Imagine watching Dr. Strangelove without any knowledge of American politics or the Cold War. Or maybe a funny, assassination-tinged version of Nixon with no knowledge of the man, his era, or his country. Weird, right? You’d be totally lost without context or clues to help you get a grasp on the film. Well, despite a quick, press materials-aided history lesson, that’s exactly how I felt watching Im Sangsoo’s The President’s Last Bang last week at the New York Film Festival. The film tells the true story of the 1979 killing of South Korean president/dictator Park Chunghee (Song Jaeho) and two of his associates by his own intelligence chief, Kim Jaegyu (Baek Yoonshik). In director Im’s hands, though, the historical events take on a sardonic, absurdist edge, with the assassination stemming from nothing more than boredom and an accumulation of self-loathing and disgust.
After a day of catering to President Park’s whims and cleaning up his frequent indiscretions, Kim is assigned the task of arranging a party for the President, complete with food, liquor, and women. The party takes place at a KCIA (sort of a combination of the FBI and CIA, headed by Kim himself) safehouse, presumably because it is one of the few places where Park will be safe from the frequent attempts on his life.