Movie Review: ‘1987: When the Day Comes’

Following on the heals of A Taxi Driver, though only loosely linked by certain historical elements, comes another well-made South Korean historical drama, 1987: When the Day Comes. The film is a powerful glimpse into South Korean history when they were living under an oppressive military regime. It took one tragic event, the death of a student protestor, to spark public outrage that subsequently changed the whole nation.

Based on true events, the film opens with the torture and death of Park Jong-chul, a 22 year old college student who was protesting the military government. Naturally, they try to cover it up, claiming it was a heart attack and ordering the body cremated before any chance of an autopsy. Unfortunately for them, the prosecutor that needs to sign off on a cremation refuses to go along with the obvious cover up, raising simple questions like “Has the family seen the body” or “how does a 22 year old die of a heart attack”.

Despite repeated pressure from sources that act like they are above or outside the law, the prosecutor gets his autopsy and manages to get the truth out even with frequent attempts to silence the truth. What follows is a truly inspiring tale about the power of a united nation, and the finale is nothing short of breathtaking.

There are some emotional, heartbreaking scenes, but I enjoyed this film overall. While it tells a largely dramatic story, there is some humor and a glimpse at life in the 80’s, i.e. like when the prosecutor tries to stall the cremation or when a college student tries to record a song off the radio onto an audio cassette and then gets excited to receive a Walkman cassette player. Yes, there are subtitles, but this movie is well worth the extra effort non-Korean speakers will have to endure.

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