The biggest blockbuster film in Korea at the moment is neither a spectacular action nor a romantic comedy – normally the genre much preferred by the holiday crowd. Instead, it’s a serious human drama titled, ‘The Counselor.’ It tells the story of a lawyer who transforms from a money-grabbing tax lawyer into a civil rights advocate throughout the film. At first glance, it doesn’t sound like a kind of a movie that people would go and watch on Christmas or during the holiday season. But this film has a very significant aspect to Korean people. This film is based on the true story of Roh, Moo-hyun, the 9th president of the Republic of Korea (2003-2008).
Last Thursday on Dec. 26, I joined the screening event hosted by OhMyNews and watched the film with about 250 members of OMN’s ‘100,000 Supporters’ Club.’ Since Oh, Yeon-ho, the head journalist of OMN, was the person who Roh allowed his first- and last- interviews, watching the film with Oh and his team made the viewing experience more intense and sincere. After the screening, about 50 audience members joined the after-party and had a lively yet somewhat solemn conversation about the film and the current Korea. Through them, I learned about the real event that the film was based on.
To be honest, I didn’t know much about Roh, Moo-hyun. I had left Korea for the United States in 1997, and hadn’t been following the news in Korea since. I didn’t have much interest in politics, and to my shame, I didn’t bother to learn who the current president was until it came up during the conversations with other people.
But then on the early morning of May 23, 2009 in New York time, I got a phone call from my little sister Gina. I was sleeping in my Brooklyn apartment. Half-awaken and a bit annoyed, I picked up the phone. Then I heard her crying. I was alarmed. I thought something bad happened to her or my family. Yes, something bad happened. But it wasn’t to my family.
My sister said Roh, Moo-hyun killed himself. She lamented over the country that drove him to suicide. She said she wished to leave Korea. She couldn’t stand living among the people who let this tragic event happen.
I didn’t know what to say. As I was listening to her wail turning into a sob, I wondered about who this guy, Roh, Moo-hyun was. I had no idea what kind of background he had or what kind of president he was. But one thing was very clear to me. He must have been a good man for his death invoked such despair to my good-hearted little sister.
A few month later, my sister Gina was diagnosed with leukemia and died in May 26, 2010 – only a year after Roh’s death. I often think that if my sister had lived and I had died in her place, the world would have been a better place. Her loving and caring heart could have alleviated the sorrows of many people around her. Now I think of more than a few individuals who could have made Korea a better country if they had died in Roh’s place.
I had lived 28 years in Korea before moving to the States. And I’ve been living here since April this year. You think I know Korea well. But no, it’s a mystery to me all along. The man who was responsible for so many inhuman actions and injustice depicted in The Counselor is still alive and well except some financial dent in his thick pocketbook. The man who used his presidential post to accumulate his own personal wealth is alive and well. The current president withdrew a pledge to give all senior citizens a monthly pension only 9 months after she was elected. She said it was simply unaffordable. Then, last month, the parliament passed the pension plan for the Senators and councilmen.
When I heard the news that about 5,000 riot policemen stormed into the Korean Confederations of Trade Union(KCTU) office to arrest the railroad union leaders on strike, I couldn’t believe my ears. I thought those days were long gone in Korea at least two decades ago. I thought Korean government has matured enough to understand the true meaning of Democracy. Sadly I was mistaken.
As I was going home to my mom’s run-down small studio, I wished that
Korea would become a country in which good men can survive, and then ultimately thrive. I hope that some millions of people who watched this film shall put their hearts together to make that wish come true…