[Herald Review] Do ask, do tell

By Yoon Min-sik

‘The Discloser’ delves into military corruption, questions soldier’s moral integrity

  • Published : Jan 14, 2018 - 14:50
  • Updated : Jan 15, 2018 - 15:17

“It looks weird because you’re new here, but just wait and see, sir. It’ll feel natural soon enough.”

The military is an odd place. Because of its sheer size and the fact that soldiers are required to obey their superiors without question, it is very difficult for someone to change something, no matter how justified the attempt. This makes it especially hard for someone to blow the whistle on irregularities, even multi-trillion won misappropriations.

“The Discloser” -- directed by the late Hong Ki-seon -- tells a story of a military whistle-blower and his struggles to maintain moral integrity. 

A scene from “The Discloser” (Little Big Pictures)

Lietenant Col. Park Dae-ik, played by Kim Sang-kyung, is transferred to head the supplies department in the Ministry of National Defense. He is in charge of buying the nuts and bolts that sustain the 700,000-strong South Korean military.

On the job, however, he notices a large number of irregularities, all of which are condoned -- even encouraged -- by his superior Gen. Cheon Hyeon-seok, played by Choi Moo-sung. Under pressure of the general and promise of a promotion, Park tries to keep quiet, but his moral compass screams out when his colleagues try to cover up a young pilot’s death caused by a faulty component. 

A scene from “The Discloser” (Little Big Pictures)

The film is loosely based on the real-life events of 2002, when an Air Force colonel revealed corruption in a new fighter jet bid. Seven years later, a Navy officer appeared on TV to confess to his involvement in a series of misappropriations related to military supplies.

“I think our movie is significant in that it is the first movie dealing with military corruption. It is dramatic, but also feels like a documentary. It felt like a real story,” said Kim. 

Cast of “The Discloser” pose for a photo at the film’s premiere held Thursday in Seoul. From left: Kim Sang-kyung, Kim Ok-bin, Choi Moo-sung, Choi Gwi-hwa and Kim Byung-chul. (Yonhap)

The film takes solemn approach. The plot follows Park’s joint efforts with reporter Jung In-sook -- played by Kim Ok-bin and judicial officer Jung In-guk -- played by Shin Seung-hwan. The veteran actors’ performance and the absence of idol singers-posing-as-actors -- which appears mandatary in Korean films today -- shows how serious the film takes itself, although Kim Ok-bin’s acting can feel over the top at times.

The hero-trio provides a solid core for the plot, while the movie’s villain plays a critical role in keeping the tone dark and gritty. Playing yet another villain with a stoic face and no-nonsense attitude is Choi Gwi-hwa who shines as the military colonel Nam out to protect what he believes is in the best interests of his group.

Gen. Cheon is far from menacing, but his businessman-like demeanor makes the situation more chilling. He is the antagonist, but he is not evil. The evil lies in the wide-spread moral bankruptcy within the organization. The slimy character of the corrupt noncommissioned officer Hwang -- played by Kim Byung-chul -- best-represents one of the biggest problems: the deep-rooted corruption is perceived as something “natural,” and the offenders feel no sense of guilt whatsoever.

A scene from “The Discloser” (Little Big Pictures)

Director Hong, who has never shied away from directing the camera at the society’s darker side, understands perfectly that his movie’s role is to spark questions about the injustices within the Korean military. Director Lee Eun -- who took helm after Hong passed away mid-production -- and the cast said they hoped to convey Hong’s message as faithfully as possible.

“I focused on how Hong would’ve finished up the movie,” said Lee. “I believe this movie is more than just being fun; it would be helpful for the audience to think about what courage really is, as they watch it.”

The film hits the audience right on the head with its grounded atmosphere, based on cold, hard reality. The plot does follow the good versus evil format to some extent -- after all, it is a commercial film -- but it is clear that the director’s big goal is to make you think. When walking out of the theater, viewers would be tempted to look up the real-life counterpart of the story and be prompted to think about the questions the director is presenting them, from beyond the grave.

By Yoon Min-sik