FILM REVIEW: Mal-Mo-E: An Essential Korean Movie to Watch with the Whole Family

Our language makes us who we are.

It’s hard to imagine what could have happened to the Korean language — if not for a small group of patriots who put their lives on the line to create the first Korean dictionary. During the Japanese occupation of Korea, a brutally methodical attempt to destroy the Korean language and culture was averted by the actions of a brave few. Mal-Mo-E tells the story of these patriots and how close Koreans came to losing this essential part of their national identity.

Understanding that the spirit and culture of a people is embodied in language, the Japanese almost succeeded in replacing the Korean spoken and written word with their own. In 1938, the Japanese government outlawed the use of Korean, and every Korean was given a Japanese name. My own father, who at the time was about the same age as the main character’s son, told me many stories of his suffering growing up under the Japanese rule.

Duk-jin is the main character’s son who is forced to change his name to Japanese and speak only Japanese in school.


Korean dramas and movies are known for their ability to swell your eyes with tears, and Mal-Mo-E doesn’t disappoint. Mal-Mo-E, literally translated, means a gathering of words or talk. The name is a fitting tribute to the craft of historical fiction at its best and hits all its marks for moving and motivating while bringing history to life.   

Yoo Hae-jin and Yoon Kye-sang are the main characters in Mal-Mo-E.

Yoo Hae-Jin, who normally plays goofy ggangpae (thugs) bit character parts in Korean movies, is phenomenal as the lead character.  Watch it with your entire family – and as you watch the illiterate Yoo learn to read and write, you’ll all be inspired to learn more Korean!


For a limited time, Mal-Mo-E is available to view online via the Korean Cultural Center of NY.


6 thoughts on “FILM REVIEW: Mal-Mo-E: An Essential Korean Movie to Watch with the Whole Family

  • May 8, 2020 at 2:49 am

    Korean Language has so many exciting stories from her birth about 500 years ago, up to Japanese endeavor to liquidate about 90 years ago.
    About the word, ‘Mal-Mo-E’.
    ‘Mal’ has dual meaning; (1)Language, (2)Horse.
    ‘Mo-E’ means gathering.
    Most of the characters in the movie are running and running. Why? One group is running to secure the first Korean Language Dictionary Draft while another for destroying it. So dynamic and comic, too.
    After seeing the movie you will be either (1) I want to see the movie one more time (2) I want to learn this language myself. What a colorful and vividly descriptive language Han Gul is.

  • May 8, 2020 at 1:06 am

    This review already has me hooked. I know what I’m doing this weekend!

  • May 8, 2020 at 12:57 am

    An insightful, captivating review. For me, this film is a great find and a welcome distraction. Can’t wait to watch. Thanks for sharing!

  • May 7, 2020 at 8:09 pm

    What a critically significant aspect of Korean history that truly had to be told. So thrilled to see the release of this movie! I can’t wait to view it, and will certainly recommend it to many others. Thank you, Don Liu, for this enlightening review.

  • May 7, 2020 at 7:25 pm

    Sounds like a great movie and important to watch with kids… Will try to watch this weekend!

  • May 7, 2020 at 7:25 pm

    As a fan of Yoo Hae-Jin and Korean period dramas, I look forward to watching this movie.

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