[REVIEW]Loving to Hate the Japanese

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[REVIEW]Loving to Hate the Japanese

Ahn Jung-gun was a Korean martyr who was at the center of the independence movement during the Japanese annexation of Korea. As a young man, he volunteered to serve in the army in the Maritime Territory of Siberia in order to join a group of anti-Japanese dissidents.

Ahn was 31 when he was executed for the killing of Japanese Prime Minister Ito Hirobumi in 1909.

Hirobumi had made several attempts to take over Korea prior to the annexation itself.

Ahn is well known among Koreans for his patriotic last words: "Please bury my body in the Harbin cemetery [in Russia] and take my remains back home when Korea wins independence." A new opera explores his life.

Produced by the prestigious Korea Opera House and sponsored by the Korean Love Practice Movement Headquarters, a patriotic civic group, the opera is unashamedly nationalistic at a time of swelling anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea.

It even proclaims itself a "special production to remind people of the distortions in the Japanese history textbook."

The opera is teaming with tired themes and characters - we've even seen some of them before in the famed Korean musical, "The Last Empress," about a patriotic Korean empress assassinated by the Japanese.

Both productions feature: a patriot who dies for his country, a group of Japanese generals with Hitler mustaches, a pro-Japanese Koreans who gets in the way and even a Russian leader with a funny wig who makes toasts with a plastic wine glass and disappears from the stage after the second act.

And of course, there are court ladies to amuse the Japanese leaders. In this play, they are dressed in awkward white tutus.

What was even more disturbing to this reporter watching the opera was the audience reaction when Ahn finally succeeded in shooting the Japanese prime minister at Harbin Station.

The audience burst into applause and repeated "Hail!" after Ahn, as if agreeing that killing Japanese is still an acceptable outlet for patriotic sentiment. The scene is chilling.

But the opera had some amusing elements. The video projections of historical footage between each act that documented parts of Ahn's life worked well.

The duet that is sung when Ahn is reunited with his wife after being apart for several years also has some charm.

by Park Soo-mee

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