Youth of May (2021 drama): Historical context

2021 KBS drama “Youth of May” is set to star two rising stars- actors Go Min Si and Lee Do Hyun. It tells the love story of Kim Myung-hee (Go Min Si) and Hwang Hee-tae (Lee Do Hyun) in the context of the 1980 Gwangju Uprising.

고민시 프로필/일상사진
Photo Credits. Actress Go Min Si. She’s most well known for her roles in movie “The Witch” and drama “Love Alarm” most recently, netflix hit series “Sweet Home”
이도현 프로필
Photo Credits. Actor Lee Do Hyun. He’s most well known for his roles in “18 Again” and “Hotel DeLuna”, as well as netflix hit “Sweet Home”

This is not the first time a film/drama is dealing with the Gwangju Uprising.

Actor Song Kang Ho, for instance, most well-known to the international audience for his role in “Parasite”, acted in 2017 movie “A Taxi Driver”

A Taxi Driver” Becomes Fastest Korean Movie Of 2017 To Attract 7 Million  Viewers | Soompi
Photo Credits. Movie “A taxi driver”

and 2013 movie “The Attorney”, whose plots unfold in the backdrop of the uprising.

Movie review : The Attorney (2013) |
Photo Credits. 2013 movie “The Attorney”

An amazing YouTube compilation of scenes between Go Min Si and Lee Do Hyun by 석한드

I’m really looking forward to this drama series because I loved the two actors in Netflix hit “Sweet Home”, in which they starred as siblings. Their chemistry was amazing, so much so that those who’ve watched “Sweet Home” begged for the two to be cast in another series together- KBS must’ve been listening!

픽터뷰] 이도현 "'스위트홈' 고민시의 수호천사가 되지 않았을까"
Photo Credits

In “Sweet Home”, Lee Do Hyun also played medical student Eun Hyuk, who gave up his dreams of becoming a doctor and did part-time jobs so that he could support the dream of his adopted younger sister Eun Yoo. Go Min Si played Eun Yoo, who had to give up her dream of becoming a ballerina because of her ankle injury.

In “Youth of May”, Lee Do Hyun also plays a medical student who entered med school top in class, while Go Min Si plays a competent and capable nurse.

While waiting for “Youth of May” to finally start, let’s take a look at the context of the 1980 Gwangju Uprising, which will undoubtedly constitute a large part of the plot!

~ * ~

On 26th of October of 1979, a dinner at the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) safehouse inside the Blue House took place. Its attendees included the third president of South Korea, Park Jung Hee, as well as others like a university student, a rising singer, the director and the chief secretary of the country.

기획] 《월간조선》·박정희대통령기념재단 공동 박정희 대통령 탄생 100주년 기념사업을 시작하며 : 월간조선
Photo Credits. President Park Jung Hee

Various political issues were discussed during the banquet. At one point, president Park criticized Director Kim Jae Gyu, the director of the KCIA and the president’s security chef, for not being repressive enough in dealing with protestors. These rebukes eventually ended when Director Kim left the banquet room and re-entered with a pistol, which he used to kill president Park.

The death of the president gave way to much political and social chaos, as well as democraticization efforts which have been unable to take place under president Park’s authoritarian rule. Student unions were formed, were the students protested for an end to martial law, the temporary imposition of normal civil functions in response to an emergency.

In response, Chun Doo Hwan, the chief of the Defense Security Command, forced the Cabinet to apply martial law to the whole country.

광주 5.18 정신'은 현재의 억압에 저항하는 것 – 사회주의자

Students protested against the closing of universities, and clashed with soldiers. According to witnesses, soldiers clubbed demonstrators and even onlookers. Bayonets were used as well, while students used stones. Citizens’ indignation was fuelled when they heard news of the death of a 29 year old man called Kim Gyeong-cheol, who was deaf and not even a participant of the demonstration, but a passer-by. He had been clubbed to death.

The army fired on the protestors, killing many. However, MBC station misreported the situation at Gwangju, reporting only one civilian casualty. Enraged, protestors burned down the local MBC station.

5.18광주민주화운동 40년, 그리고 천만영화 '택시운전사'
Photo Credits. A photograph of the burned down MBC building in Gwangju

Hundreds of taxis also joined the protest in their show of support for democracy. The troops used tear gas to attack the taxi drivers, and even pulled them out of their taxis to beat them. After hearing the news that their colleagues who had been trying to help the injured and taking them to the hospital were beaten, even more taxi drivers came into the scene. Some were even killed by shooting after some drivers tried to use their taxis to attack and block soldiers.

그때그사건] 5.18 민주화운동 알린 '택시운전사' 김사복씨…"세 차례나 광주 잠입" - TBS
Photo Credits. A photograph of Kim Sa Bok, an actual taxi driver whom Song Kang Ho acted as in movie “A Taxi Driver”, and Jürgen Hinzpeter, a German journalist. Hinzpeter was the only journalist to film the brutal killings of the Gwangju uprising. His videos were broadcast in Germany, then worldwide. Kim Sa Bok, with the conviction that the brutalities of the Gwangju Uprising had to be told worldwide, drove Hinzpeter to Gwangju despite the threat of being beaten or even killed if caught by soldiers.

By that time, militias had acquired light machine guns and used them against the army as well.

From May 18 to May 27, it is estimated that around 2000 were killed. One of the many contributing factors to the Gwangju Uprising, also known as “Oh-Il-Pal” (literally 5-18 in Korean), was that local Chonnam University students who were demonstrating against the government were shot, killed, raped and beaten by government troops.

Memory of the World
Photo Credits. “Memory of the World” by UNESCO

In 2011, records of the brutal 5.18 incident was designated as “Memory of the World” by UNESCO. Just in May 2020, the May 18 Democratization Movement Truth Commission was launched to investigate the use of military force in the uprising.

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