Korean movie – A melody to remember

Further to Friday’s post about movie subtitles, I went to the cinema (or ‘cultureplex’) to ask, using my recently acquired vocabulary, and the attendant said that none of the sessions of this movie have subtitles. My choice was either to turn around and go home, or to wait for two hours and watch it with no subtitles. (The third choice, suggested by another attendant, was to watch Kung Fu Panda 3 – ‘That’s in English’.) I decided to watch it and understood enough to follow the story and enjoy the movie. Inevitably, I missed a lot of details.

The movie’s official title in English is A melody to remember. The Korean title 오빠 생각 (o-ppa saeng-gak) translates variously as Thoughts of my older brother or Thinking of my older brother. The Korean Film Council’s website gives the following synopsis: “A platoon leader, Lt. HAN Sang-ryul, is devastated after losing his beloved family [and most of his platoon] due to the Korean War. He is assigned to a new base and meets war-orphans who are as hurt as him. With the help of Ju-mi, the caretaker [that is, taking care of the children, not a janitor – care-giver might be a better word], Lt. HAN decides to create a choir with orphans to protect them and children are also healed by singing.”

I can’t seem to find the same trailer twice. The first one I saw, which made me want to see the movie in the first place, mainly consists of scenes of the children on their tour of army bases towards the end of the movie. The second, which I posted on Facebook yesterday, shows a lot more war and a lot less music. The third, this one, mainly shows the children rehearsing and singing at their first performance.

Central to the story are two children who were either from the North or whose father had communist sympathies. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that he is killed early in the movie. The 10-ish-year old boy becomes a leading singer in the choir despite a rebellious nature, but the 8-ish-year-old girl at first refuses to sing, for reasons related to her father’s death. (She starts to sing later in spoilerific circumstances.) Otherwise, very few of the children show signs of trauma; one first calls Lt Han ‘father’ and another stares at the moon sleeplessly until Ju-mi comforts him. Lt Han suffers flashbacks of his family and platoon, and his muttering in a nightmare wakes up some of the children. The movie is bitter-sweet – the war underpins the whole story and spoilerifically intrudes towards the end.

So, it is possible to enjoy a movie without understanding more than a word here and there of the dialogue. I don’t think I’ll make a habit of it, though. (By the way, I think that the government, the film commission and/or the cinema could do more about providing subtitles and promoting Korean movies among expats in Korea.)

PS While I was researching this post, I found that the soundtrack is available online. This site has free samples of each track, as well as purchase and downloads.


11 thoughts on “Korean movie – A melody to remember

  1. A couple of notes:
    Spoilerific is a wonderful word,, new to me. Is it your creation? (When I first wrote that sentence I had used concoction)
    I’m not surprised you could follow and enjoy the movie without fully understanding the dialog. I’ve always found that a movie in a language I do not understand, or do not understand fully, is eminently enjoyable as long as it is well written and well edited. Subtitles absolutely allow one to grasp the more subtle details, but usually the story overall will be understood.


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