Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Jeju massacre in print and film

I recently read 'Aunt Suni,' a translation of Hyun Ki-Young's 1978 story 'Suni Samchon,' which was the first story written about the Jeju massacre of 1948-49. The friend who lent it to me warned me that the translation was poor (though, translating stuff as I do for the blog, I didn't find it quite as difficult to read as he did), but it is still a powerful story, as Charles Montgomery notes in his review. One part that stood out for me was when the narrator, who has returned to Jeju after an eight year absence, remembers attending the jesa for his grandfather who died in one of the massacres by the military as they cleared out their village. A boy at the time of this memory, he goes outside to wash his face and hears wailing all around him as practically every household in the village holds its own jesa. What the people wanted, 30 years later (when the story was written) was to be able to hold a joint memorial, but the government wouldn't let them (this is reminiscent of how the government forced the families of those killed during the Gwangju Uprising to leave Gwangju around the time of the anniversary to prevent attempts to hold such a joint memorial service).

The government wasn't very impressed when Hyun's story was released in 1978. As his Wikipedia page relates, 
The story was the first ever written about the Jeju massacre, and shortly after it was released in 1978 in a collection of stories, Hyun was arrested and tortured for three days. The government claimed that this was because he had been at a protest, but as he was released he was warned against ever writing about the massacre again, which made the real reason for his arrest apparent.
For those interested in reading the story, there is a new translation available.

On the same topic, the film Jiseul, which is about the Jeju massacre, will be released in Seoul today (after being released three weeks ago in Jeju). The film won the World Cinema Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at January’s Sundance Film Festival last year, though it didn't appeal to everyone. The Korea Times took a lengthy look at the film and its director, Jeju native O Muel, earlier this week.

On a related topic (especially thinking of Hyun Ki-young's arrest and torture), today the Constitutional Court ruled that emergency decrees No. 1, 2, and 9, created to defend Park Chung-hee's 1972 Yushin Constitution, were unconstitutional. I enjoyed Stars and Stripes' contemporary description of emergency measure 9 as the law which makes it illegal to criticize the law which makes it illegal to criticize the Yushin Constitution.

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