It’s a good day for revenge film 26 Years — after losing investors due to its politically sticky subject matter, languishing in development for four more years, and then resurrected by collecting donations from netizens online (reportedly 5 million won from over 13,000 people), the movie finally saw the light of day, and opened in theaters at number one. Slow clap, people. Slow clap.
The project is based on a 2006 webtoon of the same name by Kang Pool, about a group of individuals who set out to get revenge for the Gwangju Massacre of 1980, 26 years after the fact. The target of their assassination plot? Ex-president Chun Doo-hwan. You can see why it’s controversial — a wish-fulfillment revenge plot against a living ex-president is not for the faint of heart.
A little background: Chun Doo-hwan was the last dictator of South Korea who ruled from 1979 to 1988. He was technically only a military dictator from 1979 to 1980, and then won an “election” to the presidency in 1980, wherein he was the only candidate on the ballot. His term marks one the most turbulent political eras in modern Korean history, and his was the regime against which citizens rose up in organized demonstrations in May 1980, culminating in the Gwangju Massacre.
The movement and rebellion calling for democracy rose up in various parts of the country, but was most heated and most organized in Gwangju, where students took up arms in protest. The demonstration lasted days until the military came and quelled the movement. The death toll is still unknown to this day. Chun was belatedly tried for his crimes and sentenced to death, later overturned by life imprisonment, later overturned again with a reduced fine.
The film takes up 26 years after that event, when five characters who each lost a family member in May 1980 come together to find their own justice. Jin Gu (Moby Dick) plays a gangster; Han Hye-jin (Syndrome) a professional shooter (the athlete kind); Bae Soo-bin (49 Days) plays a businessman; Im Seul-ong (Acoustic) a young policeman, and Lee Kyung-young (Vampire Prosecutor 2) the head of a private security team. Jang Kwang plays a character they only call “That Man,” aka ex-president Chun.
The directorial debut from Jo Geun-hyun (art director on The Royal Concubine) opened on November 29 with over 110,000 tickets sold, taking first place at the box office, and easily doubled the figure and then some on its second day out. Not bad for a movie partially funded by donations online. Sometimes, the internet rules.
26 Years is in theaters now.
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