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Ko - production in Busan
  • by June Kim /  Dec 08, 2014

    YOUN Je-kyun 
    CAST HWANG Jung-min, KIM Yun-jin, OH Dal-su
    RELEASE DATE December 17, 2014
    CONTACT CJ Entertainment
    Tel. +82 2 371 6278
    Fax. +82 2 371 6340
    E-mail /
    During the Korean War in the 1950s, Deok-su’s family gets separated while fleeing from Heungnam Port. Following his father’s last order, Deok-su, his mother and his two younger siblings head to Busan where his aunt runs an imported goods store. Becoming the pillar of the household as the eldest child in the family, Deok-su gives his all to support them from an early age. But never with enough money, Deok-su makes a life-threatening decision to go to a coal mine in Germany to work, where he meets his first love and soon to be wife, Young-ja. After his return, he jumps into the middle of Vietnam War to support his family one more time, all the while waiting for his father and his lost sister to return.
    This epic drama follows key events in contemporary Korean history, while trailing along Deok-su’s personal story. The infamous Meredith Victory led by Captain Leonard LaRue was a cargo freighter that ended up saving 14,000 refugees in a single mission. This event was the largest evacuation on a single ship from land and was recognized as a Guinness world record. Taking this historical fact as the beginning of the story of Deok-su’s family heightens the realism. It is here that Deok-su accidently loses the grip of his younger sister Mak-soon while boarding, and his father decides to go back in search for her. Because he can’t stop feeling guilty about losing his sister and therefore leading to the loss of his father, Deok-su felt obligated to support his family to a point where he no longer lived for himself.
    The real melodrama derives from the universal subject of fatherhood, family and sacrifice. Director YOUN Je-kyun stated, “I felt sorry for the fathers that lived for their families instead of themselves during those hard years… It started as a personal story, but it’s everyone’s story. We’re all parents and children to someone.” Although the father is absent for a large portion of the film, the love between Deok-su, his father and the family is sure to move many hearts. It seems especially sincere as the message comes through strongly and personally from the director as we can see with the English title Ode to My Father, while the original title translates to International Market.

    Although there are many moments of grief due to the unfortunate events Deok-su faces, the story doesn’t forget its humor, just like YOUN’s previous box office hit Haeundae (2009). OH Dal-su as ‘Dal-gu’ takes most of the laughs which his comic character, and brings just the right amount of levity in between heartbreaking scenes. While also keeping historical facts intact, one can grasp the director’s sense of humor in the scene where Deok-su and Young-ja are having a heated talk about his move to Vietnam. Young-ja, upset that Deok-su kept sacrificing himself for his siblings, starts to yell but is interrupted by the Korean national anthem and is forced to stop. In an attempt to heighten nationalism, Korea played the national anthem in the evenings every day in the 70s. All Korean citizens were obliged to stand up, and put their right hand to their chest to show respect.
    As the film’s time spreads over many years, one major element YOUN paid attention to was the visual expression of the changing decades. The mise-en-scene had to represent each decade as realistically as possible, while the actors also needed to dress and look like the age group there were in. For continuity reasons, YOUN preferred to stick to the same actor from their twenties to their seventies. This involved the main protagonist Deok-su, played by HWANG Jung-min, Young-ja played by KIM Yun-jin and OH Dal-su. A CGI team from Japan worked on the age reduction process, which is the first time this technology has been used in a Korean film. Not only that, YOUN hired the special make-up team that worked on Skyfall (2012), led by Love Larson. Instead of the usual single lifecast mold of the face, the team used seven thinner molds. This is why the make-up is much more realistic as it moves with the muscles of the actor for seamless transformation. On top of the make-up, the film was shot in three different countries to boost realism, including of Korea. The coal mine in Germany was shot in a coal mine museum in Czech Republic which has kept its original form, while the Vietnam War scenes were shot in Thailand. YOUN mentioned that different cameras were used to create different atmosphere and colors for each of the locations. As for the set of the international market where Deok-su’s aunt works, the set was built in Gi-jang in Busan so that the timeliness of the buildings could be realistically expressed from the 50s to the 80s by their art team. The changing of the signage of Deok-su’s aunt’s shop aligns with the changes happening to the protagonist. Time passes and seasons change and although the sign has changed physically, the store and Deok-su fundamentally remain the same.
    Will Deok-su reunite with his father and Mak-soon? As his surroundings change over the years, Deok-su keeps his place at his aunt’s store, just as his dad asked him to. Deok-su’s desire to see his family reunite stirs the hearts of many, especially in a globally widespread time like today. With the increased number of fathers sending away their families internationally for education, it would be a good time to reflect on the role of the father, and the meaning of family.
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