Two women from Gwangju massacre make movie a hit

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Two women from Gwangju massacre make movie a hit


Actree Lee Yo-won plays Shin-ae, the lead female character in “May 18.” Provided by CJ Entertainment

“May 18” is turning into the biggest movie surprise of the summer. Shin-ae, the film’s main female character, is a nurse who becomes a street orator and persuades people to join the protests, even as others are being killed by soldiers acting under martial law and the orders of the Chun Doo Hwan dictatorship.
The film’s director, Kim Ji-hoon, based his female lead on Jeon Ok-ju and Ahn Sung-ryea, both of whom were involved in the democratization movement.
CJ Entertainment, the controversial film’s distributor, said that 3.4 million tickets for May 18 had been sold as of Sunday, making it the biggest box office hit among Korean films so far this year.
Based on the suppression of the 1980 Gwangju democratization movement, when hundreds of citizens were killed, the film has been filling theaters since it opened on July 25.
Jeon and Ahn spoke exclusively to the JoongAng Daily.
Jeon, a dance-teacher-turned-orator, now lives in the Seoul suburbs. She has chosen to live far from Gwangju, where she “lost too many things,” but her memories of the killing have not gone away and she still has nightmares about May 1980.
She watched May 18 with her teeth clenched.
“What’s in the film represents only 10 percent of the brutality that took place,” she said.


Jeon Ok-ju, a dance teacher who became a Gwangju street orator in May 1980. By Chun Su-jin

Ahn, meanwhile, became a democracy fighter and a Gwangju city fixture after treating fellow citizens who had been shot, beaten or slashed by soldiers who attacked the protesters with fixed bayonets.
Ahn agrees that the film diluted the massacre’s cruelty, but both said they are grateful it has been made. “This was a chapter of history that should never be repeated and the film was a reminder of that,” said Ahn.
Kim rejects claims that his film, which opened just four months before the presidential election, has political intentions.
“I wanted to tell the human interest stories about the movement. I hope my film plays a role in keeping these memories alive,” Kim said.

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]

By Chun Su jin []
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