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Busan 2012: Embattled Director Targets South Korean Election With Latest Film

Chung Ji-young Busan film festival
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Chung Ji-young says he hopes to influence voting by releasing his controversial torture film 'National Security' in December.

South Korean director Chung Ji-Young has not found a distributer of his latest film National Security. Nevertheless, he says the film’s release date is already set, and is planning to open it locally in December when the nation’s presidential election will take place.

“I talked to many people about the best timing to release this film, and many agreed that it should be before a presidential election,” explained Chung after the film’s premier during Busan International Film Festival. “Some worried that the film might have influences over the election, but as a filmmaker, I want the film to influence the audiences. That would be worthwhile.”

The film, based on a memoir by the late Korean lawmaker and a former Minister of Health and Welfare Kim Geun-tae, deals with his 22 days of imprisonment at a government facility in a Seoul neighborhood of Namyoung-dong — the Korean title of the film — where he was tortured by a group of KCIA agents. He was imprisoned on charges of violating the country’s national security law, or more commonly known among Koreans at the time as an “anti-communist law.”

Releasing the film prior to the election on Dec. 19 has larger implications since the ruling party candidate is the daughter of Park Chung-hee, the dictator in power during the era in which film is set.

Security traces how torture can destroy a human soul by graphically portraying the acts of torture performed on Kim. The film’s depictions of torture are so real that the director was prepared for audiences’ walkouts.

“When I was shooting the film I said to myself that the audiences would suffer as much as I had suffered filming,” he said. “Making the film was the most painful experiences in my 30 years as a filmmaker, and I realized why there hadn’t been a film exclusively dealing with the theme of torture after so many wars and tragic moments in world history.”  

Chung, known for his outspoken views on a number of social issues, also courted controversy with his previous film, Unbowed, a true story about a demoted college professor who fights the nation’s judicial system.

Chung says that while the film has yet to secure a distributor, he and his backers will “find a way to distribute it ourselves.”

He added that he is motivated to speak out about social issues because “people no longer speak out about social repression unless it directly influences their lives.”