A marvel of design if not insight, The President’s Last Bang treats the events surrounding the 1979 assassination of South Korean president Park Chung-hee as an elaborate joke. With his chief secretary, Yang (Kwun Byung-gil), and bodyguard, Cha (Jeong Won-jung), by his side, Park (Memories of Murder‘s Song Jae-ho) feasts on fine cuisine and women, with knuckle-cracking KC.I.A. agents Ju (Han Suk-kyu) and Kim (Baek Yun-shik) plotting to kill the longtime dictator from the sidelines. Given the visual style of the film—a change in scope from 2000’s Tears and 2003’s A Good Lawyer’s Wife—Rex Reed might say that Im Sang-oo appears to have been eating from Park Chan-wook’s bowl of kimchi: Every character is prone to all sorts of grotesqueries, and save for the toilet bowl a constipated Kim tries to take a dump into, Im’s Fincherian camera blueprints Park’s manor from every perceivable angle, helping to fuel the ominous slow burn that leads toward the blood-and-guts spectacle of the dictator’s assassination. “I thought they were putting on a show,” blurts out one of the girls who witnesses Park’s execution-style murder. She could be talking about the film itself, which is so conscious of its structure that the story and characters tremble in its shadow. Just as relenting and sustained as Im’s aesthetic is the story’s humor, which is less black than broad, a mélange of slapstick and sight gags that includes characters slapping and punching each other and blowing hot air while in their underwear; even during the film’s more sobering second half, in which the government tries to finger Park’s killer, the humor never lets up—none of it falls flat exactly, but it’s not particularly gut-busting either (Ju’s attempted suicide being the notable exception). Im’s willingness to uniformly poke and prod his characters is certainly generous, but there are too many ducks in this barrel and not enough time to truly gauge their motivations. For all its determination, the film is never able to shake off its air of glibness.
Image quality is healthy for the most part except for some really nasty debris that pockmarks the print in spots, especially during the very last chapter of the film. Sound is solid.
A theatrical trailer, a stills gallery, and an interview in which an eloquent Im Sang-soo discusses his influences and how he wanted to un-taboo the story of President Park Chung-hee with this film.
A little light in the extras department but fans of the film will be pleased to have it on a reasonably good-looking Region 1 disc.