It’s not difficult to understand why Ode to My Father was a huge hit in Korea last December when it hit the big screens. If there is a comparison I can make, I would refer to this movie as a roller coaster: there were moments where one can enjoy the scenery, while other moments were full of ups and downs though you know you’ll still make it safely back to the platform.
Hwang Jung Min is the perfect fit for our protagonist Yoon Deok Soo, the eldest son who had to toil and sweat since young for his siblings and mother, and subsequently for his family in the later years. Always optimistic and cheerful, Deok Soo is somewhat similar to Forrest Gump, believing in the best in life, and most importantly, keeping his promise to his father (Jung Jin Young) to take care of his siblings and mother.
The movie begins with Deok Soo as an old Gramps, remembering the fateful day where he is separated from his father and sister, as someone bumps into him on the street. As he stumbles and falls and almost loosen his hand from his granddaughter, Deok Soo is reminded of losing hold of his sister, Mak Soon, as he climbs up the American ship which promises to bring the Korean refugees from the North to the South.
We then follow Deok Soo, his mother (Jang Young Nam) and two other siblings, as they find their way to his Aunt’s (Ra Mi Ran) tiny fabric shop in Busan, House of Pollens. Initially waiting for a chance to head back to the North to reunite with his father, if he does not come for them in Busan. The family eventually settles down in Busan, as Korea becomes separated into two, with its citizens having no way to cross over to either side.
Deok Soo finds himself a good friend Dal-goo (Oh Dal Soo), who is literally beside him through thick and thin, from young till old age. From being covered in kicks and bruises by older children who snatched away the chocolates given by the US soldiers post-Korean War, to surviving the dangerous mines in West Germany, and then war-torn Vietnam, Deok Soo and Dal-goo are the best examples of BFFs.
After going through the thrills, we head for the calmed and heart-warming aspect of the movie, when in the 80s KBS held a series of programs to help Koreans find their family members separated because of the War. Deok Soo leaves his family in Busan, and heads to Seoul with Dal-goo, to take part in the program, in a bid to re-connect with his father and Mak Soon.
Ode To My Father successfully captures the spirit of Koreans post-war, when most are struggling to pick up the pieces of their lives and to make a livelihood, which was why it struck a chord with many and become a box office success. In the midst of facing life and death, there’re comedic moments (mostly between Deok Soo and Dal-goo), which I found balances the tone, though it may have made the movie look like it’s not taking itself too seriously. Nevertheless, it has acheived what it set out to be – Ode to all fathers who grew up post-war.