Pages from history, written in Korean blood

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Pages from history, written in Korean blood


From May 18 to 27, 1980 the streets of Gwangju witnessed a bloody confrontation between soldiers and citizens in the Gwangju democratization movement. Their story has now been told in the hit film, “May 18.” [JoongAng Ilbo]

Blood and tears changed the lives of Jeon Ok-ju and Ahn Sung-ryea in May 1980. The citizens of their city were fighting armed troops operating under martial law.
Watching Korean soldiers aim guns and bayonets at their fellow citizens, Jeon, a dance teacher turned orator and Ahn, a nurse, became fighters for democracy. They were not alone ― the citizens in Gwangju, South Jeolla were united in their fight against Chun Doo Hwan, who had taken power in a military coup the year before. Koreans had high hopes that democracy was at hand after the military regime of Park Chung Hee came to an end. These hopes vanished after Chun’s military coup. Chun sought to control the nation with a declaration of martial law.


Scenes from “May 18,” whose Korean title translates into “Fancy Vacation,” which was the code name of the armed suppression.

The uncompromising citizens of Gwangju armed themselves for a bloody confrontation that would last 10 days, ending on May 27. By then 650 citizens had been killed and 2,500 were injured, according to Chung Soo-man, the president of an association that represents bereaved family members.
With the release of the film “May 18,” the memories of Jeon and Ahn have been revived, as the basis for the film’s female lead, Shin-ae. The movie focuses on an ordinary taxi driver, Min-woo, whose life is defined by his love for his young brother and for Shin-ae, a nurse, whom he secretly admires. Shin-ae works at a hospital and takes to the streets with a megaphone to spur citizens to oppose Chun’s dictatorship.
Kim Ji-hoon, the film’s director, says he created a composite of Jeon and Ahn to form his female lead.


The film is currently the biggest box office hit among Korean films that opened this year. Provided by CJ Entertainment

The film opened on July 25 and sold 3.4 million tickets nationwide by Sunday.
Kang Ju-hui cried after seeing it in Seoul. “I cannot believe this is a true story,” she said. Ahn and Jeon say the film tells only a “small part” of “the brutal cruelty” that took place on the streets of their hometown that year on May 18 to 27.

By Chun Su jin []

A related story
[·Pages from history, written in Korean blood]
[·The voice that galvanized an outraged city]
[·Haunted by the death of a high school girl]

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