12.12 The Day (2023) Movie Review – A historical drama about the 1979 Seoul military coup

A historical drama about the 1979 Seoul military coup

12.12 The Day is a South Korean blockbuster telling a fictionalised tale of a military coup that happened in South Korea in late 1979 after the assassination of President Park. It dramatizes the coup orchestrated by General Chun as he forged a path to become a South Korean President and other military officials with political ambitions.

Starting on the fateful date after President Park’s assassination, martial law is declared, and General Chun is assigned the task of investigating the assassination. As a result, General Chun gains unrestricted access to military intelligence with government officials, including vice ministers, reporting to him about the progress of the investigations and the aftermath of the event in the country.

General Chun tastes the power and influence that comes with control of information, and together with his peers in the Hanaoe, a secret organisation within the military, they take advantage of the situation to fulfil their political ambitions. The narrative highlights the events leading to 12th December 1979, a significant day in South Korean history .  

The script focuses on the nine hours between the time the Hanaoe instigated the coup and their actions as they worked relentlessly to hijack the country. Even though some scenes are dramatised to fit the fictional element of the narrative, the writers heavily rely on facts. For instance, to increase emotional investment in the story, the writers could have chosen to start with General Chun and General Lee as friends who eventually end on opposing sides, but they stick to the fact that they are nothing more than peers with different ambitions.

Consequently, the narrative does not dwell on irrelevant details for dramatic purposes but adopts a straightforward approach that concentrates on the confusion and chaos suffered by the military. It highlights the themes of military divide and the dangers of putting personal ambitions above a country’s safety.

12.12 The Day brings together exceptional veteran South Korean actors who portray the significant characters skilfully. General Chun has a strong presence on screen, and his superb acting makes him easy to hate. He fits the historical description of the real-life character he portrays, who is manipulative, selfish, greedy for power, and ruthless.

On his opposite is the honest, straight-as-an-arrow Commander of the Capital Garrison Command, General Lee. He is loyal to his country and willing to fight for it until the end, even if it means standing alone. Another significant character is the Army Chief of Staff Sang-ho, who is intuitive as he figures out General Chun’s hidden plans before anyone else and takes measures to curb the encroachment of Hanaoe into the military. Sang-ho’s acting prowess in his portrayal of dislike for General Chun is the movie’s highlight.

Moreover, the film uses the support characters, including soldiers on armoured vehicles heading into Seoul, to depict the heaviness of the 9-hour standoff accurately. Therefore, 12.12 The Day is a captivating political drama that stands out due to its excellent storyline, historical accuracy, stellar performances, and outstanding production.

It offers an essential learning moment about South Korean history with the director, including narrative elements that make it easy to understand even for the international audience. Thus, the film can break the generational barrier that most political dramas face due to the failure to resonate with younger audiences. Although some scenes are laden with the typical good versus evil props, 12.12 The Day delivers historical accuracy without turning melodramatic. 

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  • Verdict - 7.5/10

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