Movie Review: Birthday (2019)


Jung-il (Sol Kyung-gu) only returned to his family almost 3 years after the death of his son, Su-ho (Yoon Chan-young), in the Sewol Ferry tragedy. Jung-il previously had worked in US, got involved an incident which caused him to serve jail sentence for the past 3 years, only to be found innocent recently to allow him to return to South Korea. His wife, Soon-nam (Jeon Do-yeon), wanted to divorce him as he was not around when the family needed him most. Their younger daughter, Ye-sol (Kim Bo-min), initially found Jung-il unfamiliar but later became attached to Jung-il.

Jung-il realised that he had missed the time his children were growing up, and therefore know nothing about his son. He thought of celebrating Su-ho’s birthday as a way of compensating Su-ho. However, Soon-nam opposed to this idea. In fact, Soon-nam refused to accept Su-ho’s death, not only maintaining his room, but also buying clothes for Su-ho from time to time. Sometimes, Soon-nam went into a hysteria, crying loudly and uncontrollably, only to be settled down by her neighbor. Finally, Soon-name agreed to organizing a birthday party for Su-ho, where Su-ho’s surviving classmates and parents of other victims attended to reminisce about their interactions with Su-ho.


More than 3 years had passed since the Sewol Ferry Tragedy where most of the passengers (and victims) were students from Danwon High School. The movie neither discuss the cause of the tragedy nor blame anyone for the accident, merely focusing on how support groups and families of both survivors and victims came together to help each other tide through their loss of loved ones. It was frequently mentioned in kdramas that children who lost their parents were known as orphans, that people who lost their spouses were known as widows or widowers, but there was no term to describe parents who lost their children, as the pain from the loss was too tremendous to be described. Therefore, the emotional pain felt by the parents of the student victims may be so deep beyond imagination, and probably unable to be healed completely at all.

As in Soon-nam’s case, she seemed normal on the surface, but in reality she refused to accept the death of her son, who once gave her the emotional support and motivation to continue to support the family in the absence of her husband. The movie also discussed about the aftermath of the ferry accident, such as if families with financial problems should accept the monetary compensation should the government not dealt with the accident and its aftermath appropriately, if others should judge these families accepting the compensation, or if the school should maintain the classroom in memory of the student victims, how long families and friends should be forgiving towards the grieving parents etc.

For instance, Soon-nam’s moments of hysteria had disturbance to the lives of her neighbors, although her neighbors could be understanding to her grief after the accident, their annoyance would still accumulate years after the accident, when they felt that Soon-nam’s grief should come to a close. Ultimately, this movie believes that wounds can be healed with love (from families and friends) and also time, as Jung-il’s tolerance to his wife not only slowly improved their relationship, but also slowly healed Soon-nam’s emotional loss.

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