The Whistleblower (South Korea, 2014) [NYAFF 2015]
Directed by Yim Soon-rye, one of the few female filmmakers in South Korean cinema, The Whistleblower is a fictional drama derived from the true story of scientist Hwang Woo-suk who was at the center of one of the biggest scientific frauds of the 21st century involving the cloning human cells.
Park Hae-il stars as Yoon Min-cheol, a producer for television news program PD Chase who gets wind of a potential scandal involving a clinic buying eggs from young women illegally; well-known scientist Lee Jang-hwan (Lee Geung-young) who has promised to cure several different illnesses using groundbreaking stem cell technology is somehow involved with the clinic illegally buying those eggs. Yoon questions the connection, as Dr. Lee is a national hero until he receives a phone call from Dr. Shim Min-ho (Yoo Yeon-seok), a former employee of Dr. Lee’s who tells Yoon that Lee has been lying about his research and about the supposedly cloned stem cells. Word leaks to the press about the story Yoon is pursuing and public sentiment turns against him and the network he works for and the network wants to pull the story entirely.
The Whistle Blower is a brilliant film that underscores the nature of greed in the corporate research world and the fine line that exists between truth and propaganda in the media. As the rumors surface of the potential scandal, Dr. Lee goes to the media and throws himself on the mercy of the people, while still attempting to pass off his fraudulent research as truth. He uses his charm, charisma, and status as a national hero who will cure disease to get the bulk of the media to report in his favor, and retain the love and backing of the people. It seems the only reporters doing any real digging for the truth are Yoon and his staff. At one point Yoon finds a dog that Lee cloned and claimed was in perfect health, but the poor thing is actually dying a slow and painful death from cancer as a result of the cloning. I’m an animal lover so the scenes with the dog broke my heart, while the rest of the film made me angry.
Yim intended to shed a harsh light on the reality of corporate greed and how lazy the media can be, and she does it beautifully, proving why she is a leading female filmmaker in South Korea. The acting and directing are superb, and the story is an engaging one with excellent pacing. It’s also a disturbing film in that such duplicitous corporate and media behaviour happens all over the world, not just in South Korea. If you can catch The Whistleblower at a festival near you, it comes highly recommend.
The Whistleblower recently screened at the New York Asian Film Festival with Yim Soon-rye in attendance for an audience Q&A.