Yunjin Kim is not new to representing the Asian American fabric, having risen to international fame as Sun in Lost. The Mistresses star has now returned to South Korean cinema with a unique role that enables her to reflect on the Korean diaspora.
“My family emigrated to the U.S. when I was 10 years old, and like it was for many immigrant families, life was extremely tough for my parents,” Kim said following a press screening Monday in Seoul for Ode to My Father.
The CJ Entertainment film, directed by J.K. Youn (the 2009 tsunami blockbuster Haeundae, aka Tidal Wave), begins when the Korean War (1950-53) breaks out, and a young boy named Duk-soo must fill his missing father’s shoes as his displaced family, originally from what is now North Korea, flees to the southern port city of Busan. He works all manners of odd jobs to support his family, such as mining coal in Germany, where he meets fellow migrant worker Young-ja (Kim), a nurse.
“My mother worked temporarily at a senior home and was responsible for doing work that was very similar to my character’s in the film,” said the 41-year-old. “My father was also stationed in Kuwait for three years.”
In the film, Young-ja must wait anxiously for the safe return of her beloved from the dangerous mines and later from doing business in war-torn Vietnam. “My parents were deep in my thoughts, as well as my own experience growing up in a foreign country and the loneliness that only immigrants can feel. It was extremely inspiring,” said Kim.
Kim added that it was “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and an experience to truly treasure” to be able to play a character from her 20s all the way to her 70s — in this generational epic about making sacrifices for one’s family as South Korea makes rapid development from an aid-receiving country to an aid-giving one.
“Korea has an extremely sad modern history, and I had to choose only a few iconic moments,” said director Youn about featuring the outbreak of the Korean War, Korean migrant workers in Germany, Korean soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War and finally massive efforts in South Korea in 1983 to help families find separated members during the Korean War.
“This is ultimately a story about empathy, and I hope younger generations will understand the sacrifices made by elders and that elders will understand the generational gaps that youths feel today,” said Youn, who was inspired by his own parents who also gave the lead characters their names.