Read | 30. Mar 2022

When Korea Was Another Ukraine

At the beginning of the last century Japan occupied Korea. The formerly independent state became a colony until the end of World War II, when the USA helped the Korean people back to their independent status.

Does that situation remind you of something????

Actually I am so touched by the similarities of those times to ours that I strongly recommend to watch this series from Min Jin Lee´s bestselling novel.

The story takes us from Japanese-occupied Korea in 1915 to New York and Tokyo in the late 1980s. It unfolds steadily, with no cliffhangers or cheap tricks.

Trauma is present – the trauma of a colonised nation, and of the individual stories therein – but this is not a misery-fest. Instead it is a tale of emotional resilience, its most poignant moments – displaced people yearning for home – and national tragedies balanced by endurance and hope for the future.

There are two separate timelines, but the segue from one to another a historical period that is unfamiliar, to an era that looks pretty contemporary – is well crafted. We follow the character of Sunja from childhood (played by Jeon Yu-na) in an impoverished fishing village to early womanhood (played by Kim Min-ha), and then meet her again as a grandmother living in Japan – here portrayed by Youn Yuh-jung, who won the best supporting actress Oscar last year for "MInari".

It would be unfair to single out any of these performances, because all are terrific.

Witnessing all those Ukranian women and children forced to flee their bombed homeland I am wondering if they will have a similar fate as the Korean people - or if there is still the chance of an end to come and the possibility to get back to whatever is left then of their homes.

It took the Korean people more than one generation to get rid of their occupier, then a cold war and a civil war to endure and finally the separation between North and South.

One scene hit me - when two old ladies (calling each other "Grandmother") sharing their fate of having had left their homeland of Korea a lifetime ago, have lunch. One as a hostess, the other as her guest. Both made quite a successful living in Japan without ever having attended any school. The guest stops after one bite of rice, her eyes wide open, asking " it?", and the hostess answers with a big smile "Yes, it is! My son brings it to Japan every few months in suitcases".

The young man at the table wonders what this is about, and his grandmother answers full of pride and joy "This rice is grown in our country".