True crime turned into a civics lecture“Holiday,” by Yang Yun-ho, is a film that stays deep in the template of social crime, which has taken root as a relatively new genre in Korean cinema since “Memories of Murder,” a story of ruthless Korean detectives under the military dictatorship.
The film, which is based on a true story, looks back at an incident that shocked the nation during its turbulent phase of transition from a dictatorship to a democratic government, shortly after the Seoul Olympics.
The story’s main plot follows a man named Ji Gang-hyuk (played by Lee Seong-jae) and 11 other convicts who snatch guns from their guards and escaped in a prison van.
The convicts travel around from one house to another, holding different people hostages. On the ninth day of their escape, Ji’s gang is captured, leaving most of the members, including Ji, dead.
The incident attracted wide publicity because, in contrast to TV reports about the group as horrendous criminals, confessions by the civilians who were held hostage later revealed that the gang members had been rather polite and friendly.
The event itself, however, was truly dramatic.
Hours before Ji was shot by the police, he had requested that they play the Bee Gees’ song “Holiday” and shouted a speech about the nation’s crude form of social justice to the crowd outside the window. “If you are at fault and you have money, you are not guilty; if you have no money, you are guilty even if you aren’t at fault.”
(A comical aspect of the real episode is that the police mistakenly played the Scorpions’ song “Holiday” instead of the one by the Bee Gees. In the film, however, it’s the Bee Gees’ version.)
Yang weaves a tight connection between the incident and the increasingly intolerable class distinctions in Korean society.
The film begins with a scene in which Ji’s brother is killed at the hands of thugs hired by the police during a public protest to keep the village from being demolished.
Perhaps that scenario is based on fact. The government tried to demolish as many slums as it could before the Olympics in order to clear the streets of Seoul and greet foreigners with an “accommodating” atmosphere.
Despite that, the film seems an overstatement, if not one-dimensional. There is an evident mistake in the director’s attempt to make a hero of a man who had been convicted of a number of car thefts before he became a symbol for justice.
In addition, the film’s absolute notion of “good and evil” seems simply overdone, especially in the role of Kim An-seok (Choi Min-su) a villainous guard who urinates on Ji’s body, saying “You are in my hands, no matter how hard you try. You are the openly admitted trash of our nation, and I am the respected authority of the Korean government.”
Phrases like that, along with scene after scene of testosterone-fueled groups of men fighting, diminish the tension that might have actually existed, turning what could have been a subtle historical epic into a sentimental drama.
by Park Soo-mee