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[Opinion] Silmido

Posted January. 06, 2004 22:57,   


The movie Silmido, directed by Kang Woo-seok, drew 3.7 million people in just two weeks, the highest short term attendance record for Korean movies. Although it drew the people’s attention from the start because of a staggering 8.2 billion won production cost, it is still amazing that the movie is competing with the Hollywood blockbuster, The Lord of the Rings. I was somewhat embarrassed by the figure because I told Director Kang, to whom I am close, that movie-goers might not want to see the events which happened during the Cold War.

What is surprising about the movie is that many in their 40s and 50s, who usually do not go to the movies, saw Silmido, with young women coming out of the theater wiping away their tears. This is the power of production which made touching scenes such as the fellowship of the soldiers who had to overcome hard training and the last scene in which all the soldiers bombed themselves. “Compensation for them is necessary because the government discarded them,” a college woman excitedly said. A 9th grader asked whether it really happened in the 1970s.

Silmido is based on the true story of Air Force 684 unit, which was formed to assassinate Kim Il-sung in revenge for the North’s soldiers who came to South Korea to assassinate the president and Cheong Wa Dae officials in 1968. The 31 South Korean soldiers who were recruited after having failed in their lives or having been sentenced to death were trained to be the killing machines on an island named Silmido. However, they were discarded after three years as the situation on the Korean peninsula changed. The 24 soldiers who survived deadly training killed their trainers on August, 23, 1971. They stole a bus and headed for Cheong Wa Dae to complain about their unfair treatment. However, they lost their lives in Seoul on the way to the presidential office. Being a junior high school student at that time, I saw the scene on my way home, but there was no way to know the truth. The soldiers, once dismissed to be North Korean spies, were revealed to the world in April 1993 when a weekly magazine disclosed their identity.

Director Kang expects a Korean audience of 10 million and also success in Japan. It will not be impossible if people remember the spirit of the soldiers who sacrificed their lives on Silmido. Korea has abundant material for a movie since Korea had to get through exceptionally difficult times. Those who were mistreated and forgotten in the history will surely be reevaluated so long as there are enlightened directors and competent actors. I commend Director Kang, the actors, and all the staff members for their hard work and pray for the souls of the 684 unit soldiers.

Editorial Writer Oh Myeong-cheol, oscar@donga.com