Starring: Kim Yun-seok, Ha Jung-woo, Kim Tae-ri
Director: Jang Joon-hwan
Running Time: 129 mins
1987: When The Day Comes is a South Korean film about the growth of the democracy movement in South Korea after a college student was killed during an interrogation by the oppressive military regime, and the beginning of the people’s fight for truth and freedom.
This is a really interesting film. Not only is 1987 a good thriller, but it’s an absolutely fascinating historical drama that manages to take a story that’s not true to life, and put it firmly in the context of real-life events, allowing for a both exciting story as well as one that you can learn a whole lot from. It’s a film that may be a little melodramatic at times, and doesn’t quite find its footing until its second half, but with a collection of great performances across the huge ensemble case, as well as an engrossing story, I was fully gripped by this film throughout.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t quite reach those heights immediately. Although starting off in mysterious circumstances after the torture and murder of a student by the secret police, which sets up the thriller side of the story, I felt that this film didn’t really switch into gear when it should have done.
The biggest problem is that, with such a huge cast and range of characters (and believe me, there are loads), the film spends a lot of time introducing all the different players to you with a brief on-screen subtitle, and then a couple of scenes to deepen your understanding of their character. While that is ultimately worthwhile in making the film more engrossing, it takes up a lot of the first half, and given that you’re still being introduced to people nearly halfway through the film, it often feels like things aren’t moving along.
Another issue with the film is that it’s at times very melodramatic. Again an issue that comes in the first half, there are a lot of scenes where you’re meant to feel a hard, emotional power, particularly when being blatantly presented with the greatest injustices of all, however I felt that too often were these moments focused upon in too dramatic a light, with some of the actors being a little over-the-top, and not allowing those scenes to fit in well with the overall story and historical context, making for more than a few particularly jarring moments.
With all that said, however, I still had a great time with 1987. Above all, it’s the historical setting that it gives you an insight to that’s undoubtedly the most fascinating and engrossing part of the movie. From the beginning, the anti-Communist league (effectively playing the role of the Gestapo or KGB) and all of their actions give you a really strong feeling as to how oppressive the regime at the time was, and with their constant efforts to subdue any criticism, it makes for a thrilling mystery early on.
Although the mystery/thriller side of the story isn’t as exceptionally exciting as the historical context, the presentation of the anti-Communist league as major villains is fascinating to see, and their harsh actions throughout prove a fully just motive for the major uprising to come.
Now, the one quirk about this movie is that it’s not a true story. While the overarching events, that of the death of the student, the oppressive regime, and the ultimate uprising are fully true to life, some of the key players aren’t. At first, that feels a little disappointing, but as the film goes on, and finds its feet, you begin to appreciate how the new story is using its imagination to craft a clearer and more exciting plot for you to follow, all the while still fitting in with the true history.
As a result, I was fully captivated by the story, true or not, throughout, because it allowed me to learn so much about the South Korean democracy movement during the 1980s, something that I really don’t know enough about, keeping my eyes glued to the screen as the oppressive nature of the regime at the time, and the swell and surge of support for the uprising, is made so apparent.
Finally, I need to mention the performances. This film has a huge ensemble cast, with a whole range of South Korean A-listers taking major roles. At first, that’s a problem, because the enormous cast leaves you a little bewildered as to where to look for your main character.
However, the film gradually streamlines itself and opens up what is a clear main story, something that’s furthered by all of the brilliant performances. Save for a couple of slightly melodramatic players, the likes of Kim Yoon-seok as the brutal anti-Communist prosecutor, Ha Jung-woo as the hard-as-nails but just court prosecutor, and Kim Tae-ri as the unlikely young woman who falls into this world of oppression and uprising, all put in fantastic turns that both emphasise the drama and importance of the events on screen, and still offer a range of riveting characters throughout.
Overall, then, I really liked 1987: When The Day Comes. It’s not a perfect movie, and it definitely takes a while to get into its stride, however I still found it an absolutely riveting and regularly exciting historical thriller that not only teaches you a whole lot about the South Korean democracy movement, but also offers up a properly enthralling and often even very dark and gritty thriller to captivate you from start to finish, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.7.