Review | 1987: When the Day Comes film review – powerful drama about student activists’ death and the birth of South Korean democracy
Director Jang Joon-hwan brings to life a pivotal moment in Korean history, looking at political corruption, police brutality and suppression of the media after the death of two activists
Marking the 30th anniversary of South Korea’s June Democracy Movement, 1987: When the Day Comes is the latest politically charged drama to emerge from a country regularly embroiled in government scandals. A departure in style for director Jang Joon-hwan, creator of the eccentric genre mash-up Save the Green Planet, it employs an A-list ensemble for its story spanning six months of escalating activism, corruption and injustice.
Jang bookends his film with the deaths of students Park Jong-chul, at the hands of police interrogators, and Lee Han-yeol, who was struck in the head by a canister of tear gas. These events would trigger nationwide student protests, culminating in the nation holding its first democratic elections.
After playing on-screen adversaries in The Chaser and The Yellow Sea, Kim Yun-seok and Ha Jung-woo square off here respectively as Park Cheo-won, director of Anti-Communist Affairs, and Choi Hwan, prosecutor over the desperate cover-up that followed Park’s death. Elsewhere, Kim Tae-ri (breakout star of The Handmaiden ) plays the daughter of Yoo Hae-jin’s sympathetic prison guard, who begins a doomed relationship with a student activist (Gang Dong-won).
The film’s efforts to simultaneously cover political corruption, police brutality, suppression of the media and a doomed romance at times threaten to overwhelm this captivating account of a pivotal moment in Korean history. Slick and accomplished, 1987: When the Day Comes is also single-minded and forthright in its intentions, propelled by an exasperated nation which demanded more of its public officials.
1987: When the Day Comes opens on March 1
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