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A Black-and-White Prison Drama from Recent History

2006/01/25 Source

Koreans remember 1988 as the year of the Seoul Olympics, but it was also the year Ji Kang-hun and 11 other convicts snatched their guard's gun and escaped from their jail -- an unprecedented event in Korea. With the Scorpions' Holiday playing in the background, the convicts shouted, "Criminals with money are innocent and those without guilty". The movie focuses on why the convicts did what they did.

Based on the nine-day real life drama, thief Ji Kang-hyeok -- as the Ji Kang-hun character played by Lee Sung-jae is called in the film -- loses his mind at a slum demolition site when Ju-hwan, a close disabled friend, is shot to death by policeman Ahn-seok (played by Choi Min-soo) during a protest.

The slums were torn down to make Seoul a cleaner, more presentable city for the Olympics, and in the name of development the poor lost their homes and fell into a bottomless pit. Some turned to crime to survive. In the movie, things turn from bad to worse when a new warden takes office at the prison where Ji is held: it is Ahn-seok who, as a manifestation of the injustice surrounding him, torments Ji every chance he gets, until Ji sees no other way but to try and escape.

Holiday has a point to make and is convincingly acted. Lee Sung-jae's cry at his final confrontation with the police brings tears to the viewer's eyes. But the good intentions of the film are distorted by its stark contrasts of good and evil and a surfeit of tears and anguish, neither of which do a movie any good at the box office. That disturbs the viewers' absorption at the most important moment, while a scene where Ji and his gang rob a house where the owner is throwing a soju party and a girl among the hostages offers fruit to her captors is convincing neither as fiction nor as non-fiction.

Choi Min-soo as the (fictional) Ahn-seok adds tension and excitement at the beginning of the film, but he becomes a mere cipher about halfway through the movie as the stereotypical Bad Guy. Holiday, incidentally, is also the title of a song by the Bee Gees, which Ji enjoyed listening to and asked the police to play for him when he took the hostages. By mistake, they put on the wrong Holiday yowled by the Scorpions.

The movie, which has been in limbo because of distribution conflicts between production company Hyunjin Cinema and Korea's largest multiplex theater CGV, will finally hit theaters on 20 CGV screens on Thursday.

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