Set in the late 1980s, Netflix’s ‘Seoul Vibe’ revolves around a group of talented drivers and mechanics. Facing arrests due to a variety of illegal activities, they are forced to accept an offer from the prosecutor’s office. They will secretly infiltrate and gather information on a VIP money laundering operation. It is revealed that General Jeon, a retired dictator, is behind the entire operation. If you are wondering whether General Jeon is inspired by a real person, we got you covered. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Who Is General Jeon?
In ‘Seoul Vibe,’ General Jeon is one of the major antagonists in the narrative. From the exposition provided early in the film, we learn that Ms. Kang and Director Lee, the other two villains of the story, actually work for General Jeon. He was the head of the former government in South Korea. Since a new person has become the president, General Jeon gradually discovers that he might not be safe despite his position.
General Jeon only has a handful of scenes, but those are enough to enunciate the critical role he portrays in the overall narrative. After Park Dong-wook (Yoo Ah-in) and Joon-ki return to South Korea, they are approached by Prosecutor Ahn. Dong-wook and his friends have been planning to move to the US. Ahn holds these plans as leverage to convince Dong-wook and his friends to work for him. He promises them that if the group collects enough evidence, their criminal past will be wiped clean, and they will be allowed to keep their money. Prosecutor Ahn even agrees to get Dong-wook and his friends visas.
By the end of the film, Director Lee is dead, and Ms. Kang has been arrested. The mid-credits scene, set about a year later, depicts General Jeon as quite miserable. Having lost all his money, General Jeon now seems to work at the monastery. As he tries to sweep away the snow, General Jeon can’t help but reflect on his misery. Suddenly, a massive flock of birds passes by and collectively defecates on the erstwhile military despot.
Is General Jeon Based on a Real South Korean Dictator?
Truth is often stranger than fiction. While developing the film, its makers extensively researched 1988 and everything that happened during that decade. The 1980s was a tumultuous period in South Korean history. On the one hand, the Games take place, and Seoul undergoes many significant changes. On the other hand, corruption was rife during this period. ‘Seoul Vibe’s General Jeon is most likely inspired by Chun Doo-hwan, the South Korean military dictator who led the Korean government between 1979 to 1980 before becoming the fifth President of South Korea. He would hold the position until 1988.
Chun’s successor, Roh Tae-woo, was closely associated with Chun and maintained many of the policies that Chun implemented. Although Chun received the death sentence for his reported involvement in the 1980 Gwangju Massacre, his sentence was later reduced to life imprisonment and a ₩220 billion fine. He was eventually pardoned by the sitting-President Kim Young-sam at the request of incoming President Kim Dae-jung. Roh was also fined $248 million for the embezzlement of money during his tenure.
However, neither Chun nor Roh fully paid back what they owed to the government. Chun died of complications stemming from blood cancer on November 23, 2021. He was 90 years old at the time. The mid-credits scene of ‘Seoul Vibe’ is likely inspired by the time Chun spent at Baekdamsa, a Buddhist temple.