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K-drama Flashback: ‘Eyes of Dawn’ – A Love Story Amid War Crimes

For anyone interested in history, war crimes, comfort women, or human experimentation, watch Eyes of Dawn, the first k-drama blockbuster

Debashree Dutta Feb 12, 2022

'Eyes of Dawn' - Photo courtesy of IMDB

I enjoy writing about K-drama and it’s a topic I could ramble on about for a long time. As clichéd as it may sound, K-drama has had a profound effect on my life. In a variety of ways. It was not so much that I wanted to be able to decode the dramas without subtitles that I began learning Korean, but because I wanted to be a part of the K-drama culture and ethos. In truth, I have grown to love Korean dramas as I discovered new aspects of them. So, while contemplating what to share in this flashback segment, I remembered Eyes of Dawn, the first Korean blockbuster television series between 1991 to 1992.

The debut of KBS (Korean Broadcasting System), the country’s first public broadcaster, ushered in a new era for Korean dramas. Until the early 1960s, dramas were a far cry from the popular family entertainment they are today; distribution of television was still modest, and the content of shows was strictly regulated by the military. Backstreet of Seoul, the first television drama ever, aired only in 1962. Dramas gained prominence in television programming after the government repealed a ban on broadcasters receiving commercial revenue from advertisers in 1969.

As the Eighties arrived, K-dramas became more diverse with productions like Love Ambition. During the Nineties, new TV networks were launched and government regulations and censorship were liberalized, a time when broadcasters started investing more in drama productions. In response to increased competition for viewers, television networks began developing and promoting their shows more aggressively. This was also when Eyes of Dawn catapulted to fame as the first Korean blockbuster television series.

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Based on the best-selling novel by Kim Seongjong, Eyes of Dawn premiered on MBC with Choi Jaesung, Chae Shira, and Park Sangwon in lead roles. Often termed as the ‘National Drama’ it spans from the Japanese colonial period until the Korean War amid World War Two. ‘Choi Daechi’ and ‘Jang Harim’ are in a love triangle with ‘Yoon Yeook’. At the age of 17, she was forced into sexual servitude to be a ‘comfort woman’ by the Japanese imperial forces. Choi was also compelled to join the imperial army as a student soldier. When Yoon met Choi, the two fell in love.

With the outbreak of the Korean war, Yoon–who was pregnant with Choi’s child–loses her son and returns home, grieving for days but caring for war orphans. Choi is on a mission to spy around Jirisan mountain and Jang must capture North Korean spies when Yoon discovers Choi is severely injured. Yoon is suddenly shot dead with Choi dying soon after. The drama concludes with a voiceover of a bereaved Jang, “That winter, I buried the girl I loved and a comrade I could never loathe deep in Jirisan Mountain’s unknown valley. Except for me, they’ve all left…”

The drama is intense, grotesque, and horrifying. Not the quintessential K-drama you would expect at all. You’ll witness Japanese war crimes with women being raped, innocents being killed, communist insurgence, wailing children, and more frightening scenes centered on the disasters of Korea’s ideological schisms. But at the same time, it’s a beautiful love saga which revolves the undying human spirit as well as human vulnerabilities. If you’re a true fan of K-drama and haven’t watched Eyes of Dawn yet, add it to your watchlist.

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