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I Can Speak

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Kim Leng
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I Can Speak

      I Can Speak (2017), directed by Hyun-seok Kim and written by Seung-hee Yoo, can be used to teach students about Korean comfort women during World War II.  At first glance, the movie seems lighthearted. An elderly woman, Na Ok-boon, is marching into the civil office again and the employees duck at the first sight of her.  Park Min-jae, the new hire, is at first unaware of her reputation.  He collects all her complaints.

     As the movie progresses, Ok-boon and Min-jae’s relationship with each other deepens. Min-jae learns more about Ok-boon.  She wants to learn English in order to call her younger brother who lives in Los Angeles.  Min-jae becomes Ok-boon’s English teacher.  In exchange, she cooks his younger brother a couple meals a week.  Min-jae’s personal history is a painful one.  After the death of his parents, Min-Jae is the sole guardian of a younger brother. They form a special friendship with Ok-boon, who cooks them dinner, and begin calling her “Granny.” The three form a bond like family. 

     It is only when Ok-boon’s best friend is hospitalized that we learn about Ok-boon’s past.  A past that she kept a secret all these years.  The Japanese captured Ok-boon in 1943 when she was just thirteen years old to become a sex slave for Japanese soldiers in Manchuria.  Ok-boon’s story is featured on the news.  She is asked to testify in Washington D.C. regarding HR 121, a resolution for the Japanese government to recognize their part in “comfort women” during 1930s until 1945.

     Ok-boon said, “If I forget, I’ll be losing.” Ok-boon’s testimony is powerful.  She displays her scars on her stomach for all to see as evidence of what the Japanese soldiers did to her, but deeper scars run deep. Ok-boon spent her whole life alone after being blamed and abandoned by her family for being a comfort woman. 

     I highly recommend this movie in its entirety.  In just 119 minutes, students will learn about a painful history in Korea’s past. If time does not permit, view the last 25 minutes of the movie and listen to Ok-boon’s testimony, to the House of Representatives, regarding HR 121’s hearing.  And I can tie this film to the primary source here: