Director Im Sang-soo cheekily reconstructs the last hours of the dictatorship of South Korea's President Park Chung Hee in 1979. A once-violent, now-maudlin, deluded, alcoholic loser of a "president," Park eats seal testicles, has cultivated young women delivered to him like pizzas, and, worse yet, speaks Japanese, the reviled language of Korea's colonial oppressors. His enemies on the inside, including his Korean CIA director Kim Jaegyu (Baik Yun-shik) and chief KCIA agent Ju (Han Suk-kyu), seem barely less reprehensible as they curse their own mothers, abuse those subordinate, and obsess about their body functions even while planning their regime's demise.
It's not easy to make a story with a foregone conclusion (assassination) interesting, but PLB does so by affording us passage into private moments of literally dozens of minor characters you would normally only see on the margins of a film—the servants, the call girls, the low end of the security totem pole, the dishwashers, the chauffeurs, etc. Each in his or her own way reveals the ravages of Park's 18-year misrule. Also fascinating, though rather a muddy denouement, is the series of political improvisations that follows the takedown of a leader so powerful there is no Plan B. In contrast to the higher-ups' potty obsessions and crass humor, some of the most striking violence is choreographed like ballet to an operatic score, a practice that mimics the mind's tendency to render lyrically the misfortunes it has survived. (NR)