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Movie on Korean Catholic independence hero tops box office

Ahn Jung-geun was executed by the Japanese imperialist govt in 1910 for killing governor Hirobumi Ito

A scene from the movie 'Hero' on life of Korean Catholic patriot Ahn Jung-geun

A scene from the movie ‘Hero’ on life of Korean Catholic patriot Ahn Jung-geun. (Photo: CJENM/Catholic Times)

Published: January 17, 2023 10:13 AM GMT

Updated: January 18, 2023 06:26 AM GMT

A movie on pro-independence Korean Catholic patriot Ahn Jung-geun has continued to occupy a top spot at the box office in South Korea, garnering praise from the Catholic Filmmakers Association.

The on-screen adaption of the musical play “Hero” which documents the final year of Ahn’s life was released on Dec. 21, 2022, and occupies the top spot among Korean language movies, the Catholic Times reported on Jan. 15.

The Catholic filmmakers’ group hailed the success of the movie as “inspirational.”  

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Lee Kyung-sook, chairman of the group said the movie did justice to Ahn’s Catholic faith and was well composed.

“It is a movie that has the three elements of story, actor, and faith melted well,” said Lee.

“Above all, from a believer’s point of view, the Catholic element is alive in great detail, and as a believer, the aspect is well revealed,” he further added.

The musical play “Hero” that premiered in 2009 garnered widespread attention among Koreans for its portrayal of Ahn, a Buddhist-turned-Catholic freedom fighter and martyr.

The play has been staged nine times since, including a two-week run in New York City’s Lincoln Center in 2011.

Director Yoon Je-kyun’s movie adaptation of the same name is Korea’s first-ever musical film to be based on a homegrown show, media reports say.

According to the Korean Film Council, the movie occupies a comfortable second spot right behind James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water.”

The movie gained around 100,000 admissions on the day of its screening which surpasses the previous record of “Aladdin” which attracted around 72,000 admissions on the first day of its premiere.

Born on Sept. 2, 1879, in Haeju of Hwanghae province (now in North Korea), Ahn Jung-geun was the eldest of four children of his Buddhist parents.

Thanks to the evangelization of missionaries, Ahn and his family members converted to Catholicism in 1897.

Ahn had shot dead Hirobumi Ito, a four-time prime minister of Japan and the first Japanese governor of Korea on Oct. 26, 1909, at Harbin train station in China in retaliation to the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula.

He was detained and incarcerated by Japanese forces. He was executed by hanging on March 26, 1910, in Lushun prison in China. He was only 31.

Ahn’s act is regarded as a symbol of Korean resistance against Japan’s militarism and imperialism at that time. He is a popular subject in Korean drama, art, literature, and music.

Despite his status as a Catholic freedom fighter for the cause of Korea, the Catholic Church for decades had condemned Ahn for assassinating Ito and had considered him a murderer.

However, the Church’s stance changed in 1993 when Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan (1922-2009), then archbishop of Seoul, decided to pay tribute to Ahn by celebrating a memorial Mass.

“He acted justly to defend the nation. The Catholic Church does not consider the murder committed to defend the nation against unjust violence as a crime,” Cardinal Stephen told the Vatican Insider.

In 1962, South Korea’s government accorded Ahn the Order of Merit for the National Foundation for his contributions to the Korean independence movement.

In March 2022, Archbishop Peter Chung Soon-taick of Seoul presided over a Mass at Myeongdong Cathedral in the South Korean capital to honor the faith of ancestors of the modern and contemporary history of Korea.

Archbishop Chung hailed Ahn as “a patriotic martyr” who sacrificed his life like Jesus who carried the Cross for the salvation of mankind.

“We can see Jesus carrying the Cross through the sacrifice made by Ahn which achieved the independence of our country from Japan while aiming at promoting lasting peace in Asia,” said Archbishop Chung.

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