Unbowed is a 2011 South Korean drama film starring Ahn Sung-ki and Park Won-sang. It was inspired by the true story of Kim Kyung-ho, a math professor who was arrested for shooting a crossbow at the presiding judge of his appeal against wrongful dismissal. This was director Chung Ji-young’s first film after a 13-year hiatus and it received a 13-minute ovation at its 2011 Busan International Film Festival premiere. Kim Kyung-ho is a math professor who was fired by his university in 1995, after he questioned the validity of a math question in its entrance exam. Kim files a lawsuit for wrongful dismissal but it is ruled in favor of the university. In 2007, after his appeal was dismissed, Kim out of frustration confronts the presiding judge outside his apartment with a crossbow. A physical struggle ensures and Kim is arrested but maintains that he did not shoot the judge, while the judge claims he was shot by an arrow. The media is whipped into a frenzy over the incident. Meanwhile Park Jun , a lawyer heavily in debt, is approached by Kim’s wife to take on the case. He has a good hunch about the case but she changes her mind when she notices his drinking problem.
Later, Kim and Park are introduced but Park refuses to take on the case when confronted with the obstinate yet principled Kim. But faced with increasing debt problems, Park decides to quit drinking and takes on the case. Both with strong characters, they start the trial at loggerheads. Nevertheless, they cooperate and go on to fight the case. Though it seemed at first that the judge in question was injured by an arrow projected from Professor’s crossbow, the circumstance at that time has lots of questionable aspects that do not fit together, so, like the characters in the film, we have lots of questions. For instance, where is that broken arrow smeared with blood which was claimed to be collected by the cops at the crime scene? Or, how many arrows were really at the scene, three or four? And why was the blood found only in the judge’s suit and underwear, but not his shirts between them?
Unbowed taps into a pretty broad wish fulfillment stream running through Korea. One part fantasy and one part courtroom thriller, the film realizes the idea that one smart man, defending himself, can find both justice and a massive corruption conspiracy while throwing off the bonds that still runs the country’s political, industrial and academic life. So this film mainly runs on the idea of doubt. After fleeing to the U.S. with his wife and son in tow, he decides to come back to fight for his position and ends up bringing a crossbow to the apartment building of a judge who dismissed his case. Does he shoot? Does it matter? Unbowed needed a screenwriter with a stronger sense of character, actors who knew who to play drunk, and a cinematographer with a richer palette. Nonetheless, it built tension, and I couldn’t wait to see the conclusion.
Why did I enjoy this film so much? Well with its depiction of current social ills, which are in desperate need of redress, the success of Unbowed is entirely of its own making; it is an invigorating and electrifying work and there hasn’t been a better legal thriller in years. Make sure to rush out to see this film. It hits the mark.