TV Drama Takes on Korea's 'Fifth Republic'

      April 12, 2005 18:34

      "We mustn't make the figures from the Fifth Republic simply targets of satire or criticism. Our most important task is to reconstruct the political philosophy and ways of thinking behind the process in which they exerted such strong leadership after seizing power. At the same time, a core task is to examine how democracy was deformed."

      The lips of "The Fifth Republic" producer Im Tae-woo were parched when he met with the Chosun Ilbo at the MBC Drama Studio. Caught up since the end of September with this drama dealing with an extremely sensitive subject matter -- the 1979 coup led by Chun Doo-hwan and the ensuing regime dubbed the Fifth Republic -- he will face the court of public opinion when the program's first episode airs next week. A political drama dealing with real figures and events and times still fresh in the memories of many people, it is bound to spark controversy.

      "The Fifth Republic" is on every Saturday and Sunday at 9:40 p.m. from April 23.

      The shooting of a scene from the MBC TV drama "The Fifth Republic" depicting the Dec. 12, 1979 coup led by former president Chun Doo-hwan. The 40-part drama series airs from April 23.

      What incidents will be discussed?

      "The 40 episodes cover the period from the morning of president Park Chung-hee's assassination to the handover of power from Chun Doo-hwan to Roh Tae-woo." But the first nine episodes concentrate on the last months of 1979, from Park's assassination on Oct. 26, 1979 to the Dec. 12 putsch. The 1980 Gwangju Uprising gets four episodes to itself. "We will focus on the New Military Group's preparations and decision-making process in brutally putting down the uprising."

      One or two episodes each will deal with other incidents like various financial scandals, the shooting down of a KAL airliner over Soviet airspace, the Rangoon bombing, occupation by demonstrators of the U.S. Cultural Center in Seoul, sexual torture inflicted on female protestors by police in Bucheon in 1986, Geumgang Dam, the torture and killing of collegian Park Jong-chol in 1987 and the June 29 Declaration of the same year that forced democratic change.

      The characters

      The "hero" is Chun Doo-hwan, played by Lee Deok-hwa. "His negative side is well known, but he had a charm about him, like a boss who takes money from this person and that person to buy booze for his underlings in order to keep those around him happy," Lee said. "We will show this as central to his attraction." Roh Tae-woo (played by Seo In-seok), on the other hand, is depicted as an introverted, calculating fellow. "There is evidence if you look at Chun's autobiography, where he says whatever he starts, Roh finishes," Im said.

      Production tribulations

      Im said the team were sent two volumes of publications from the putschists, one 300 pages and the other 100 pages. The thicker one was testimony on the Dec. 12, 1979 coup, describing the situation at the time from their point of view. The thin one was 20 problems they had with the original script. They vowed to sue if their complaints were not heeded.

      But Im was unruffled. "Since these are incidents that have already been established by the Supreme Court, I'm not particularly concerned, even if they decide to sue." Casting was also difficult, as actors worried that any Fifth-Republic figures were likely to come across negatively to the public.

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