Last week was the Korean Movie Festival in Paris. It’s a festival that happens once every year, where several Korean movies are projected, and some actors and film directors are invited. Tuesday, Oct. 26, I had the chance to attend the I Can Speak projection and be in the presence of Lee Je-Hoon (one of the main characters) and Kim Hyun-Seok, the film director.
(A little warning for each of you wanting to watch the movie with full surprise: there are going to be a few spoilers in this article.)
Before going to the movie projection, I didn’t bother watching the trailer. A friend of mine had invited me to the event, and I had gladly accepted, as I love Korean movies and events in general. I went there not knowing anything about what was about to hit me.
I Can Speak is the story of a diligent and serious civil servant, Park Min-Jae (Lee Je-Hoon), who gets transfered to a new district in Seoul. At his new ward office, he learns that an elderly woman, Na Ok-Boom (Na Moon-Hee), submits complaints every single day. At the same time, Ok-Boom tries to learn English, when by surprise, she discovers that Min-Jae fluently speaks English; she pleads him to help her become as good as a native speaker. The reason why she wants to learn English is one of the beautiful messages of the movie. This is where the spoiler occurs.
It turns out that Ok-Boom was a Comfort Woman forced into sexual slavery during the second World War by the Japanese force. After a hilarious first part, the movie suddenly turns into a historical and full-of-emotion movie. We (when I say we, I mean literally the whole room) cried during the reveal of the heavy secret; we cried when we heard the testimonies during the US Congress (that really happened in 2007); we cried during most of the second part, basically. I personally didn’t know such things happened during WWII, and thanks to this movie, I was able to be fully educated on this issue. Bring lots of tissues with you if you plan on seeing this film.
What really struck me in this movie was the message of Ok-Boom (portraying the famous Lee Young-Soo) wanting to learn how to speak English so that she’d have the ability to tell the world about what happened during WWII; she wanted to testify so that all of the Comfort Women could finally get the apology they deserved from Japan.
This movie does justice to the mental and physical torture they endured. It took her all her life to finally open up about what happened, because formerly, her mother asked her to stay silent about it — in the end, Ok Boom regrets this. She realized that she should have spoken sooner.
During Ok-Boom’s speech at the US Congress, she said something that really hit me:
“I learned English so everyone could understand what we went through, to be heard, and so that nothing like this would ever happen again.”
At that moment, I understood the title. On the surface it seems like it refers to speaking English, but deep down, “I can speak” means I can get up and fight for what I believe is right, for what happened, to give strength to the next generation. Such events shouldn’t be obscured or hidden. That’s when I realized how brilliant the movie really is.
We can speak, and we should speak. Women should not stay silent, even though, as we can see in the movie, a lot of people might be against us and might try to prove us wrong.