CRUCIFYING THE TRUTH
TV news producer Yoon Min Chul (Park Hae Il) gets a scoop on story that a sterility clinic is illegally buying ovum. When he digs further, he realizes that globally revered scientist Dr. Lee Jang Hwan (Lee Kyung Young) is involved. Dr. Lee has gained widespread acclaim after announcing that he is able to clone human stem cells in an effort to cure cancer, among other diseases. Yoon’s producer tells him to bag the story as it would be difficult to take down such a revered figure. However, he changes his mind after receiving an anonymous call from Shim Min Ho (Yoo Yun Suk), a young scientist who once worked with Dr. Lee and whose wife still works at Dr. Lee’s laboratory. This film is based on the true story of Dr. Hwang Woo Suk and the people who uncovered the truth to the public.
I had the opportunity to opt for tickets for films at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival and selected a few movies. I actually didn’t know who the cast was nor what the story was about. All I knew was that the movie was directed by Lim Soon Rye and I remember that her film, Rolling Home with the Bull, was critically well-received. Within five minutes of the start of the film, it suddenly dawned on me the significance of the real story in which this film is based on.
In many ways the movie reminded me of The Insider and All the President’s Men in the way it was shot and how the film focused on the relationship between the reporter and the whistle blower. I don’t think it was the film intent to break the mold when it comes to the whistle blower noir genre. Rather, I think it wanted to bring to light, in a fictionalize way, of each of the main 3 characters.
Trust plays a big part in how each of the characters are realized. Dr. Lee holds the trust of the nation. The trust between PD Yoon and Shim Min Ho goes both ways as PD Yoon needs to trust that Shim Min Ho is telling him the truth despite the fact that there is no evidence while Shim Min Ho must trust that PD Yoon will do right by the story. Furthermore, the viewers need to trust that the film doesn’t over-dramatize the film itself and I think one of the ways to do that is through PD Yoon.
What I love about how Park Hae Il plays PD Yoon is that he’s a very logical when it comes to investigating the story. He doesn’t try to make the story as tabloid fodder. Instead, he discusses it with his colleagues and even warns them about the repercussions that they could face as journalists. He asks the questions that we want to hear answers to. It’s alarming to hear that although Dr. Lee had claimed he had 11 cloned stem cells, PD Yoon is questioning how he couldn’t have at least 1. How could this scientist have conned not just his country but the world community of scientists? Through that reasoning, we see how Dr. Lee’s lies unravel.
It’s not surprising to see Lee Kyung Young playing the role of Dr. Lee. Similar to his role in Misaeng, he really knows how to play the well-manicured antagonist. It’s hard not to cringe when you see him playing the sympathy card, knowing what the truth is. However, Lee Kyung Young brings out a human quality in Dr. Lee. Dr. Lee’s desire for power and international recognition is relatable reflected in how a small lie turns into a bigger lie in order to cover up the first lie until it snowballs out of control. The scary thing is I believe that he believed he could make a difference in the medical community.
I had just finished watching Yoo Yun Suk in Agreeably Warm and was not happy with drama nor his character. Imagine my surprise in seeing him in this film. I literally wondered, ‘Him? As a scientist? As a dad with a sick kid?’ It’s not that I ever doubted that Yoo Yun Suk could act. He’s just quite young, charming and boyish that I was unprepared for him to take a role like Shim Min Ho on and be convincing.
Shim Min Ho is intelligent, paranoid and he has a family that relies on him. And yet, Yoo Yun Suk is able to feel compassion for his character the moment he admits to PD Yoon that the story he has to tell is unbelievable, he doesn’t have any proof but is PD Yoon willing to hear him out? With that one line, you can feel how the real whistle blower had the whole world against him.
However, the most alarming thing about this movie is how it highlights the public reaction to the story before it had even broadcast. How can one judge someone before they’ve allowed the other party to even speak? Strangely enough, this is how some Korean citizen reacted when they heard that the real-life news program, PD Notebook, was planning to produce this exposé on Dr. Hwang Woo Suk. There’s an interesting moment when PD Yoon faces out into the protesting crowd and he tells his producer that if he was bringing the audience the truth, they wouldn’t have a need to turn on him and it makes his plight for the truth all the more emotional.
The film does a very good in weighing the emotional elements with the facts of the case. According to Director Lim Soon Rye, the only story elements (beyond the characters’ names) that were changed from the true story was the fact that the whistle blower had a sick child and that the first cloned dog ended up dying from cancer. I do think that these elements heighten the shock factor or bring a sense of what is at stake for the whistle blower. After all, the film is prefaced with a disclaimer stating that the film is a fictionalized dramatization based on a true, life events. That’s more than one can say for Ben Affleck’s Argo.