DongJu: The Portrait of a Poet — films Korean Poet, Yoon Dong-Ju

Korean poet Yoon Dong-Ju (1917-1945) was one of the famous poets who died early. During his lifetime, he never experienced praise and appreciation from his country people. Six months before World War II ended, his poems were gathered in a manuscript and published with the title, “The Heavens and the Wind and the Stars and Poetry.” Since then Yoon Dong-Ju came to be known as a notable Korean poet.

The film is fictional in parts. It talks about the friendship between Yoon Dong-Ju and his close friend Song Mong-Gyoo. Dongju: The Portrait of a Poet reflects on Yoon Dong-Ju’s short stay of 10 years. With plenty of quotations from his works, the movie takes us through an era that impressed on him and several other Korean poets the oppression of the times. It validates how Yoon’s poetry developed its sensibility.

The movie narrates how Yoon (Kang Ha-Neul) and his childhood friend, Song Mong-Gyoo (Park Jeong-min) and their families lived together in Jilin, China, to escape the Japanese occupation of South Korea. Interestingly, their ideals are different—while Song is an aspiring novelist but ready to fight for his country, Yoon wants to be a poet without any political motives or heeding to his father’s opposition.

Yoon and Song part their ways after graduating from a local school. Song decides to join the Korean Independence Movement. But, coincidentally, Yoon and Song meet in the erstwhile Yeonhui Technical School in Seoul. Both of them run a literary magazine at the school. During this time, Yoon meets Yeo-jin (Shin Yoon-Ju) who introduces Yoon to a famous poet he has long admired.

As the Japanese occupation intensifies, the Japanese is inconsiderate about Koreans having anything identifying their Korean nationality. Koreans are asked to change their names and forbid speaking in Korean. This has an overall impact on Yoon as a poet about to graduate as he wanted to study his country’s literature. The movie shows Yoon considering inevitable setbacks to go low with the tide.

After a while, both Yoon and Song change their names and leave for Japan. In Japan, Song goes to Kyoto, and Yoon goes to Tokyo to study at Rikkyo University, where he is discovered by a professor who appreciates Yoon’s work. The familiarity between the professor and Yoon brings them to Yoon’s stepdaughter Kumi, (Choi Hui-Seo), who has a role to help Yoon grown in his career.

As World War II continues, Yoon is on the tip of uncertainty—.his professor transfers him to Doshisha University in Kyoto where Yoon and Song meet, once again. During this time, Song is preparing a secret plan with fellow Korean students who will be sailed into the Japanese Army. Yoon is least inclined, but something happens that decides their fate collectively. Directed by Lee Jook-Ik, “Dongju: The Portrait of a Poet” represents the dark era in black and white cinematography by Choi Yong-Jin.

With the screenplay by the writer and director of Shin Yeon-Shick, “The Russian Novel” (2012), weaves sincerity is very intimate and interesting ways. Overall the film, “Dongju: The Portrait of a Poet” is a great drama which is respectful of Yoon’s life and work. There is composure in the characters and poignancy that reveal the expiration of life. I am glad that if not in his body, but Yoon Dong-Ju continues to live through his works and this movie that immortalizes him.

SNOW by Yun Dong-Ju (1917-1945)

Last night
snow fell abundantly:

on the rooftops,
on the paths, on the farms.
Perhaps it is a blanket
that keeps us from the cold.

That’s why
it falls only in the chill of the winter.


지난 밤에
눈이 소오복이 왔네

길이랑 밭이랑
덮어 주는 이불인가 봐

추운 겨울에만 나리지

Yun Dong-ju (1917 – 1945) was born in Longjing, Jiandao, in present-day northeastern China. He was known for lyric poetry as well as resistance poetry against Japanese colonialism. Source: Korean Poetry in Translation

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