Set during the tumultuous history of modern Korea, “Ode to My Father” is a generational epic that recounts the life story of a young boy named Youn Duk-soo upon his arrival at Busan after parting ways with his father during the frantic evacuation from Hungnam Port, a North Korean port city, in winter of 1950. The movie, which was released December 17 and has since attracted more than 10 million viewers, captures the protagonist’s life through a series of events portraying Korea’s most pivotal moments in modern history: the evacuation of 14,000 refugees by a US cargo ship SS Meredith Victory from Hungnam Port during the Korean War; the sending of 11,057 nurses and 8000 coal miners to West Germany as foreign workers; Korea’s participation in the Vietnam War; and Korea Broadcasting System’s 1983 Special Live Broadcasting entitled “Finding Dispersed Families” – a 138-day televised program that helped reunify more than 10,000 families who were separated during the Korean War.
The significance of the movie, as director Youn Je-kyun has noted, is its bare portrayal of facts. During its production, director Youn Je-kyun conducted multiple interviews with Vietnam War veterans, nurses and coal miners from West Germany, among others, to regenerate the starkness of reality. Images of coal miners eating steamed potatoes underground and families rejoicing their reunification with their lost loved ones are among the many scenes that bring quiet tears to the viewers’ eyes (see photo above). The emotional appeal transcends any generational divide, as the older generation gets to look back at their difficult past while the younger generation can remind themselves of the sacrifices made by their parents.
The movie starkly shows that Korea’s economic success was not a “miracle.” In every image, there is an unspoken message paying tribute to the efforts made by the country’s each and every citizen whose goal was to leave for their children a better place to live. The movie concludes with a poignant remark by the protagonist:
“힘든 세월에 태어나가, 이 힘든 세상 풍파를 우리 자식이 아니라 우리가 겪은기 참 다행이라꼬…” (“How thankful am I, that it was not my children but I who was born to live through these difficult times…”)
This year marks the 70th anniversary of Korea’s Independence. While it is an opportunity to celebrate the country’s achievements, it is also an opportunity to say thanks to our mothers, fathers and our grandparents for the sacrifices they had made to help build this country. Perhaps, “Ode to My Father” is one among many ways to express our sense of gratitude and appreciation.