“Mal-Mo-E”: 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 Japanese rule.
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, 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!