Musical film ‘Hero’ shows human side of pro-independence martyr

“Long live Korea!” (Корея Ура!)
It was on Oct. 26, 1909, in Harbin, China, that pro-independence martyr Ahn Jung-geun shouted these words while shooting Hirobumi Ito, who was the Japanese resident-general of Korea at the time and the ringleader of the Japanese occupation of the Korean Empire. Ahn hollered the words in Russian as he was aware that the Russian finance minister and Russian journalists were at the site.
The musical film “Hero” is about the last year of Ahn’s life, from when he planned Ito’s assassination in Harbin to his execution following his death sentence. The film is based on a Korean musical of the same title and both the power of the historical figure and music has attracted viewers. and Honorary Reporter Noriko Ohkusa from Japan on Dec. 8 attended the screening of the film and the subsequent news conference at the multiplex CGV Yongsan in Seoul’s Yongsan-gu District. The film might prove a bit uncomfortable for a Japanese to watch but this article shares Ohkusa’s thoughts on the movie as well as those of the director and cast.
Films on the 1910-45 Japanese occupation of Korea and Korean independence from Japan in Japan are called “movies against Japanese colonial rule.” So what would Japanese think when hearing of a movie on the last year of independence activist Ahn Jung-geun’s life?

The film begins with Ahn and independence activists pledging their lives for Korean independence, expressing through powerful songs their anger and sadness over Japanese colonial rule and their strong determination.

The scene then changes to Ahn spending time with his family in his hometown to show a contrast of solemnity and warmth of a family. His mother bids her son fighting for his country a fond farewell with a smile, while his wife cannot understand why her husband must leave. This captivating scene starts the display of Ahn’s human side.
Ohkusa said, “It’s safe to say most Japanese wouldn’t know who he was,” adding, “I didn’t know much about him other than that he was an independence activist who shot Hirobumi Ito and never learned about him in history class. This movie was how I got to know about him a bit better.”

The film shows Ahn fighting for independence along with his companions. This might give the impression of a serious and dark work but the scenes shot in Japan, China and Latvia are majestic and beautiful, with a light tempo that never bores the audience. Several humorous scenes also evoke laughter.

“As someone from the perpetrating nation, I must think more deeply about the facts and meaning of history and reflect on what Japan did,” Ohkusa said.

“Each person will have a different opinion after watching the movie, but what I felt was the importance of a peaceful and free life and the courage to protect your loved ones,” she said. “Not only do we need repentance but also the courage to take a step to stop war and violence occurring even now and the courage to raise our voices.”

“Hero” was filmed with the cast singing live on-site. Chung Sung-hwa, who has played Ahn since the eponymous musical debuted in 2009, said, “If my sound (singing) was even a little off after the camera started rolling, it was hard for me to get into the mood because it bothered me and striking a balance in such moments was tough.”

“The title is ‘Hero’ but I tried to play the character not only in the manner of a stereotypical hero commonly thought of,” he added. “Above all, I tried to depict Ahn as the person he was.”

At the news conference after the screening, director Yoon Je-kyoon said, “By watching this movie, you can learn about the many independence activists who gave their lives for our country, and particularly the largely unknown last year of Ahn Jung-geun’s life.”

Released on Dec. 21, “Hero” as of Dec. 26 at 7 a.m. attracted 804,747 viewers and mostly positive reviews.

Source: Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism

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