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Movie Review: 22 July

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No one can forget the horrific slaughter of Norwegian children by an armed nationalist on July 22, 2011, by a White Nationalist.


Now Netflix has produced a film, 22 July, portraying the slaughter of 68 children and injuring 110 more. For me, personally, it was difficult to watch the film dispassionately, separating script, screen play, acting, and direction from the factual basis of the film.

I admit to my own bias: I find xenophobia abhorrent, anti-Christian, and just plain evil. I keep thinking about what my parents generation fought for in WWII. They fought not only against Nazism & Japanese incursions, but against the whole idea of Ethnic Superiority, whether it was White Superiority in Europe or Japanese Superiority in Asia.

Watching 22 July is a deeply emotional film that lays out, in stark contrast, the difference between those who wish to divide on the basis of race, religion or country of origin, and those who choose to bring everyone together based on a belief in our shared humanity. A belief that inspired the world with this sentence from the American Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Although the United States has never fully accepted this value, as a nation we have progressively worked towards that goal. That is what makes this film so personally emotional for many of us. The slaughtered children were working for a more inclusive world that accepted all people as human beings, deserving of the same rights. But their murderer did not see the world, or humans, in the same way. He saw them as products of his ideological enemies.


Anders Behring Breivik (Anders Danielsen Lie), like all racial and ethnic Nationalists that came before him, stretching back eons in history, truly believed the rhetoric that the “other” was coming to destroy their world, their way of life, their security. That myth, as documented by historians, perpetuated by tribal leaders or a Chief to drum up support to degrade another tribe’s humanity in order to justify invasion and slaughter or just to shore up the tribe’s support for him, goes back thousands of years to mankind’s early tribes. What better way to cement a leader’s position and popularity than to drum up a war against a supposed enemy? (For reference, in the rhetorical battle in the 12th C. between the two Popes, one of them used this same tactic to win. He created the Crusades by claiming the Muslims were the enemy of Christianity and called on all Christian nations to wage a Holy War against Islam in the name of Jesus Christ. As a result, he won the rhetorical battle for Pope.)

Al that said, it does not excuse what Anders did in murdering and injuring so many innocent children…but it partially explains why he did it. He listened and accepted what those on the radical right were (and still are) preaching. He is the product of their fevered quest for power.

Whether or not those on the far right, in the EU or the US or Middle East or elsewhere in the world, actually believe what the say is up for debate, but what is not debatable is that millions of people, like Anders, believe them.


But what makes it difficult to review this film is because of the deeply emotional subject matter. Overall, the film deals with the subject of the murders and xenophobia fairly but perhaps too lightly. It is almost too surface skimming rather than in-depth, never going to deeply into the horrors and life or death struggles those children and their families endured. Yet, the story itself, so close in our collective Amemory, certainly yields more than enough emotion.


After watching this film, however surface-level the subject matter was treated, this is a film that should be watched. Because regardless of the Far Right, Alt-Right, Trumpists, Steve Bannons and Steve Millers, and ISIS groups, we must find a way back to accepting our common humanity. Moreover, America must lead the way as we historically have done for the last 75 years. This film shows us exactly why.

Written by Valerie Curl

October 12, 2018 at 9:12 PM

Netflix’s Korean Drama “Life”: A Review

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“To whom does your soul belong: the wealthy or the people

This is another Korean drama airing on Netflix. Originally produced by JTBC, Life depicts the story of public-spirited doctors and nurses against a corporate machine whose CEO’s sole goal is enormous profits, regardless of the consequences to everyone else, from hospital staff to the public.


As the story unfolds, a large amount of corruption exists within the university hospital which has been kept out of the public eye. When confronted with this information by their new corporate masters, most fold. Yet, some doctors maintain their the personal ethics and integrity to fight back, believing that the medical profession should put patients’ medical care above profit.

Cho Seung-Woo, most recently of Stranger fame, as Koo Seung-Hyo, plays the part of the new hospital president, recognizing that the hospital is awash in red ink, seeks to turn the hospital finances around while at the same time increase corporate profits through some fairly shady means…while at the same time he becomes increasingly disenchanted by the corporation to which he’s given his allegiance. Bit by bit, over time, he becomes influenced by the doctors’ principled stance.


Lee Dong Wook becomes one of Koo Seung-Hyo’s primary foes but who throughout remains confused as to what his primary nemesis, the new President, seeks to attain. He doesn’t necessarily appear to see the man as greedy and corrupt, but he’s not quite sure what game the man is playing. One day, he appears to be on the side of the hospital staff; the next on the side of the corporation.

Adding to Koo Seung-Hyo’s confusion is that fact that he learns from his paraplegic younger brother, Ye Sun-Woo, that the previous hospital director, whom Koo loved like a second father, placed government subsidy money into his personal bank account. Koo Seung-Hyo wants to know why that money was siphoned off and to what purpose, which leads him to do his own investigating…only to discover that the director’s death may not have been as reported. As for Ye Sun Woo, he uncovers not only where the embezzled money went but also the medical scam being perpetrated by the assistant hospital director, thus forcing the President, almost against his will, to relieve the man of his position and duties.


The only person in the hospital capable of standing up to the new President…and figuring him out…is the newly elected hospital director Oh Se-Hwa, played by Moon So-Ri, whom the department heads chose. Although she was perceived the dark horse in the election, no other candidate has her strength of character, spirit and spine. She forces her will on everyone, including the new President, with whom she not only works but often dominates in their confrontations.


Numerous other characters, with their own motives,are involved in this complex plot that pits corporate profit against human needs…and human love. As the battle rages within the non-profit university hospital, we see the two sides – corporate profits (and greed) versus humanitarianism – in stark relief.


Few of the hospital’s department heads are innocent of one immoral crime or another, including a suspected murder, which leads the viewer to the obvious belief most of the department heads need to be replaced. But for all the greed that the hospital’s department heads engaged in, they all come together to fight against the greed of the corporation and its somewhat illegal tactics to turn the non-profit hospital into a money-making machine that caters to the wealthy at the expense of everyone else in the community.

This drama series exemplifies why I enjoy Korean dramas so much more than American TV. Unlike American TV, Korean dramas don’t rely upon a Marvel Comic Book hero to come and save everyone from the villain. Instead, Korean dramas rely upon ordinary human beings fighting back against the wrongs, greed and corruption Koreans have long seen within their own society and history. These dramas not only exhibit the multiple forms of greed and corruption that exists, but also the bravery, courage, integrity, and honor of those who fight back to create a better, more fair and decent Korean society for all.

As an aside, these kinds of dramas probably contributed to the massive protests against incompetence and corruption exhibited the Park Administration that led to its downfall. As American history notes, the popularity of early 1930s films in which pitted the average, hardworking, honerable person against the ego-entric wealthy undoubetdly helped FDR pass his legistation.

As Abraham Lincoln famously implied, you can only fool all the people for so long. Once the people’s blinders are lifted, they then will rise up against the greed for money, power and prestige as well as the corruption that they see surrounding them…even in such a seemingly mall place as a public hospital where greed, in all of its multiple forms, and profits are pitted against the public good.

Life is definitely worth watching.

Written by Valerie Curl

September 20, 2018 at 6:09 PM

Netflix’s Mr Sunshine: Historical Background

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As mentioned before, I’m currently watching the TvN drama Mr. Sunshine, airing simultaneously on Netflix (Sat and Sun). The drama was written by Kim Eun-Sook and Director Lee Eung-Bok of Descendants of the Sun and Goblin fame. While a love story between a Korean noble woman, fighting for Korea’s liberty from Japan’s control, and an American Navel Captain who just happens to be is an escaped child of Korean slaves, the backdrop of the story is Japan’s occupation of Korea.


Unlike Korean films and dramas set later in Japan’s occupation – post annexation of Korea – Mr. Sunshine takes place in the early years of the 20th Century (around 1905), prior to the complete annexation of Korea and while Emperor Gojong was still on Korea’s throne. To make sense of the historical background surrounding the drama, it’s necessary to understand the geopolitical dynamics within East Asia.

First of all, Czar Nicolas of Russia sought to expand his empire across Manchuria to the warmer waters of the Pacific. Blocked by both ice throughout much of the year and other nations on Atlantic, ports on the Pacific Ocean seemed perfect ports for Russian trade and influence expansion. To make that happen, Russia annexed not only Manchuria but also a portion of China that borders what is now No. Korea.

Japan resented Russia’s land grab and feared Russia’s potential as a political rival in Asia. Japan publicly considering itself the rightful defender of East Asia. In public statements, Japan painted itself as the defender of East Asia from foreign dominance, much as they saw the Monroe Doctrine protecting Latin and South America from European incursion.


As No. Korea is now, the Joseon Dynasty, at the end of the 19th Century, was a hermit kingdom. It wanted to be left alone and remain neutral. It sought, like Japan decades earlier, to keep foreigners out. But geopolitics and Korea’s own military and political weakness made that impossible. Furthermore, Gojong realized the might and advanced technology of these foreign nations and, to keep his Kingdom safe, sought to bring those advancements to Korea. Some amongst the nobles balked at his plans while others embraced them. Indeed several nobles sent their male children to Japan, which was among the more technologically advanced and worldly nations, to complete their educations.

In 1904-5, the Japanese military achieved a comprehensive victory in the Russo-Japanese War. Following the Protectorate Treaty of 1905 between Korea and Japan, which forcibly stripped Korea of its rights as an independent nation, Gojong sent representatives to the Hague Peace Convention of 1907 in order to try to re-assert his sovereignty over Korea. Although the Korean representatives were blocked by the Japanese delegates, they did not give up, and later held interviews with newspapers. Indeed, Korean Ministers set up a second Ministry in San Francisco where they actively lobbied Korean Americans in support of their mission to keep Korea independent.

One representative warned forebodingly of Japanese ambitions in Asia: “The United States does not realize what Japan’s policy in the Far East is and what it portends for the American people. The Japanese adopted a policy that in the end will give her complete control over commerce and industry in the Far East. Japan is bitter against the United States and against Great Britain. If the United States does not watch Japan closely she will force the Americans and the English out of the Far East.”

Nevertheless for all of Korea’s lobbying at the Hague and elsewhere in the US and Europe, Britain joined with Japan in its bid to control Korea. The US too, under President Teddy Roosevelt and the US Foreign Secretary, agreed to hand over sovereignty of Korea to Japan as long Japan gave up every right to the Philippians which the US had recently won from Spain. As a result of that agreement, the US would support a peace treaty between Japan and Russia that handed Korea over to Japan. Meanwhile, as these negotiations were under way, Japanese Ministers, government, and newspapers spread anti-Korean propaganda, saying Korea was the reason why so much turmoil existed in the Far East. In their telling, Korea was the problem that prevented peace.

Of course, the US tended to believe Japan’s narrative ever since the US-Korean conflict in 1871 during which, due to multiple misunderstandings on both sides, the US essentially invaded and killed over 200 Koreans. For almost two decades, Korea, in the mind of US officials, was seen as as hostile foreign power. But these same officials knew almost nothing about Korea, its language, culture or history.


Moreover, it seems entirely possible that Japan’s ministers were far more believable than those of Korea as a result of Japan’s greater (or more lengthy) engagement with the West while Korea had chosen to maintain its isolation and independence, especially after centuries under the dominance of China. Nevertheless, Korea sent Ministers to the US to lobby for Korean independence as well as to set up friendly relations with the US. Korean Ministers set up a Legation in Washington DC and another in San Francisco. But aside from their positive influence on the Korean American community, they had little success in convincing the US government to support its desired stance as a neutral and independent nation.


It’s probable that Teddy Roosevelt knew nothing of Korea’s history…or of its multiple wars against Japanese incursion; or of its’ having to submit to China’s dominance; or of its’ desire to forge its own destiny. So, while TR sought to end the Russio-Japanese War, which earned him a Nobel Peace Prize, he ultimately gave away Korea to Japan dominance.

One representative warned forebodingly of Japanese ambitions in Asia: “The United States does not realize what Japan’s policy in the Far East is and what it portends for the American people. The Japanese adopted a policy that in the end will give her complete control over commerce and industry in the Far East. Japan is bitter against the United States and against Great Britain. If the United States does not watch Japan closely she will force the Americans and the English out of the Far East.”


Fifteen years after Japanese assassins murdered his wife, Queen Min, Japan forced Gojong to retire from the throne in favor of his son, Sunjong. After abdicating, Emperor Gojong was confined to the Deoksu Palace by the Japanese. Three years after Gojong’s forced abdication , on 22 August 1910, the Empire of Korea was annexed by Japan under the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty that Sunjong was forced to sign. This treaty allowed the Japanese government to supervise and intervene in the administration and governance of Korea, which also allowed for the appointment of Japanese ministers within the government.

Gojong died suddenly on 21 January 1919 at Deoksugung Palace at the age of 67. There is much speculation that he was killed by poison administered by Japanese officials, an idea that gained wide circulation and acceptance at the time of his death. His death and subsequent funeral proved a catalyst for the March First Movement for Korean independence from Japanese rule.

After the annexation treaty, the former Emperor Sunjong and his wife, Empress Sunjeong, lived the rest of their lives virtually imprisoned in Changdeokgung Palace in Seoul. Sunjong could not exercise any power as emperor because there were only pro-Japanese politicians in government. After the Korean Empire collapsed, Sunjong was demoted from emperor to king. Japan allowed him the title of King Yi of Changdeok Palace and allowed for the title to be inherited. Sunjong lived the rest of his live at Changdoek palace and died on April 24, 1926. Thus, after 519 years the Joseon Dynasty came to an end.


After Japan’s total dominance over Korea, Koreans were forced to submit totally to Japan’s every demand. They were forced to give up their names in favor of Japanese names; give up their language; give up their heritage; study only Japanese history; give up their businesses and property to Japanese owners…the list is endless.

But American President Teddy Roosevelt most probably did not know any this would happen because he believed the Japanese ministers with whom he undoubtedly had far more contact than with those of the unknown Korean ministers who had recently arrived and met briefly with him. Remember that although Korea had fought off both Japanese and Chinese incursions for centuries, until China finally won suzerainty, it’s probably doubtful TR knew next to nothing of Korea’s history.

Nevertheless, the story that unfolds in Mr Sunshine takes place in the years just prior to Japan’s complete dominance of Korea and after the murder of Queen Min. The story of Mr Sunshine takes place in those few years after he 20th Century when history could have been written another way.



Written by Valerie Curl

September 8, 2018 at 7:39 PM

Netflix’s Mr Sunshine: a historically based fictional history of America’s abandonment of Korea

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Many of us Korean Drama fans know much about Joseon’s history as a result of many popular K-dramas like Six Flying Dragons, Wind in the Palace, Dong Yi, The Great King Sejong, Face Reader, and even the historically based fictional drama, Jackpot, aka The Royal Gambler as well as through feature films like The Ruler .K-drama fans are also familiar with the Korean empires that pre-dated Joseon through popular dramas like Queen Seondeok, Emperor of the Sea, and The Sword and the Flower.

We are even aware of Korean’s resistance movement during the Japanese usurpation and occupation of Korea via films like The Assassins, The Age of Shadows, Dongju, and Bridal Mask and The Last Princess.


But few, if any Korean films or dramas depict the circumstances that led up to Japan’s occupation and annexation of Korea. Netflix’s Mr Sunshine, featuring award winning actor Lee Byung Hun and Kim Tae-Ri of The Handmaiden fame, explore the early events prior to Joseon’s complete occupation by Japan. Although the script is a romantic fiction with many fictional events, it is nevertheless based on actual fact, including the facts that several of Emperor Gojong’s, aka Emperor Gwangmu, officials and nobles collaborated with Japan in selling our their country for financial and political gain.

But before I begin the tell the factual story of American involvement behind this fictional and historic drama, let’s take a moment to view some of the real history, particularly regarding America’s role in Japan’s annexation of Korea.

Written by Valerie Curl

August 26, 2018 at 7:53 PM

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