Friday, July 22, 2016
Ode to My Father is a sentimental tearjerker and a touching drama. This combination is not unusual when it comes to Korean drama, nor is it unwelcome when the two are balanced as deftly as they are here. What distinguishes Ode is the historical and raw cultural details that make it particularly insightful for non-Korean audiences.
Duk-soo Yoon (Jung-min Hwang) is just a child when we see him and his family fleeing the city of Hungnam during the Korean war. As he is climbing aboard a U.S. rescue ship, his little sister escapes his grasp and falls back into a sea of refugees. Duk-soo's father's last words to him, as he goes back to try to find his little sister, is that he is now the man of the family and must take responsibility for his mother and little brother and sister. And this begins years of regret and torment that follow him through the last days of his life.
Driven by the guilt of having lost his sister, young Duk-soo follows his father's command with unwavering determination. You may be reminded of George Bailey as Duk-soo sacrifices opportunities for himself to provide for his family, or to fund a wedding for his sister, or to cling to the family business, to the exasperation of his sons.
Through frequent flashbacks, we see how guilt leads Duk-soo into perilous work in the coal mines of Germany and the war zone of Vietnam. And yet it is not all a burden; if not for these journeys, he also would not have met Youngja (Yunjin Kim), the love of his life.
Yes, there are many weepy moments of the type that will strike some as manipulative. The saving grace is that this story is rooted in the often harsh realities of recent Korean history. Sometimes mirthful, frequently touching, but never exaggerated. You may even realize, just before the final frame, why he has clung to that store and why, finally, he lets it go.