How much of ‘Counsel’ is an actual story? Is it about Mr. Moo-hyun Roh or not?

Disclaimer: The following is a totally personal translation of an article ‘변호인’ 어디까지 실화? “노무현이다 노무현이 아니다” on Dec. 20, 2013, reporting the big hit of a movie “Counsel” and its background. All rights regarding this post stay with the author(s) of the original article or with NocutNews and this post will be scrapped immediately at their request. In the post, I tried to match the English translation of names of people / institution(s) / position(s) to authentic one(s) as much as possible but, unfortunately, some of them still can be different.

Jin-Ah Shin 신진아 기자

Movie ‘Counsel’ by director Woo-seok Yang blasted the premiere day by attracting over 230 thousand audience, more than the scores of ‘Miracle in Cell No. 7’ or ‘Masquerade’ both of whom drew more than ten million audience.

‘Counsel’ which premiered in 18th evening attracted 230 thousand audience in 19th only and scored 372,256 total audience. This is a score much more than the 212,148 of ‘Miracle in Cell No. 7’ that drew 12.8 million audience overall or the 169,516 of last year’s ‘Masquerade’ that drew 12.31 million audience overall. It is the best opening score of movies that premiered in December.

‘Counsel’ is a movie that borrowed its main story from the actual life of the late former President Moo-hyun Roh. Because of that, citizens of opposing political views revealed acutely contrasting opinions on it, which attracts the more of people’s attention. The movie’s fame also makes people to get more interested in the Bu-lim incident, the main storyline of the movie, and how much of it is of President Roh’s actual life.

It is Moo-hyun Roh! No, it’s not!

Bu-lim incident is a fabricated pro-communism incident where dictator Doo-hwan Chun’s government illegally detained, tortured and indicted 22 civilians, students and teachers of a reading club in Busan area, in 1981, the early days of the regime, for violating the National Security Law. ‘Counsel’ took up the incident that President Roh had argued for the defendants as its main story.

Although they made up the main character counsel Woo-seok Song that actor Kang-ho Song performed after President Roh, Woo-seok Song is not outright President Moo-hyun Roh.

Director Woo-seok Yang said previously “We tried to leave late President Moo-hyun Roh as a motif and unrolled the movie as so. We did not want to distort or romanticize pasts.”

In fact, the movie is not about beautifying President Roh as some people say. Rather, one of the virtues of it is not depicting the main character as a legendary person. Though his job is respectable counsel, without background and social ties, Woo-seok Song is just a typical petty bourgeois like us all.

Then, ‘Counsel’ focuses on filming the intensity of the 80s where all confronted the corrupt world. Director explained that they made the name of the main character as Woo-seok Song, an amalgam of actor’s name and director’s name, to express their hope that we all would bravely confront the world.

Because of that, ‘Counsel’ is a movie that realistically depicts the transformation of one petty bourgeois who, knowing the woe of poverty, pursued money but became a person who, witnessing the bare face of unscrupulous society, tried to turn the world into another one where common sense, law and ethics, would be upheld.

It turned into a movie that even those who are not interested in politics can enjoy altogether. It attracts those who have particular tractions to late President Moo-hyun Roh. But it also makes those who politically opposed him to watch it, “to see how it is made and to disparage it.”

A netizen who called himself as a so-called ‘Roh-aficionado’ said, on his own blog, “it actually does not seem like a movie on late President Moo-hyun Roh”.

“It is obviously based on late President Moo-hyun Roh’s actual life story but the director and actors never mentioned of him at all. I think it is just a movie on human rights lawyers in 1980s. It cannot be just one or two. They just squeezed all the human rights lawyers’ stories into a movie of single character. It happened to be late President Moo-hyun Roh. So we can say it can be about him but also it cannot be about him.”

When taking the Bu-lim case, “he was not so enthusiastic”

It is true that Woo-seok Song is, like the late President Moo-hyun Roh, a graduate of a commercial high school and gave up his life as a judge in just one year to come down to Busan and open his own lawyer’s office.

According to lawyer Gwang-il Kim’s interview with a monthly journal “Shin Dong-A” (Octover 2006 issue), the late President Moo-hyun Roh borrowed money from lawyer Kim for opening his office. As appears in the movie, lawyer Kim led the late President Moo-hyun Roh to politics.

The late President Roh underwent 3-month probationary lawyer training during his Judicial Research and Training Institute period in lawyer Gwang-il Kim’s office. Lawyer Kim was his supervising lawyer then. When he relinquished his judge post at Daegu and went down to Busan, the late President Roh borrowed money from lawyer Kim and paid it back in two months.

“Though he opened his own office, he didn’t get many cases. So he took cases related to bank’s real state registration and mortgage that paralegals used to take.”

It was also lawyer Gwang-il Kim who first offered Bu-lim case to the late President Roh. At that time, lawyer Kim was also suspected to take part in the incident and was not in a position to defend indicted students. So he asked his fellow lawyers of acquaintance to defend accused students of Bu-lim case instead and the late President Roh was one of them.

“Lawyer Jae-in Moon also took up the case. Though he was very passionate, the late President Roh was not so enthusiastic at first.”

Moo-hyun Roh “real pit bull in courtrooms”

There are also theatrical touches different from actual facts in five courtroom scenes. One archtypal example is the army surgeon who came forward out of conscience. In the movie, Kang-ho Song draws decisive testimony from the army surgeon as a witness but loses the case as the prosecutor portrays him as a deserter. Then, the case concludes by 2-year incarceration through the negotiation between lawyers and prosecution in the movie.

In real Bu-lim case, victims were arrested without warrant, illegally detained and tortured for short 20 to long 63 days. During that time, they suffered hardships such as beating, water boarding and so-called chicken-roasting.

As a whole, 22 were arrested. The prosecution asked 3~10 years of incarceration for violating National Security Law, Martial Law, and Law on Assembly and Demonstration. The court ruled heavily, sentencing 5~7 years in prison. Those who were locked up in jail were all released after 2 years, in December 1983, by the stay of sentence execution.

One of the victims at that time, Mr. Ho-seok Koh, recounted “the 2nd hearing of the appellate court was really memorable.”

“We did not know whether the 2nd hearing would be the closing hearing or not. Legal detention period for 1st hearing was 6 months. If the legal proceeding went beyond that, they had to release us. I guess that was the reason why they closed the whole proceeding forcibly at that hearing. We prepared the closing hearing on that day even without closing argument and closing deposition. As a result, the whole proceeding lasted till the next day and ended at 2 o’clock early morning.”

The late President Moo-hyun Roh is known to reveal his exasperation in the court, saying “how does that make sense?”

“He was not interested in reducing sentences. He was more aggressive than defendants. Families were nervous at late President Moo-hyun Roh’s such conducts if those would provoke judges and gain sentences. Actually, my father once told me if it was fine for a lawyer to act like that. (laugh)”

Mr. Ho-seok Koh recalled that the late President Moo-hyun Roh had seemed like losing faith on his job while appearing courts during that time.

“He was very disappointed and distressed by the reality that the judicial system was violated by the authority and no law such as Criminal Procedure Code and Criminal Code was upheld. He seemed like losing faith on his job as a lawyer. There were cases when he was emotionally infuriated and cried out or made impassioned speeches but then he abruptly dropped his face and could not continue.”

In fact, the late President Moo-hyun Roh was very aggressive and emotional at courtroom while he was acting as a counsel. Because of that, he was very infamous among judges.

In ‘Counsel’, there is a scene when a fellow lawyer of the same case objects the way lawyer Woo-seok Song bulldozed his arguments. But, as he eventually understands lawyer Song’s true heart, it would be also like that for movie audience.

Prior to premiere, actor Kang-ho Song wanted the movie not to be conceived as a simple Moo-hyun Roh’s movie and said “I don’t know how he would be evaluated politically or historically. But the attitude and fervor he displayed during the 80s still seem to stay meaningful to us.”

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