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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Jun 9, 2015

"Ode To My Father" Film Review: Touching Korean Film About Landmark Events In Their Modern History

ODE TO MY FATHER was released in Korea in December, 2014 and is the highest grossing Korean film so far this year, after being the number one movie in the box office for several weeks. It's easy to see why Koreans loved it as it reflects several landmark events in their recent history. Directed by Yoon Je-kyoon, it shows the evolution of modern Korean from the 1950s to the present, told from the point of view of an ordinary man as he experiences big historical events.

First is the Hungnam Evacuation of 1951 during the Korean War when thousands of refugees fled from the invading communist forces. From what would eventually become North Korea, they were transported to what would be South Korea by US navy boats. The child Duk-soo and his family are about to evacuate but his father stays behind when his sister Mak-soon gets lost. His dad tells Deok-soo to take his mother and his two younger siblings to the southern port city of Busan, where Deok-soo's aunt runs an imported goods store in the bustling Gukje Market. Before leaving their family, Deok-soo's father tells him to be the head of the household while he is gone.

As the "panganay", Duk-soo becomes the breadwinner of the household at an early age, doing all sorts of odd jobs to earn a living for his family. In the 1960s, financial need forces him to be an OFW in Europe with his friend Dal-goo where they work in the German coal mines to help pay for his brother's tuition in Seoul National University. There, Deok-soo falls in love with a fellow migrant worker, the nurse Young-ja.

Duk-soo returns to Korea after he nearly died in a mining accident and his visa expires. Young-ja follows him to reveal that she's pregnant with his child. They get married and have two sons.

When his aunt died, Deok-soo's irresponsible drunkard uncle wants to sell the imported goods store. Duk-soo opposes this and chooses to leave home again as a technician working in Vietnam in the 1970s to have funds to buy his late aunt's imported goods store from his uncle and to finance the wedding of his younger sister. He comes back a cripple after helping a child who nearly drowns while escaping from the Viet Cong.

He then runs the store with his wife. In 1983, TV programs in South Korea give family members who got separated from each other during the Korean War the chance to be reunited with each other. Duk-soo is featured in one of these shows and an old man claims to be his long lost father. While they're on TV, the two realize that they are not really father and son, but Duk-soo eventually gets to be reunited with his missing sister, Mak-soon, now a Korean-American woman after she was adopted as a child by a family in the United States. Mak-soon returns to Korea and they have an emotional reunion.

Duk-soo is shown getting old and he finally decides to sell their store after so much resistance in selling it. He now realizes that his missing dad might be too old now and his own mom have died anyway, so he thinks it's time to let go of the store.

Be sure to bring hankies when you watch this film as several scenes really succeed in tugging at your heartstrings, particularly the reunion scene on TV with Mak-soon. Alternately touching and funny, "Ode to My Father" is an epic South Korean melodrama that touches many painful landmark events in real life so it's not surprising that Korean viewers flocked to it and made it a big blockbuster.

Korean actor Hwang Jung-min gives a very endearing portrayal as Duk-soo that holds the narrative through its decades-long odyssey, shining in a very challenging that requires him to grow very old with the help of prosthetics. Kim Yunjin (who appears in Hollywood TV series like "Lost" and "Mistresses") also does well as his very supportive wife. The scene stealer here is Oh Dal-su as his life-long friend, Dai-goo, giving comic relief and having great on screen camaraderie with Hwang in a beautiful example of friendship that lasts through the years.

Korean director Yoon is best known for the tsunami melodrama "Tidal Wave" made in 2009. He now successfully mixes large-scale spectacle and intimate drama in "Ode to My Father" which demonstrates how effective Korean cinema can be these days. The big scenes like the evacuation on the beach, the mining disaster, the Viernam war battle scenes and the search for missing relatives in Seoul are all beautifully staged, so don't miss this very important Korean film that opens in SM Cinemas on June 17, a perfect Father's Day offering.