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The President's Last Bang

  • Film

Time Out says

South Korea, 1979: President-cum-dictator, Park Chunghee (Jae) is engaging in his usual hedonistic pastimes while his country quietly unravels at the seams. The Korean Central Intelligence Agency's director (Baek) acts as a punching bag for the commander-in-chief's bodyguard, while the KCIA's top agent (Han) oversees torture sessions when he's not procuring easy lays for the nation's horny leader. Then, one October night, an impromptu coup is staged, shots are fired and Park Chunghee is killed. The agency's bitter bigwig now has control of the government. Martial law is declared. And no one seems to know what's supposed to happen next. It helps if you've brushed up on your Korean history before going into director Im Sang-soo's take on the assassination and its chaotic aftermath, though viewers unaware of Park's legacy as a despot will still recognize the film's adherence to thriller conventions. Problems occur, how-ever, when Im decides to inject strains of absurdist black comedy into the mix. Melding intrigue with cutting social satire isn't an impossibility, as the original Manchurian Candidate proved, but the director's inability to balance the two neutralizes each element's effectiveness. Im may pack the film's realpolitik with gunpowder and put a match to its fuse, but the anticipated explosion never occurs. The movie ultimately whimpers out as both a potboiler and a political critique.—David Fear

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