Monday, July 16, 2007

Beautiful Holiday - Gwangju of May 18, 1980

Being a staff of the May 18 I had the privilege to be given a ticket for the premier of this movie entitled Hwaryohan Heuga - or Beautiful Holiday - it was the password used during the military operation In Gwangju.

Although the movie does not have subtitles in English, I understand the story with the limited Korean language I know. It was quite different though from what I knew from the books ans stories I learned about May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising. Well it was indeed the creative license of the director at work.

Below is a review from

On a sunny May afternoon, taxi drivers, students and women carrying their children gathered by the thousands in front of a provincial downtown office building.

Paratroopers, who had rained upon the city for days, lined the streets as reports spread that they were about to withdraw, filling the people with a spirit of celebration. As the crowd waited in anticipation, the national anthem began to play over loudspeakers.

Then, the crack of gunfire ripped through the afternoon.

Survivors of the civilian massacre now recount that the beloved anthem did not signal their freedom, but the military command to fire, and the troops lining the street were there not to withdraw, but to kill.

"May 18," a wrenching new film by sophomore director Kim Ji-hoon, recounts the 10 days of the bloody Gwangju uprising, a pro-democracy movement ruthlessly crushed by the South Korean government in 1980 by tank-led paratroopers under the code name "Splendid Vacation." The military junta of Chun Doo-hwan, who seized power in an internal coup as an army major general in December 1979, officially killed more than 200 of its own citizens and wounded 1,800 others in broad daylight. Though the death toll is disputed, historians agree that the uprising began the day after Chun declared martial law.

Starting with students at Chonnam National University, the pro-democracy movement quickly spread to downtown Gwangju, a city 330 kilometers south of Seoul, where hundreds of thousands of citizens defended themselves against the military with stolen rifles, grenades and military jeeps, driving out police and seizing the city for four days.

Once called a communist-linked rebellion, the uprising is now one of the most venerated chapters in modern Korean history.

However, Kim says that the time is not yet ripe for closing the history books on Gwangju.

"Some people may be content thinking that May 18 has been reinstated as a democracy movement, and that we have done our part in history with that," Kim said in a recent interview with Yonhap News Agency at a downtown cafe.

"But when we think of May 18, what comes into our minds is the incident. It has become something like a ceremony, a stuffed specimen," he said. "We haven't given much attention to the grassroots people -- who they were and what made them lay down their lives. I thought that was the central part of our movie, the reason why we should tell the story 27 years later," he said.

Looking into testimonies and interviewing victims' families, Kim found that it wasn't so much a sense of historic responsibility that drove the Gwangju citizens into the maelstrom, but their strong emotional bonds with their family members, friends and neighbors who fell victim to the gunfire.

"How come they took to the streets in the days of ruthless fear? 'Because my friend didn't come back, because some of my family was missing.' That was how they went outside and got involved," Kim said, referring to "Beyond Death, Beyond the Dark of the Times," a collection of testimonies edited by novelist Hwang Suk-young.

The emotional bond is the main theme interwoven throughout the story. Taxi driver Min-woo (Kim Sang-kyung of "Memories of Murder" and "Tale of Cinema") joins the civilian militia after his younger brother Jin-woo (Lee Joon-ki, "King and the Clown" and "Fly Daddy") is killed during the gunfire. Min-woo's sweetheart Sin-hae (Lee Yo-won of "Attack the Gas Station" and "When Romance Meets Destiny") joins the violence when she fires at a paratrooper in defense of Min-woo.

The characters are based, in part, on real people. The character of Min-woo was inspired by a 31-year-old man who became a de-facto spokesman for the civilian militia and was later killed during the protest, while Sin-ae is based on a woman who took to the streets to notify citizens about the paratroopers' operations.

The movie is often reminiscent of a documentary, particularly when the film shows -- through montages using photos taken by foreign correspondents and scenes recreated through victims' testimonies -- people captured, stripped, and lined up on street corners to be mercilessly beaten with batons and bayonets.

The first film to fully cover the uprising, the movie has become the talk of the town even before its highly anticipated release. A couple of other films have been praised for their artful depictions of Gwangju, such as Jang Sun-woo's 1996 "A Petal" and Lee Chang-dong's 2000 "Peppermint Candy," but those films sidestepped the depth of the Gwangju turmoil to move on to broader subjects.

The uprising still invokes feelings of respect and sorrow in many Koreans, but despite the profound emotional resonance of the subject, some critical movie-goers may feel uncomfortable with some of the more unrealistic elements of "May 18." For instance, some of the main characters don't speak in the Gwangju dialect, sounding a bit too Seoulite, and the hairstyle of idol Lee Joon-ki looks a bit too modern and out of place.

In addition, the characterizations seem rather conventional, following the same pattern that many saw in Kang Je-gyu's 2004 blockbuster, "Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War," which followed the relationship of an easy-going, warm-hearted man and his smart younger brother against the backdrop of historical tumult.

However, Kim doesn't sweat what he calls "the small stuff." The director, who debuted with the comedy "Mokpo: Gangster's Paradise," said he worked with sincerity to impart a grassroots spirit to the big-budget film that cost 10 billion won ($10.9 million) to produce -- more than twice the average Korean film budget.

"When you are in love with someone, your heart is moved," he said. "I think you have to be open to her weaknesses and be comfortable with them. Our movie has shortcomings, but they should not get in the way of the sincerity it has."

"May 18," produced by Kihwek Shidae and distributed by CJ Entertainment, is to be released nationwide on July 26.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Have you sent in your application for the Gwangju Asian Human Rights Folk School 2007?

The dateline is just around the corner and the competition is tough..

The Gwangju Asian Human Rights Folk School aims to contribute to the development of democracy and human rights throughout Asia. Total of twenty-five (25) invitees from all over Asia who have been working for human rights and peace organizations in their own countries shall be given an opportunity to learn and experience the history and development process of human rights and democracy in South Korea read more or read below.