A lot of foreigners to Korea (myself included) are captivated at the sights and sounds of the big cities. We’re always reminded however, that compared to most of the modern world, Korea has changed relatively overnight. While I was living in Gyeongju, I’d see a lot of ajummas (old women) and ajussis (old men) with some characteristic hair styles and clothing, and wonder how they lived when they were younger. It’s hard to imagine since the big buildings that make up Korea today were not always present in the recent past. *What I’m more curious about is how the elder women decide to join their ajumma friends and get the curly hair, but let’s leave that for a different day.
Ode to My Father helps to bring a little light on Korea’s transformation to an economic powerhouse. If you’ve ever wondered about your ajussi neighbor, it might be a good starting point.
The movie starts in modern day Busan on a rooftop overlooking Nampodong. We’re introduced to an older Deok-Soo (Hwang Jung Min) and Young-Ja (Kim Yun Jin – LOST) talking about past dreams. From here we’re promised that the characters would survive any hardships in their life story as children and young adults. For me, seeing Busan in that much detail on the big screen was refreshing as it was alive and genuine.
The setting is quickly moved to 1950s Hungnam, a city that would eventually lie in modern day North Korea, where Deok-Su and his family meet US forces to escape the Chinese advances. After losing his father and youngest sister in the chaos, Deok-Su carries out his promise to be the head of the family. Arriving in Busan their aunt takes them in, and his story as the breadwinner begins and we’re taken through various periods in recent history.
With such a heavy heartbreaking period in the movie, we’re greeted with moments of comic relief that do just enough to lift our spirits. These moments keep the viewer’s attention and give a break for what is originally a difficult story. If you know Korean popular culture, you’ll see some famous names with fictional origins such as the founder of Hyundai. For K-drama lovers Kim Seul Gi (Discovery of Love) plays the sister, a lovable character.
Watching this in the theater, there was a noticeable amount of older audience members than other K-movies I had seen. As each period of the movie passed, I could hear the elders cry a little, perhaps indicating a good on-screen depiction of a difficult time in each of their lives. Although I’m really young in comparison it was hard to hold back tears. My girlfriend, who makes fun of me for this and isn’t a crier, almost cried as well. I think this says a lot about the movie. It seems as though Deok-Su is the embodiment of various ajussis’ stories put together as it does depict quite a lot a single person would have to go through.
There has been a lot of debate happening in online communities about how it only shows the good side of things. As an entertainment piece, I believe it was spot on since it definitely is not a documentary. We need to be entertained as we are introduced to the various situations of the character’s story.
I find it quite interesting that the movie touches on one of the ideas I’ve had in my mind for quite a long time now. I’m thankful to my father, who could possibly have faced more hardships in life than I ever had. It’s a great relief for me that I’ve been given the head start. Had I been in the same situation as my father, for some ordeals I’m not sure I would fare as well. This movie is really an ode to all fathers, and of generations past.