AsianMovieWeb logo
National Security - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Nam-yeong-dong 1985

South Korea 2012

Drama, Thriller

Chung Ji-young

Park Won-sang
Lee Kyeong-yeong
Myeong Kye-nam
Kim Ee-seong
Seo Dong-soo
Kim Joong-ki
Lee Cheon-hee
Woo Hee-jin

Search AsianMovieWeb

National Security

Story: In 1985 Kim Jong-tae (Park Won-sang) gets kidnapped by agents of the government and is brought to Namyeong-dong. The place is notorious for gruesome torture that is said to take place there every day. Jong-tae is an activist against the government of president Chun Doo-hwan and former member of the Youth Federation for Democracy. The secret service KCIA apparently wants to find out what he knows and so he is supposed to put his whole life on paper. Three days without a single break he writes, not being allowed to eat nor sleep. But Park Jeon-moo (Myeong Kye-nam) and his men want to know more. They want the names of contacts and a confession that Jong-tae collaborated with North Korea. The prisoner refuses to make this confession since it isn't true and he merely wanted to fight for South Korea's democratization. When the first torture attempts remain fruitless Lee Doo-han (Lee Kyeong-yeong) is called in. He managed to torture a confession from anybody so far and especially those that didn't reflect the truth. For Jong-tae the most gruesome three weeks of his life begin...

Review: Nothing can prepare you for "National Security". The same applies to the pitiable protagonist of this story who couldn't really have imagined what was waiting for him in Namyeong-dong. The story? Yes, it sadly isn't a fictitious one... The film is based on true events and that is surprising, because the degree of cruelty shown here is something you might expect in the sick imagination of only a few individuals, but not in a whole governmental machinery. And this is what will split the audience into two camps. "National Security" elicits extreme emotions, such a kind that some festival goers even had to leave the cinema. Thus, there will be viewers that won't be able to handle that much harsh reality depicted here and that isn't a disgrace, in fact it is the reason why such cruel acts aren't committed more frequently and why there still might be hope for mankind.

National Security - Film Screenshot 11

"National Security" is a documentary - in the disguise of a movie. Director Chung Ji-young, who is in the business of moviemaking for decades and has such works as the war-movie "White Badge" from the year 1982 or recently "Unbowed" in his filmography, had only a very small budget at hand, but you can't tell from the movie, maybe except for the fact that the main part of the events take place in a single torture room. The pictures are crisp and the actors do a great job, even though the cast reads like names you normally only see in supporting roles. When the credits roll the actual victims of the torture practices also get the chance to say some words. Every documentary should look like this one, because it certainly doesn't fail in having an emotional impact on the audience...

National Security - Film Screenshot 12

The torture we get to be witnesses of are of such cruel nature that you in fact would need a break every now and then. But in order to truely imagine what Kim had to go through you shouldn't allow yourself to take one. A big part of the movie consists of torture scenes and actually you really would want to turn off the movie on more than one occasion since you just don't want to see this. There is said to be an audience for this kind of stuff, Chung's work certainly doesn't aim for it. The numerous torture scenes make you doubt that there is a common kind of humanity and will make you tremble in anger about the injustice that is displayed. What is the reason behind all of this? A specious ideology that isn't just searching for a concept of the enemy in the North but also within the own country.

Fortunately, you don't need to know anything about the exact political background in South Korea at that time, but it helps if you do. Soon it becomes obvious that the military dictatorship wants to get rid of democratic insurgents by denouncing them as communists and forcing them to make confessions. Strangely enough you also get to see the torturers as human beings as well. At times this leads to some laughter, which is characterized by extreme black humor, e.g. when Kim gets entangled in his obvious tall tale he puts down to paper and asks his tormentor for the facts of the actions he is supposed to have committed - or when one of the torturers over and over again starts rambling about his unlucky romance. But you shouldn't get deceived, "National Security" is dead serious and shows in detailed and numerous torture scenes that it doesn't matter how idealistic a man may be, at some point everyone reaches the point where he breaks.

National Security - Film Screenshot 13

It is terrifying how much actual torture actor Park Won-sang ("Secret [2009]") had to endure for the movie, especially the several variations of waterboarding. His physically very demanding role is a smashing performance because even the viewer at some point feels physical exhaustion. By the way, that the torture methods aren't allowed to leave any visible traces by far doesn't make them less cruel.
Lee Kyeong-yeong ("The Berlin File"), elsewhere always playing the supporting role of a gangster boss, shows some frightening screen presence, so that his mere appearance eventually leads to a nervous wincing. Because apart from the physical pain it is more than anything else the mental pressure of never-ending pain that makes the imprisonment a trip to hell for Kim. Particularly, it is the injustice of an innocent man becoming the victim of a totalitarian regime which will make "National Security" resonate within the viewer long after the credits. A movie that is disturbing and this to such a degree that I can't grant it the top rating since not everyone will be able to deal with it. Despite that Chung's movie is a gem that because of a lack of promotion runs the risk of being completely overlooked by the majority. And it surely doesn't deserve that.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
Buy this movie:

National Security - Yesasia Yesasia Logo