Yesterday, I saw a Korean movie titled “Hanbando” starring An Sungki, who plays the ROK President, in an action film set in the near future. In this world, Japan has completely scrapped the American Constitution and remilitarised with Koizumi is a bigger asshole who is still in power while the Koreas are making progress in unification talks. However, China is revising their history in response to Korean irredentism and to reflect their new vision of a multi-ethnic China. The conflict arises in this film when Japan stops the two Koreans from reopening the 京義線 which would not only reconnect the Korean peninsula but would increase regional trade/influence in China and Russia.
The Japanese government is able to stop the reopening of the Gyeongui line because it claimed perpetuity over the railway based on unjust treaties signed by the Joseon dynasty. The ROK at first refuses to recognise such a treaty until the United States officially sides with Japan due to their dislike of Korean unification and because China and Russia are reluctant to get into a fight with America over this Korean-Japanese dispute. The ROK President attempts to find a solution to this dispute which could allow Japan to claim other Korean economic assets due to this plothole (the Joseon-era treaties signed with Japan were no longer valid when Japan was defeated in the Second World War) but he is pressured by his Japanophilic Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers to give into Japanese demands.
The film advances as a maverick historian presents the President with allegations that King Gojong used a fake imperial seal to sign all the Japanese treaties, thus invalidating any Japanese claims. The scene is set for the maverick historian and his bumbling sidekick to find the real imperial seal to prove that all Joseon era treaties were signed with a fake seal against a Japanophilic rival who wishes to disprove the existence of such a seal at any cost. While this is happening, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force decides to move their fleet closer to disputed waters on the East Sea forcing the Korean president to dispatch the ROK fleet to intercept them and issue a presidential decree to besiege the Japanese embassy in Seoul.
All this action occurs with flashbacks to King Gojong’s final moments as the independent sovereign of the Korean Empire from witnessing the death of Queen Min to being pressured by royal officials into becoming a Japanese protectorate. However, the real villains are not the Japanese dispute all the historical rhetoric, but the Japanophilic Koreans who wish to continue being dependent on America and Japan. At one point in the film our Japanophilic rival manages to catch up with the maverick historian and tries to kill him until he hears his long lecture on Korean pride, what the seal represents for Korea’s future and Korean traitors, which then causes him to change his views. This was further reinforced when he starts questioning the nature of his objectives when he was having dinner with the Japanophilic Prime Minister and two Korean elders who were implied to have been Japanese collaborators during the colonial era.
Speaking of traitors, the Japanophilic Prime Minister had the President poisoned as tensions were escalating with Japan. After he is officially sworn in as acting President, the treacherous Prime Minister decides to hold a joint summit with Japan with the intention of recognising all Japanese claims to Korean properties in the Joseon-era treaties and place the ROK under martial law, effectively turning South Korea into a de facto Japanese protectorate. Several Korean ministers resign in protest and team up with our maverick historian to continue the search for the real Imperial seal, which they eventually find.
After finding the seal, they then restore the President’s health and blackmail the Japanese by first having their historians verify the authenticity of the seal and the validity of the Joseon-era treaties. Once they learn the truth, the President pressures the Japanese officials into publicly relinquishing all demands to Korea economic assets, acknowledging their wartime atrocities and for the need to make amends with all their East Asian neighbours. Now that the main conflict is resolved, the Japanophilic Prime Minister resigns in disgrace and warns the President that South Korea will have problems surviving without US-Japanese influence and of the dangers of reunification. The President tells him he is wrong and future generations will continue fighting over these opposing viewpoints. The End.