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During the Korean War, ten-year-old Deok-soo’s family lives in the North Hamgyong province in what is now present day North Korea. They hear news that Chinese troops have invaded his village so they decide to flee to Busan, a city on the southern end of present day South Korea, where Deok-soo’s aunt lives. The U.S. Navy offers safe passage on many transport boats and so Deok-soo carries his youngest sister on his back, but in the panic and horde of people, he drops his sister Mak-soon in the shallow water. His father must search for his daughter and tells Deok-soo that he will return, but if not in time, “You are the man of the house, take care of the family and we will meet at your aunt’s store in Busan.” Tragically, as soon as his father is off the boat, it departures.
Deok-soo makes it safely to his aunt’s store with his sister, brother and his mother. His father never arrives. Time passes and Deok-soo follows his father’s last words and lives his life full of responsibility. He doesn’t say no to taking on the hard jobs at the docks where he works but his family is as poor as ever. Actually his dream is to be a Navy ship’s captain but he needs a lot of money for his younger brother, who is good at studying and passes the entrance examination to Seoul National University. At that time, a friend of his named Dal-goo (Oh Dal-su) shows him a recruitment poster for German miners. Deok-soo thinks it’s a golden opportunity for making a lot of money, so he gives up his dream and travels alone to Germany.
He endures a tough life in Germany while thinking of his family. Meanwhile, he meets Young-ja (Yunjin Kim of LOST) who is a Korean Nurse in Germany. He loves her at first sight. They start dating and their love grows. But, after some time, he must go back to Korea because his work Visa will expire. Before he leaves, they have passionate sex for the first time and then leaves her. Three months later, she visits him in Korea while being pregnant with his baby. He’s very happy seeing her again and they get married. He then tries again for his longtime dream of being a Navy ship’s captain, so he takes an examination. He receives his letter of acceptance to the Navy. He and his family are over the rainbow. But suddenly his aunt passes away and his uncle wants to sell the store because he needs the money. When Deok-soo gets the news, he gives up his dream again to join Navy and takes over the store. The store is not just a store for him. Deok-soo believes his father is still alive and will visit his family some day. He takes over the store but his household economic circumstances leave him still without money. With few options, he decides to work in Vietnam but his wife says, “It’s your life, but you’re not living it.” Young-sa feels pity for her husband because he always leaves behind his hopes in life to sacrifice for his family.
Directed by Yoon Je-kyoon, he hopes that after watching the film, the audiences really understand why he made this movie. The beginning of the film is a very personal story but from the perspective of Korean parents and children watching, it becomes our story, a page in our history during the Korean War. He wants to draw the plot through what might seem a most ordinary life that becomes the greatest story. In modern times, everything moves with incredible growth and fast changes but Yoon shows us the slow pace of traditional Korea and uses the traditional market as a backdrop for this story to illustrate that effect.
For main actor, Hwang Jung-min, a man in his early forties, playing the role from early twenties to mid-seventies was a great challenge. His performance is especially touching. This story is about a man who lives for only his family, sacrificing everything for their needs first and always remembering the last words his father gave him. He could be my father. While watching the film, I was moved to tears by the character’s reminiscence to my own dad. He also lived a similar life like Deok-soo, growing up in the same time. The film makes me understand my father’s life, and for many other Koreans, theirs as well.
Ode To My Father is currently available on Netflix
Trailer with English Subtitles