Kim Dae-jung, and who formed the inspiration for the character of Seo Chang-dae (played memorably by Lee Sun-kyun of Parasite fame). Less is known about Eom and his motivations, which perhaps gave director Byun Sung-hyun and his co-writer Kim Min-soo more freedom in conceiving Seo. But what is known about Eom’s life forms the basis of the character. 
Seo Chang-dae is a man who wants more than anything to change the world, and when he comes across Kim Woon-bum (i.e., Kim Dae-jung) early in his career, he recognizes him as a politician with the vision and potential to bring about change. But Kim at this stage is floundering; he has lost six local elections in a row, and has failed to gain any meaningful degree of power. Seo believes that what stands in Kim’s way are his ideals, and his insistence on playing fair. A more aggressive, or outright dishonest approach to campaigning could give Kim the power he needs to finally put his ideals into practice.
On a basic level, the conflict at the heart of Kingmaker is the age-old question: do the ends justify the means? Kim Woon-bum (played brilliantly by Sul Kyung-gu, who also starred in director Byun's breakout film The Merciless) recognizes a grain of truth to what Seo is telling him, and he decides to bring the strategist into his team. Electoral successes follow, but also a gradually rising tension. The changing relationship between these two men over time is the film’s primary focus.
Kingmaker is an ambitious film, and its production design and cinematography are eye-opening. The viewer follows Kim Woon-bum’s rise to prominence over the course of a decade, and the various spaces he inhabits and the challenges he overcomes are depicted in vivid detail. Kim’s nomination at his party’s convention in 1971 is like a film in itself, staged with an impressive sense of drama and scale. Meanwhile, throughout the story’s development, the movie keeps posing questions to its audience about the nature of power and ideals. A vibrant portrait of a past era, Kingmaker has much to say about the politics and politicians of today.


Byun Sung-hyun

Byun Sung-hyun received some prominent festival invitations for his short film Real in 2005 before shooting his feature debut, the low-budget drama The Beat Goes On, in 2010. Leading studio CJ E&M then financed his second feature Whatcha Wearin’, a sex comedy that grossed 1.2 million admissions in 2012. But it was his third feature The Merciless which proved to be his breakout work, premiering at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival in the Midnight section, and going on to become a cult favorite in Korea. Kingmaker is his fourth feature film. 

FILMOGRAPHY

2010 – The Beat Goes On
2012 – Whatcha Wearin’
2016 – The Merciless
2022 – Kingmaker
Darcy Paquet
Film director: BYUN Sung-hyun
Year: 2022
Running time: 123'
Country: South Korea
28/04 - 7:30 PM
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
28-04-2022 19:30 28-04-2022 21:33Europe/Rome Kingmaker Far East Film Festival Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da UdineCEC Udine cec@cecudine.org
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