Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Witness to An Assassination

The Korea Times had an article today about an upcoming concert by singer Sim Soo-bong:
At a college campus talent search in 1978, the then-23-year-old student struck a chord with the audience and television viewers watching across the country with ``That Person From Back Then (Kuttae Kusaram),'' a song that remains to this day one of her most famous songs.
The name of the song immediately made me think "Waitaminute...", and of course the article went on to relay the moment she is best known for - the fact that she was sitting next to Park Chung-Hee when he was assassinated by Kim Jae-Gyu on October 26, 1979. This webpage gives a more detailed discription of her past up to that point:
Shim Soo-Bong was just a debutante when Na Hoon-Ah, the king of trot, discovered her. She was still using her real name, touring festivals promoting herself. He thought she could make it, become one of the greats, like Patty Kim and Lee Mi-Ja. When Shim, at the height of her popularity, was called to entertain the President, she had a reputation for being a great enka singer. He asked for her specifically, because of his love for Japanese culture and music. But after that momentous night, Shim denied ever singing enka to the President. She said all she sang was that famous song, 그때 그사람 (That Person Back Then). Since then, that song has become synonymous with 10/26.
Though the KT article goes on to perpetuate that myth ("The song she sang that night to entertain the President was none other than `Kuttae Kusaram'"), it also describes how Chun Doo-Hwan banned one of her songs, and also barred her from performing on TV for several years ("I later heard that he had said, `that singer performing will remind people of President Park Chung-Hee and may become a problem for my image,’" she said).

Park's assassination has of course been brought back into the spotlight this year due to it's dramatization in the film "President's Last Bang" (그때 그사람들); it's Korean title was based on the aforementioned song by Shim Soo-Bong, which is further described in an interview with director Im Sang-Soo here. While most films released in Korea are publicized even before they begin shooting, no information about President's Last Bang was made public until about 2 or 3 months before it was released - something which had never occurred with any other Korean film, to my knowledge. The caution was warranted, considering the film had documentary footage cut from the beginning and end by court order after a suit by Park Chung-Hee's son, and was reviled by rightist critics as being slanderous and full of untruths. Im Sang-Soo goes into quite a bit of detail about this in an excellent interview here (where he says, "I don't really think the film is political. I think it's more of a mob film").

What's funny is that, in this case, the right itself has provided English speakers with the means to see that the film is in fact quite accurate in it's depiction of Park's final hours. Years ago the Chosun Ilbo had a series about the life of Park Chung-hee written by Cho Kap-Je, which began with a very detailed retelling of his final hours, based on the investigation records (which have got to be accurate, seeing as Chun Doo-Hwan was in charge of the investigation, right?). Anyways, the entire story can be read here. Start at the bottom and work your way backwards through the posts, where you can find many photos of the re-enactments as well.

(Hat tip to Oranckay for the final link)

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