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Yoon Hye-rin has gone to a remote fishing village to hide from the police, who are arresting student protesters involved in the recent unrest.  As she stands on a dock, she sees fishermen and women at work harvesting seaweed and pulling in their catch from a day at sea.  She notices an elderly woman trying to pick up a heavy load of seaweed and she rushes to help her.  (It’s Kim Young-ok!)  The Grandmother feeds her lunch and invites her home with her when she finds out Hye-rin doesn’t have a place to stay.  The Grandmother thinks Hye-rin is running from a bar where she likely worked as a prostitute and got involved with the wrong man.  However, when Hye-rin notices a newspaper article about the uprising in Kwangju, the Grandmother figures out she’s a runaway college student.

Kang Woo-suk’s unit is on the train on its way to Kwangju.  The officer in charge tells them they’re going to  provide support to the other units who are having a hard time quelling the riot there.

However, in the next scene we see that the soldiers are doing more than riot control. As a taxi rolls down the street, the driver is shocked to see an innocent civilian being beaten. When the soldiers notice the taxi, they pull the passenger from the backseat and start beating him too.  The driver tries to help and tells them the passenger is a resident on his way to work, and not a student, but that just gets his windshield smashed.

Hong Jin-soo’s restaurant is not safe from the soldiers’ wrath either.  When his mom returns from a pre-dawn shopping trip to prepare for the days’ meals, a pair of civilians runs through the restaurant trying to escape the soldiers.  Soldiers barge in after them breaking the glass in the windows as they enter.  One of them asks Jin-soo’s mom where the pair went, but he hits her before she can respond, sending her crashing to the floor.


The noise causes Park Tae-soo and Jin-soo to wake up.  Aware of what must be happening, Tae-soo stops Jin-soo from going downstairs and helping his mom.  When Jin-soo finally breaks free from him, the soldiers are gone and his mom is on the ground bleeding.

Later that morning, Woo-suk’s unit arrives at Kwangju station and they are sent out to the college campus to stop the rioting and arrest protesters.  Archival footage is interspersed with the scene as the military vehicles roll through the streets to campus.  

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Once there, the soldiers enter a classroom where students are at their desks working and start attacking them.  They pull the students outside the building, but before they can go anywhere hundreds of civilians surround them and protest against how they’re treating the students.

May 20, 1980

KBS and MBC’s broadcasting buildings are set ablaze.  (Apparently the protesters set the tv stations on fire due to anger over false and inaccurate reports about the uprising.  Among the complaints is that the tv stations are underreporting the number of civilian casualties and falsely claiming the protesters are pro-communism.)

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It’s the morning after and Tae-soo and Jin-soo are out in the street looking at the aftermath of the previous day’s military intervention.  They watch as a group of soldiers attacks people and drag them away.  Then they see tanks rolling down the street.  Tae-soo has decided to head back to Seoul and wants Jin-soo to come too.  He points out the soldiers are not just after students.  They’re treating all young people the same.  Jin-soo refuses to leave though.  After the way the soldiers treated his mother, he’s decided to support the protesters.  When he sees a group of protesters heading to the Provincial Hall, he joins them.

Again, there’s archival footage of actual events interspersed with the recreated scenes.  The archival footage shows hundreds of citizens, young and old, marching to Provincial Hall.  When military vehicles arrive outside the hall, the protesters chant for them to withdraw.  Jin-soo arrives at the front line, and he climbs on top of the taxi with the busted window (it’s the driver who tried to stop the soldiers from beating his passenger earlier in the episode) and joins in with the chanting.

Back at the restaurant, Jin-soo’s mom packs food for Tae-soo to eat on his bus ride back to Seoul.  She wants him to take care of Jin-soo when he gets there.  She’s going to send him to Seoul as soon as she finds him, she says.


As she’s preparing drinks for Tae-soo, one of her neighbors returns dinnerware she borrowed and thanks her for lending them to her.  The neighbor is heavily pregnant and Jin-soo’s mom tells her to be sure to go home and stay there because it’s so dangerous out.

At Provincial Hall, the protesters continue chanting their demands.  They want the troops to withdraw from town and an apology from the government.  They’d also like the students freed and an honest account of whether the missing are dead or alive.  As the leader continues to outline their demands, Jin-soo spots Young-ju (his crush) among the crowd.  He makes his way toward her and picks up the scarf she dropped, then he asks her if she remembers him.

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Meanwhile, Tae-soo arrives at the station.  At the restaurant, he learned the government had suspended phone service throughout Kwangju so no one could call in or out of the city.  At the bus station, he finds the bus service has been cancelled too.  He’s barely finished reading the sign announcing the closure when soldiers arrive and start attacking anyone within reach.  Tae-soo starts running, just like everyone else in the station.  He hides behind a wall in the back of the terminal and spots a young high school student lying motionless on the ground.

As the soldiers load the protesters and others they’ve captured onto a truck, we see the pregnant woman who visited Jin-soo’s family restaurant walk nearby.  She stands among a group of women who watch the arrests from the sidewalk.  A soldier sees the women watching and pulls out his rifle.  He starts shooting and chaos spreads throughout the city as more shots ring out.

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At the Provincial Hall, Jin-soo grabs Young-ju and they make a run for it as Tae-soo grabs the student he saw on the ground and runs too.  Tae-soo takes the boy to the hospital, but it’s full of trauma patients and more and more people arrive by the minute.  He can’t find anyone to help.

Jin-soo’s mom is at the hospital too.  She’s heard about her neighbor, the pregnant lady, who has been shot.  She walks home with Myung-soo afterwards crying because what the military is doing is wrong.  When she hears that the hospital is out of blood, she gets the idea for Myung-soo to write on her apron asking people to donate blood, and she carries the new “banner” around the neighborhood.

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Tae-soo is among the first to donate.  As he sits at the hospital getting his blood drawn, Jin-soo and Young-ju arrive.  Jin-soo offers to take her home or to the teahouse, but she lives at the teahouse and the soldiers have the area blocked off.  She’s also afraid to stay there because the soldiers smashed it up and arrested all the customers.  He offers to take her back to his place just as his mom and brother spot him.

He introduces Young-ju to his mom and Tae-soo joins him as he heads back home to take Young-ju to a safe place.  Tae-soo is curious about how they ended up together.  Jin-soo tells him he saw her at the Provincial Hall and he grabbed her and ran when the soldiers showed up with their guns.  Young-ju trails behind them as they talk, and she interrupts them to tell Jin-soo she’s decided to go to a friend’s house.  It’s not far from where they are, she says, and because there are so many people around she thinks she can make it there by herself.

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Soon after she leaves, they see soldiers swarming the area.  Jin-soo gets nervous because the soldiers are coming from the street Young-ju just walked down.  He runs back looking for her and finds her lying in the middle of the street.  She’s been shot dead.

Young-ju’s death sends Jin-soo over the edge.  Not only is he joining the protesters, but he’s going to fight back too.  Tae-soo tries to dissuade him, but he can’t condone them continuing to shoot down innocent women in the street.  Tae-soo points out that the soldiers are trained for combat and have guns, but Jin-soo doesn’t care about that either.  Those guns were purchased with taxpayers’ money, he says, and if he doesn’t fight now the government will just come back and do things like this again.

The military intervention continues and the protesters start arming themselves to fight back.  

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Woo-suk’s unit is driving down the street when shots are fired at their vehicle.  The unit stops and returns fire.  Woo-suk and his recruit friend, Private Kang, are sent into a nearby house, where they think the shooters are hiding, but instead of finding gunmen, they find a woman and child.  The woman has been shot and Woo-suk runs out to report that a child’s mother is wounded.  The commander, Officer Ma, orders the soldiers to retreat, but Woo-suk tries to help the woman anyway.  Officer Ma draws his gun, points it at Woo-suk, and orders him to retreat.  With gunmen still shooting at them, they can’t risk their lives to help the woman.  He says he’s retreating now and he’s taking all of his subordinates with him.  He stares at Woo-suk and asks if he understands?


That was certainly hard to watch unfold.  I think the depiction was pretty clearly made to show how the brutal and unreasonably broad military response served as the catalyst to spread the protest throughout the city.  It became bigger than the students protesting the closure of the universities and fighting against Chun Doo-hwan’s regime, and it became about the rights of them all.  This was especially so in light of the soldiers indiscriminately targeting students and citizens alike.

In Episode 6’s post, I gave a brief review of the history leading up to the Kwangju Uprising and said that this event was a catalyst for the democratic reforms to come.  Unfortunately, in the immediate aftermath of the uprising, democracy looked as far away as ever.

Even though General Chun Doo-hwan’s policies directly contributed to the protests, he blamed the opposition party for inciting the rebellion.  It didn’t help that the opposition leader, Kim Dae-jung, was actually from the province.  The government tried and convicted him and a few other opposition party members for their alleged roles in the uprising.  And Chun Doo-hwan continued in power for almost another decade.

It is worth noting, though, that Kim Dae-jung eventually became the first opposition leader elected to lead South Korea, and he served as president from 1998 to 2003.  What I find even more interesting is that Park Chung-hee’s daughter, Park Geun-hye, is the current president of Korea.

Sandglass: Episode 6 Recap
Sandglass: Episode 5 Recap
Sandglass: Episode 4 Recap
Sandglass: Episode 3 Recap
Sandglass: Episode 2 Recap
Sandglass: Episode 1 Recap

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