Jong-boon (played by Kim Hyang-gi) is a young girl who idolizes Yeong-ae (played by Kim Sae-ron). Yeong-ae's not only pretty, she even gets to go to school and earn very impressive marks. In the year 1944. Which means that Yeong-ae is an implicit collaborator in the Japanese regime. Not that this ends up doing her a whole lot of good. Soon both Jong-boon and Yeong-ae are conscripted into directly helping the war effort. Yes, this is going in exactly the direction you're thinking.
Disturbingly, Yeong-ae doesn't even seem to like Jong-boon all that much. But it's heavily implied by the modern day framing device that at some point Yeong-ae gives up her life to save Jong-boon. And yet the older Jong-boon (played by Kim Young-ok) has her own problems. Her existence is generally lowly, and filled with nightmares of what happened in 1944. The worst part, though, is the implication that things might not have actually gotten better. Take teen runaway Eun-soo (played by Jo Soo-hyang)- a girl who has the educational opportunities Jong-boon always wanted and...well...doesn't seem to be helped by them.
Even though the Japanese are the obvious villains here, "Snowy Road" in many ways seems to be more a condemnation of Korean complicity in hard times. Note, for example, how Jong-boon and Yeong-ae are paid for their "work", provided with free birth control, and typically are under the immediate control of other Koreans. In any circumstances the situation would be horrific. Even so, it's clearly not the Japanese insults that crush Yeong-ae's spirit as much as the way those speaking her native tongue have accepted this situation as normal daily business.
It's a harsh flashpoint to the present day. While Eun-soo's situation is nowhere near as bad as what happened to Jong-boon and Yeong-ae, it's just as obvious that Eun-soo lives in a world where she's just been conditioned to accept that no one actually cares about her. "Snowy Road" is making a dark, unsettling statement about modernity- suggesting that the ghosts of the culture that allowed for comfort women haunt us to this day in ways we haven't come to fully appreciate.
All of this perfectly sold by an excellent cast. What's more, the production team beautifully sets a dark yet shockingly blasé mood as the twin storylines coil around each other, dancing to a crescendo of ultimate fear and death. The budding friendship between Jong-boon and Yeong-ae is the only glimmer of hope in the grip of inevitable, horrific tragedy. For those of you searching for a personal, visceral take on comfort women, the situation that created them and the reality of the emotional impact, look no further. "Snowy Road" is no mere drama- it's art.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Snowy Road" Episode 1"
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