This political thriller-drama takes us to South Korea in the second half of the sixties, and screenwriter and director Sung-hyun Byun (Merciless) designed this story based on real people and real events. And “Kingmaker” is another in a series of recent films that remind us of the not-so-distant past when South Korea was much closer to a military dictatorship than to a classic democracy. It was the time of the military junta led by General Park Chung-hee, who was in power from the coup d’état in 1961 until his assassination in 1979 (this event is dealt with in the much better recent “The Man Standing Next” by Woo Min-hua ). However, the focus of “Kingmaker” is not President Park, but political strategist and budding spin doctor Seo Chang-dae (Lee Sun-kyun).
In the beginning, we meet Seo as one of those typical young naïves, idealists who dream of a just and fair society, a well-read and smart young man with a talent for politics. He will also offer his services to a young and ambitious left-wing politician, a democrat with progressive ideas, Kim Woon-beom (Sol Kyung-gu) with little success. However, with the strategist’s help, Kim will slowly progress and with the tactics of a very fierce propaganda campaign in response to the even stronger propaganda of the ruling clique, he will reach the position of being one of the main opposition politicians. It will seem that he could be the presidential candidate that the opposition could use to oust the old dictator from power, but the split between the politician and his strategist or kingmaker will come over ideas and how to achieve victory.
It will turn out that the strategist is one of those ready to do anything to win, sticking to the slogan that the end justifies the means, while the opposition leader believes that it is possible to come to power without using the same means as the rotten, corrupt current dictatorship that holds all the levers of power. As there will be a growing rift between the two, the ruling party will secretly get in touch with the strategist and try to hire him for their side. Throughout history, we have had many opportunities to see films about people from the shadows, similar manipulators and propagandists who pull strings behind the curtains and shake up political matches, and this film shows that this is not an invention of today’s age. As in most Korean films dealing with this and similar topics, all of this is concretely done, but “Kingmaker” is not one of those achievements that will be remembered for a long time.