New Korea Democratic Party Headquarters

The Jongil Labor Union fills the opposition party’s headquarters.  The union is staging a sit-in to protest the closing of the Jongil Textile Factory, which employs an all-female staff.  Apparently, it shut down with no notice and the women never received their last pay checks.  Reporters swarm the building asking for comments from the congressmen, who support the protesters and use the media attention to gain public support for the opposition movement.

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The students support the union too.  Yoon Hye-rin meets Jung Un-gyong at an anti-government bookstore to pick up some anti-regime papers to distribute to the media.  She’s being followed and they have to talk quickly so she can leave.  Before she leaves, she tells Un-gyong she admires the union’s gumption to occupy a building for their cause.  Un-gyong does too, but he thinks it’s only a matter of time before the police storm the building and forcibly removes them.

Un-gyong gives her the materials she came to get and the bookstore owner lets her exit through a hidden panel in the wall just as the men who followed her come into the store.  Hye-rin hurries down the sidewalk before they can see her.

It seems Un-gyong was right.  The powers-that-be in government hold a meeting and decide they can’t let the protest go on any longer.  Allowing the workers to succeed would set a bad precedent.  They have to be careful though because they don’t want to lose public support for the ruling party.  They also need to make a police invasion of the opposition party’s headquarters look legitimate to the opposition party as well as the American government, which has been pushing for expanded civil rights for the country’s citizens.


They call Chang To-shik, who of course calls Oh Jong-do. He requests about two hundred men for the job and Jong-do readily agrees to provide them.  While the government prepares its assault on the protesters, we see Hye-rin has arrived at the headquarters to show support for the union’s protest.

When Jong-do approached Hong Jin-soo to gather men for the attack, he insisted on waiting for Park Tae-soo’s approval before the gang participated in Chang’s scheme.  But when Tae-soo returns to the office that night, he’s not pleased to hear Jong-do wants to use the boys to rough up a bunch of young female factory workers.  Jong-do lies and says they’re not going to beat up on the women, they just need to cause a commotion and the police will follow them.  Tae-soo still doesn’t want to do it, but Jong-do says they can’t refuse.  It’s because of them (Chang and the ruling party) they’ve been left alone and none of their boys have gotten hurt yet, Jong-do says, so they have to do as Chang asks now.

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Jong-do pretends he’s sorry for asking them to do something like this, and he bows his head as Tae-soo gives in.  But Tae-soo knows Jong-do is not really contrite.  He tells Jong-do he can stop with the subservient act now.  “No one likes someone who can’t keep his head up,” he remarks.

The gangsters arrive outside of the headquarters about 1:00 a.m. as planned.  They surround the building, set up bright lights and prepare safety nets to catch anyone who tries to escape via the second floor windows.  Inside, the students and protesters hear the noises outside and wonder what’s going on.  They start looking around and, before they know it, the gangsters enter the room and start attacking them.

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It’s painful to watch as the women are beaten and dragged away.  Tae-soo is visibly affected and, after a while, all he can do is stand in one spot and look at the chaos around him.  He finally comes out of his reverie when he spots Hye-rin among the crowd.  He makes his way to her and helps her up from the floor.  She struggles against him at first, unaware of who he is, and then their eyes meet.  She’s shocked to see him and realize what his presence there means.

Tae-Soo takes her away in one of the waiting cars.  When they’re a safe distance away, she tells Jin-soo, who is driving, to stop and let her out.  He doesn’t want to because it’s after curfew, but she insists.  Tae-soo follows her to make sure she’s safe.  When he sees her stumble and fall, he rushes to help her up, but she pushes him away.  She starts throwing trash at him until he restrains her and covers her mouth to avoid being caught by the nighttime patrol men who come their way.  When the patrol men move away, Hye-rin berates him for being a hired government thug.  He doesn’t defend himself.  Instead, he just stands there staring at her.  He walks away, but he doesn’t go far.  He gives her space, and they both hunker down where they are to await the end of curfew.

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Perhaps the last attack was the breaking point for Jin-soo because in the next scene, Jong-do has other members of the gang beating him.  He wants to leave the gang and return to his hometown, but Jong-do won’t let him.  Baek Min-jae thinks Tae-soo should handle the matter and he tells Jong-do to call off the beating.  When Jong-do ignores him, Jong-do finds himself on the receiving end of a beatdown.  Tae-soo arrives and steps in to stop Min-jae from going further, then he talks to Jin-soo alone.

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Jin-soo tells Tae-soo he wants to quit so he can return home and open a restaurant with his mother.  His mother always wanted a real restaurant instead of just a street stand so he put a down payment on a small place for her.  It’s too much work for her to handle alone though, so he wants to help her.  He admits he’s not happy doing what he’s doing. He doesn’t feel right beating on others. Tae-soo sighs, but he puts a wad of cash in Jin-soo’s hand and gives Jin-soo his watch too.  He tells him to buy supplies for his restaurant.  Jin-soo asks if it’s okay to go? Tae-soo nods, so Jin-soo asks if he can catch a train that night, lol! As he leaves, he tells Tae-soo to come down and visit him sometime.  The train station is not far from their place and he’ll even meet Tae-soo at the station.

October 4, 1979

Newspaper Headline: Party President Kim Young-sam Expelled from National Assembly

October 18, 1979

Newspaper Headline: The Puma Incident

October 26, 1979

Newspaper Headline: President Park Chung-hee Assassinated

May 1980

Chairman Yoon Jae-young is in his home office trying to make travel arrangements to go to Hong Kong.  The protests have begun at the universities and in Kwangju by now though, and it’s not easy to leave the country.  He’s on the phone giving instructions to his secretary when Chang stops by.  Chang is there to talk about Hye-rin.  The government is investigating the students’ activities and if they find she’s involved in the recent protests, he may not be able to help her.  Jae-hee is nearby and he listens intently at Chang’s words, then leaves the room.

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As expected, Jae-hee goes straight to Hye-rin, or at least he tries to.  As he walks down the hall of one of the buildings on campus where the students are staging a protest, he sticks out like a sore thumb.  He’s in his usual suit and tie (with his hair slicked back) while everyone else is in jeans and t-shirts.  One of the students approaches him and asks who he is.  Jae-hee ignores him and continues walking, but soon a group of students surround him and demand to know who he is.  Only students are allowed inside they yell.

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He sees Hye-rin down the hall, but she doesn’t intervene.  The students force him to leave so he has a good view of the building when the police arrive and attack the students.  Hye-rin is among a group rounded up and loaded onto a bus.  Jae-hee sneaks up on the driver and knocks him out with a few quick blows, then he drives the bus away.  Hye-rin and the other protesters are a little confused as they see officers yelling and chasing their bus.  She finally looks at who’s driving and sees that it’s Jae-hee.


The next thing we know, Hye-rin is in the backseat of one of the family’s luxury sedans.  Jae-hee drives up to a police checkpoint.  As they wait for an officer to inspect their car, Hye-rin puts a nice jacket over her clothes and Jae-hee tells her she should probably stay at home for a while.  An officer comes over and walks around the car, and he peers at Hye-rin in the backseat.  She stares straight ahead imperiously and the officer lets them through.

Once they’re safe, Hye-rin changes back into her clothes.  She asks how he knew to bring clothes, but as usual, he remains silent.  She’s appreciative that he helped her, but she tells him it may have been better for him not to have saved her.  She doesn’t feel right being free while so many others got caught.  She won’t be returning home either, she says.  Not only would she be embarrassed to be the only one safe, but it’d also make her feel like she’s not on their side.

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She gives Jae-hee the clothes he brought her from home, and he just stands there staring at her.  (And I still can’t figure out how he does that? Say so much without opening his mouth?)  She gets tears in her eyes as they look at each other, but finally she walks away and gets on a bus with the other activists.  Jae-hee watches as the bus rolls away.

Meanwhile, Woo-suk’s unit is still preparing for deployment.  One of the recruits tells Woo-suk they’ll likely be posted on a college campus.  He’s excited at the prospect of ogling the girls, but Woo-suk is more concerned about whether it’s true they’ll really be assigned to a university.  The recruit assures him it’s true.  He talked to their unit leader and they’ll be deployed to enforce martial law.  The students are why there’s martial law so it makes sense that they’ll be placed on campus, he says.

That night in the barracks, Woo-suk and the rest of the unit are supposed to be sleeping.  The recruit Woo-suk was talking to earlier has the bed beside him.  Apparently the recruit sleeps in his boots so he’s always prepared for emergency drills.  Woo-suk is telling him to take his boots off when the door opens and it seems the recruit may have been right about a drill after all.

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But when the officer enters, he only asks for the men who have been to college to step forward.  Woo-suk and a few others line up and the officer actually starts hitting them one by one.  He blames them for the country’s mess and for the fact that he can’t go home to see his new baby.  His eyes land on the recruit who’s still wearing his boots.  He asks if they taught him to wear boots to bed in college and goes to hit him again.

The recruit closes his eyes and flinches—preparing for the blow to come.  Luckily the officer changes his mind and lies on one of the beds to go to sleep.  The former college students stand there for a while to make sure the officer is not getting back up before they go back to their beds.  The recruit takes his boots off this time before getting in bed though, lol.

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Tae-soo has taken Jin-soo up on his offer to visit him at home.  Jin-soo meets him at the station as promised, then takes Tae-soo to the family’s restaurant.  Jin-soo’s mom greets him warmly.  She’s heard all about how well Tae-soo treated Jin-soo at the “factory” where they worked.  Jin-soo signals for Tae-soo to play along as his mom expresses her gratitude for Tae-soo’s haven given him lots of bonuses, treated him like a little brother, and given him a place to live.  When Jin-soo’s little brother, Hong Myung-soo, comes home from school, he introduces him to Tae-soo as well.

May 18, 1980

(It’s the day of the Kwangju Democratization Movement or Kwangju Uprising.)

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Jin-soo and Tae-soo are at the teahouse where Jin-soo’s crush works.  Her name is Young-ju and he sneaks peeks at her as he tells Tae-soo he wants to marry her.  When she delivers tea to their table and doesn’t speak (or even look Jin-soo’s way), Tae-soo wonders if they got into a fight.  Jin-soo assures him that’s not the case.  They’ve never actually spoken, he says, lol.  Tae-soo chuckles at Jin-soo’s naivete as they leave.

Outside the teahouse, they see a group of student protesters marching down the street.  Jing-soo starts heckling the protesters.  He calls them worthless and complains that their parents are paying good money for their education and they don’t even bother studying.  One of the protesters accidentally bumps him with a sign, and he hits the guy back.  Tae-soo has to pull him away, and then they all start running because the police have arrived.

Meanwhile in Seoul, the military issues a red alert, which is most likely related to what’s going on in Kwangju (although the show doesn’t state as much).  The officers start gathering their soldiers for combat.  As one of the officers inspects the soldiers standing in rank, we see he’s in charge of  Woo-suk’s unit.  They are headed to Kwangju Province.


A little history lesson may be in order because I anticipate the next episode will contain one of the pinnacle scenes of this drama: a reenactment of the Kwangju Uprising wherein hundreds of citizens were massacred during protests against the government.  I have yet to read a comprehensive review or commentary on Sandglass that fails to touch on the drama’s portrayal of the Kwangju Uprising.  According to one source, the scenes were “the most impressive re-enactment of the Kwangju Massacre ever seen in Korea at the time.”

In its simplest terms, the uprising in Kwangju began as a student protest of the closure of the university there.  But as we can see from watching this drama so far, it was much bigger than the mere closing of the university.  To fully understand the protests and the significance of that day, it will be necessary to take a brief detour into the history of Korea. Unfortunately, I am too ignorant of Korean history to give a comprehensive review of the political landscape and this is certainly not the forum to go into that anyway.  But I will provide as concise a background as possible to understand the subject matter that has been at the forefront of Sandglass all along and to explain what will happen next.

Here it goes:

After World War II and the Korean War, in theory, South Korea was a democratic state.  However, in reality, it was much more autocratic.  President Park Chung-hee, whose October 26, 1979, assassination was noted in this episode, controlled South Korea after a military coup in May 1961.  He had been a general in the military and was in power for about eighteen years until his assassination.  The political opponents to his regime who pushed for democracy were referred to as the opposition party (whose political rallies we see Park Tae-soo and his crew breaking up in Episode 1).

Students and civilians had been protesting against the government since the end of World War II, but President Park was one of the few leaders able to retain control during that time.  He had no problem taking steps, such as dissolving the legislative bodies and declaring martial law, to retain his power.  In 1972, for example, he pushed through the adoption of the Yushin Constitution, which allowed him to control Parliament and gave him the means of remaining president indefinitely in spite of historically imposed presidential term limits.

During the 70s, much of the student protest was against the Yushin system and in support of a more liberal democracy.  (Recall: Jung Un-gyong was working on an anti-Yushin Regime banner when Hye-rin returned his bag to him in Episode 3.)  After President Park’s assassination, martial law returned to South Korea and there was a coup by another military general, Chun Doo-hwan, in December 1979.

When students (and others, such as professors and civilians) began protesting against another military regime seizing control of the country and for various other causes, such as democratization, freedom of speech, and an end to martial law, Chun Doo-hwan tried to suppress the growing protests.  One of the measures he took was the closure of universities.  He handed down the decree affecting the universities, among other things, on May 17, 1980, thus leading to the events of May 18th wherein students of Chonnam National University went to school that day to civilly disobey its closure.

Chun Doo-hwan responded to the protesters at Chonnam National University with military force and ignited a full-scale rebellion throughout the city.  There is no agreed upon figure for the number of lives lost that day or over the course of the uprising.  Figures range from about 150 to 2,000 with the number likely between 500 and 900 dead.  What is known is that the protest spread throughout Kwangju and then the country.  The military did not regain control of Kwangju until about nine days later, on May 27, 1980.

It will take someone much more versed in history, or more intimately connected to the country during that time, to explain the significance of that day.  But suffice it to say, from all that I’ve read, May 18th was a watershed moment in the quest to bring democracy to South Korea.  It is deeply imprinted on the minds of the citizens and celebrated each year with reverence and respect for the bravery of those who lost their lives fighting for basic freedoms for the country’s citizens.

Sandglass: Episode 5 Recap
Sandglass: Episode 4 Recap
Sandglass: Episode 3 Recap
Sandglass: Episode 2 Recap
Sandglass: Episode 1 Recap

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