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Understanding Snowdrop’s historical controversy: 5 films and series about South Korea’s democratic movement

By Hannah Mallorca Published Dec 22, 2021 6:45 pm

South Korea might be a democratic country today—and its history has ample reminders of the price the country paid to achieve its current liberties.

Aside from books about South Korea’s democratic movement, one highly accessible medium to learn about the country's rich history is through films and K-dramas. Luckily, the Korean entertainment industry has created insightful stories which are great mediums to start.

As Snowdrop faces risks of cancellation since its premiere, the fate of the K-drama remains unknown despite JTBC’s response to critics. One of the most notable reasons for its ongoing backlash is over what many claim to be its alleged revisionist take to South Korea’s uprising against the dictatorship in the 1980s

To understand Snowdrop’s historical revisionism controversy, here are five series and films to help you get started. Anyone going into these should, therefore, watch them with an open mind. 

(Trigger warning: Blood, violence, murder, suicide, and death.)

1987: When the Day Comes

Cast: Kim Yoonseok, Ha Jungwoo, Yoo Haejin, Kim Taeri, Park Heesoon, Lee Heejoon

1987: When the Day Comes centers around the events that led to 1987’s June Democratic Struggle. The June uprising began when student activist Park Jongchul was tortured to death while in police detention in January 1987. Authorities, however, claimed he died of shock. 

The film is a tragic retelling of Jongchul’s story and how his death empowered Koreans to protest against authoritarian rule. The story also features a significant moment in history where reporters probed about Park’s death and how an attending physician revealed the details about his torture. Following these events, public outrage sparked the June Democratic Struggle.

Youth of May

Cast: Lee Dohyun, Go Minsi, Lee Sangyi

Period K-drama Youth of May tells the story of medical student Hwang Heetae (Lee Dohyun) and Kim Myunghee (Go Minsi) who fell in love amid the Gwangju Uprising in 1980. The uprising started after student activists from Chonnam University, who protested against former dictator Chun Doohwan, were tortured, raped, and killed by authorities.

The series, however, centers around star-crossed lovers Heetae and Myunghee, who both ended up being the children of two families with opposing political views.

A Taxi Driver

Cast: Song Kangho, Thomas Kretschmann, Yoo Haejin, Ryu Junyeol

The 2017 film is based on the real-life story of a taxi driver who helped German journalist Jürgen Hinzpeter navigate the city amid the 1980 Gwangju Uprising. 

In 1980, Hinzpeter was able to obtain footage of the Gwangju Uprising despite fears of being caught. The journalist’s documentation of the protests allowed the rest of the world to learn what was happening in South Korea at that time. A Taxi Driver also paved the way for the real-life taxi driver’s identity to be revealed. 

The Attorney 

Cast: Song Kangho, Kim Youngae, Oh Dalsu, Kwak Dowon, Im Siwan

The 2013 film is inspired by the 1981 “Burim Case” where former tax lawyer Roh Moohyun formed a legal team to defend students, teachers, and office workers who were arrested under the suspicion of being North Korean sympathizers.  The impact of the case was so big at the time which allowed Roh to enter politics and eventually become the president of South Korea from 2003 to 2008. Interestingly enough, Roh’s legal team also included current President Moon Jaein

After enjoying his newfound fame in Busan, Song Woosuk (Song Kangho) agrees to testify for students who are facing a trial for sedition. The case made him grow as a lawyer and individual until he eventually becomes a protest leader himself. 

Peppermint Candy

Cast: Sol Kyunggu, Moon Sori, Kim Yeojin, Park Sooyoung

Don’t be fooled by the film’s sugary sweet title. Peppermint Candy is a 1999 flick that tells the story of policeman Kim Yongho (Sol Kyunggu), who committed suicide after dealing with guilt.

The film goes back in time to explore Kim’s trauma which led to him eventually taking his life. As we explore his life, we find out that he joined the Gwangju Uprising as a policeman. The traumatic events eventually led to the protagonist losing his sanity as he struggled to clear the line between victim and perpetrator.