In film “The Unjust,” detective Dae-ho (Ma Dong-seok) calls his boss Choi Cheol-gi (Hwang Jung-min) ‘big brother.’ Dae-ho’s son too addresses Choi as ‘uncle.’ Some may regard it as being courteous to an older person (according to Korean manners) but it is an entirely different story when one who graduated from the Korea National Police University refers to someone from another school as his senior. One of the excuses that Choi’s superior Gang (Cheon Ho-jin) uses to persuade Choi to join in the big scam of the movie is his promise to help Choi’s own ‘little brothers’ advance in society. It is this family-like loyalty and friendship within the organization that fuels Choi’s team. Furthermore, Cheol-gi does have the ability and charisma fit to be called a ‘big brother.’ Thanks to Cheol-gi’s competency and the hard efforts of his perfectly loyal ‘brothers,’ his team rises as the ace among the metropolitan investigation unit.
To put it simple, Choi meets all the necessary conditions to be the hero of a movie. He is one tough guy, swift in capturing big business tycoons and adept in even handling public prosecutors. He was “the” big brother who had many loyal ‘little brothers,’ and even his failure to get promoted for not being a Policy University graduate only added to his heroic image. However “The Unjust” is not a movie about heroes. In this movie that largely focuses on the clash between policeman Cheol-gi and prosecutor Ju Yang (Ryoo Seung-beom) with ugly cases which continuously arise in-between, the most clear outcome is Cheol-gi’s downfall.
Of course, it all started with Cheol-gi accepting the ‘unjust’ deal. Nonetheless, the deal was only a trigger to his decline, since the real reason behind Cheol-gi’s speedy collapse had much more to do with the widespread corruption that already existed within his family-like organization. On the surface, paternalism in Cheol-gi’s group looks humane and peaceful enough, the way they share soju in broad daylight and worry for each other. But such kind of peace was only possible because Cheol-gi looked the other way when his ‘little brothers’ received bribes from local arcades.
For all the “righteous” ordinary people
This is why Cheol-gi’s downfall in “The Unjust” is not met with sympathy but rather with sarcasm toward the epic of a Korean-style hero who puts smartness and loyalty above all other principles. More precisely, it is about Koreans’ typical preference for someone smart and well-off. Let us face it. Although Cheol-gi was hardly a ‘righteous’ guy he was definitely smart, capable and loyal at his workplace. Cheol-gi was the last person to contribute to making this society a brighter and just place but at the same time the kind of guy we often make a hero out of.
We may be living in the 21st century yet we still have people in support of the Yushin Regime (1972-1979) that argue that although the late President Park Chung-hee’s (1917-1979) dictatorship and violation of human rights was problematic, one should still acknowledge his charisma made economic growth possible. The same nostalgia applies for loyalty within the workplace. What difference is there between the old generations with the aforementioned mindset and young people who say they hate the former President Chun Doo-hwan (1931-) who is responsible for the massive numbers of deaths in the 1980 Gwangju Democratic Movement but find Jang Se-dong, (1936-) the chief of the presidential security service at the time ‘cool’? The President we have now who was once nicknamed ‘Bulldozer’ for his bold business projects rose to his present position by arousing expectations to resurrect the economy like in the past with the Yushin Regime. This high expectation toward someone ‘smart’ and ‘competent’ goes beyond the movie world to form a basis for a Korean-style hero. This was exactly what the high officials in the film had in mind when they used Cheol-gi, taking full advantage of the media.
What comes to mind in contrast, is KBS TV series “SungKyunKwan Scandal” that has recently finished its run. In one of the episodes the students of SungKyunKwan Royal Academy abandoned their classes to plead to the king the innocence of their fellow student Lee Seon-joon who was captured and jailed. Although it was main characters Gu Yong-ha (Song Joong-ki) and Kim Yoon-hee (Park Min-young) who led the protest, the campaign would not have been possible if it were not for the students who believed in what is right. It is not one smart person but many ordinary righteous people that move the world. Yet we tend to get swept away by a story of a hero time to time, a dangerous fantasy that leaves us idle of our duties.
Reporter : Wee Geun-woo eight@
Editor : Heidi Kim heidikim@
Editor : Jessica Kim jesskim@