Born to Korean parents in a country across the ocean, I have learned to love a land I cannot always tread, and a people I cannot always understand.
It is with deep humility I recognise that many of you also want to love and understand a language, culture, and nation that is perhaps not so familiar to you.
The 삼일 운동, or the March 1st Movement, was a series of public demonstrations that began on March 1, 1919 by the Korean people as a display of resistance against Japanese occupation. Nine years prior, the country had been annexed as a colony of Japan. They would continue to be under Japanese rule for another twenty six years. And so it’s hard to see this as a success, especially considering the way in which so many of the protestors across the country were brutally tortured and killed. And yet, it was a proud declaration of Korean spirit, and we remember the date to remember our history.
I’d like to share a couple of resources from different mediums that provide a glimpse into this period. (There’s technically just four, but I cheated by throwing in some other recommendations under each heading in bold too.)
TWO MINUTES, RAP TRACK: 나의 땅
Please turn the captions on for an English translation.
BewhY, the winner of rap competition Show Me the Money 5 in 2016, was chosen as an honorary ambassador of the March 1st Movement. His self-composition 나의 땅 (‘My Land’) is a rap track created especially to commemorate the event.
In an interview by Christian Today, the journalist reports BewhY explaining that “if the songs that I had released until now which dealt with history had messages of ‘resistance’ and ‘oppression’, the music video of ‘My Land’ does not stay in the past, but holds a message of ‘pride’ and ‘respect/self-esteem’ as we look towards the future built on the blood has been spilled.”
Furthermore, he states that “our mansae [hoorah] is not of revenge, but of moving towards the heaven of the coming tomorrow” and that “I believe that while the patriotic martyrs could not see it, the reason they chased it without being able to see it was due to faith. I am making such lyrics and music as a result of my desire of wanting to live out a life with the inheritance of the blood of those who lived by faith.”
FIVE MINUTES, POEM AND CHORAL PIECE: 서시
서시, or “Foreword”, is the first of a suite of poems published by Yun Dongju under the title Sky, Wind, Star, and Poem posthumously in 1948. You may remember the poet and his museum due to RM’s tweet. Here is a lovely and easy-to-read introduction to the poet and his works. The film Dongju (2016), starring Kang Ha Neul, is worth a watch.
The words of this poem have been faithfully represented in a choral piece composed by Lee Yongju. Here is a video of Jeonju Municipal Choir singing it.
Below is my translation of the poem, with times given to see how the words of each line is portrayed in song.
0.37 That I would not have one speck of shame
under the heavens until the day I die
1.13 I was tormented even by a
wind stirring the leaves
1.47 I shall love all things that are dying
with a heart that sings to the stars
2.09 And I must walk
the path that has been given to me
2.36 On this night, the stars
brush against the wind once more
THREE HOURS, MINI-DRAMA: HYMN OF DEATH
Tracing the romantic relationship between Yun Simdeok, Korea’s first professional soprano and Kim Woojin, a poet, dramatist and literature critic, it provides a heartbreaking glimpse into some of the bright minds who studied in Japan in the early 1900s, caught between ideology and a more comfortable life; passion and responsibility; Western and Eastern thought.
Both these artists used their art forms as a way to portray their deep-wrenching sorrow, and their most popular songs and poetry are used throughout. Yun Simdeok’s recording of “In Praise of Death” in 1926 can be heard here.
It can be found on Netflix, and other internet sites. Watch the trailer.
TWENTY EIGHT HOURS, DRAMA: GAKSITAL (BRIDAL MASK)
This 2012 drama is a sweeping tale of the Korean resistance movement in the 1930s Japanese colonial era. The protagonist, played by Joo Won, is actually a Korean police officer commissioned by the Japanese police to shut down the Korean rebellion, and so portrays well the idea of a war being something so cruel to pit brother against brother.
Another drama that covers a similar time period is the 2017 Chicago Typewriter, though fantasy elements have the writer protagonists jump between the 1930s and current day.
The 2018 Mr. Sunshine is set in the early 1900s, also focusing on activists fighting for independence. This can also be found on Netflix. Trailer here.