[HISTORY IN THIS WEEK]Rising film star; Novelist chronicles 1930s Korea

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[HISTORY IN THIS WEEK]Rising film star; Novelist chronicles 1930s Korea

July 18, 1989
Korean actress Kang Soo-yeon won the best actress award at the 16th Moscow International Film Festival on this date.
This was her second award in an international film event, and it occurred at a time when Korean films were not well known worldwide. Domestic media praised her as a “world star” instead of a “national star.”
Ms. Kang, now 39, won the Moscow film prize 16 years ago by playing the heroine in Director Im Kwon-taek’s film “Aje Aje Bara Aje,” a phrase from the Buddhist Scripture, which means “Come, Come, Come, Upward,” in English.
The film’s main character ends up seeking peace from Buddhist teachings as she warily turns away from the cruel world.
When the film was first released in Korea, it created a stir for its scene that cruelly revealed how female Buddhist nuns have their heads shaved before entering monkhood.
At the time, many male fans gasped in surprise as they had to sit and watch Ms. Kang, then known as a pretty, young teen idol, weeping under a butcher knife. Her long hair dropped in locks under her feet, and she was reborn as a Buddhist nun.
But the story drew more attention as it depicted how a woman could not help turning to Buddhism in order to rescue herself from a tragic fate.
Sun-nyeo, the character played by Ms. Kang, decides to be a Buddhist nun after she feels betrayed and determined to leave the material world. She first runs away from her broken home where her father is suffering from a nervous breakdown and her mother is having affairs with other men. Before she runs away, her mother’s boyfriend rapes her.
Sun-nyeo does not stay long in the temple to pray and meditate, however. After saving a man from committing suicide, she leaves the temple to live with him. But he dies later, and she ends up tangled in more complicated sexual relationships.
Ms. Kang had appeared in a more controversial film before this one. In 1987, she played a surrogate mother during the Chosun Dynasty who is asked to have the baby of the eldest son of a noble family to continue the family line. Called “The Surrogate Mother,” Ms. Kang won an award at the Venice International Film Festival in 1987.

July 21, 1902
Chae Man-sik, one of Korea’s prominent literary figures, was born on this date in an affluent farm house in North Jeolla province. The area later becomes the backdrop of his most famous novel “The Turbid Waters.”
Mr. Chae was the youngest of six brothers in his family. But when he turned 11, he was dragooned into marrying a girl he did not even know. It was part of a tradition in earlier days for the parents to set up the wedding before their children reached their teenage years.
But his parents had different thoughts. They were concerned that their youngest son would be involved in the March 1 Movement, a collective action in 1919 by Korean civilians during the Japanese occupation. His parents did not want him to be involved in dangerous actions, records show.
In 1922, he was sent to Japan to study like most children from affluent homes at the time. When he came back to Korea, he worked as a reporter for the Dong-A Ilbo. But it was when he worked for the Chosun Ilbo that he started to contribute stories to the paper that resulted in a novel known as “The Turbid Waters.”
The story is about a woman enduring hardship after she loses her house due to bankruptcy. The setting is near Gunsan, where there is an opening to a harbor for the “turbid waters” to flow in and out.
The innocent girl grows up to be a woman who starts to learn that the world is not as kind as she expected. She later kills the man she loathes and turns herself in to the police.
The story was noted for satirizing Korea’s social conditions in the 1930s.
Other novels by Mr. Chae include “Ready-made Life,” “Peaceful World” and “Rice Paddy Story,” all of which deal with life in the early 20th century.
The author criticized the Korean government through a character in the “Rice Paddy Story.” “It is ironic that we have to pay the Korean government to retrieve our land back,” he wrote. “ We never sold it but had been robbed of it by the Japanese.”


by Lee Min-a

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