Movies Reviews

New film revisits South Korean history

Seoul, SOUTH KOREA – A new movie about South Korean history is getting a lot of attention here.

Konkuk Jeonjaeng, (The Birth of Korea), which dropped February 1, paints South Korea’s first president, Syngman Rhee, as the country’s true hero. It does this through a retelling of true stories previously kept under wraps and by detailing how the nation was born.

By the end, the movie has completely debunked the misunderstandings about Rhee to subvert the audience’s prior misconceptions.

Konkuk Jeonjaeng mentions how Rhee is well-known for his “controversial presidency,” which is sometimes referred to as a partial dictatorship.

The movie regularly diverts from detailed explanations of historical events to a more casual interview with experts for their opinions regarding these events.

During Rhee’s presidency alone, many tragic events transpired. For example, the notorious April 19th Revolution started off as a protest conducted by students nationwide about their education and election fraud, resulting in many painful deaths and damage. 

A common sentiment among experts interviewed in the film about this event highlighted the argument that it is difficult to say Rhee’s presidency was led using dictatorship mechanisms and attributes.

The experts shown in the film include Prof. Gregg Brazkinski of George Washington University. They argued that so-called ‘dictatorships’ show extreme deprivation and exclusion of basic human rights but that President Rhee did not treat his citizens in an inhumane manner as quintessential dictators like China’s Mao Zedong and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines did.

Despite experts not designating him a ‘dictator,’ the majority of people still refer to him as one. While it is undeniable that his government was repressive and to some extent, authoritarian, it is always easy to criticize a government for its handling of a specific crisis with not much insight about the situation. 

At the same time, the other half of Korean people believe that Rhee significantly impacted the South Korean economy by presenting them with women’s voting rights, land reforms and even going as far as creating a stable relationship with the United States that led to a long-lasting, fruitful alliance between the two nations that still stands today.

Overall, Konkuk Jeongjaeng explains the misunderstandings about Rhee in a thoroughly captivating, enjoyable documentary movie that leaves viewers questioning everything they thought they knew and wondering what else has been misconstrued in history.

Josephine Yein Lee is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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