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K-drama “Descendants of the Sun" frenzy stirs up descendants of war

By Lam Le, Tran Le Thuy   April 3, 2016 | 06:48 pm GMT+7
K-drama “Descendants of the Sun" frenzy stirs up descendants of war
Song Joong Ki in K-drama Descendants Of The Sun

A mega-hit Korean army drama craze has sparked an online controversy on Vietnamese coming to terms with tragedies of war.

South Korean entertainment has won the hearts of Asian audience and Vietnam is no exception. Their celebrities have a huge fanbase in Vietnam. In the last few weeks, the Korean drama "Descendants of the Sun" swept through Vietnam like a storm.

Set during a modern day peacekeeping operation in the fictional country of Urk, "Descendants of the Sun" tells a love story between South Korean special forces captain, Yoo Si Jin, played by Song Joong Ki, and an army surgeon, Kang Mo Yeon, played by Song Hye Kyo.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha - an army general who took power in a military coup - is a fan of Descendants of the Sun, urging his countrymen last week to watch it as it promotes "patriotism, sacrifice, obeying orders and being a dutiful citizen". Chinese authorities have warned of the dangers of watching Korean dramas, which it said could lead to marital trouble and criminal behaviour, the BBC reports.

However, some Vietnamese refuse to watch movie star Song Joong Ki in the Korean army uniform out of their painful memories of Korean troops in Vietnam war. Others don't want a boycott of South Korean dramas but sensitivity and respect for the Vietnam war victims' suffering.

k-drama-descendants-of-the-sun-frenzy-stirs-up-descendants-of-war

Bao Anh, Vietnamese famous singer, poses as Korean special force Captain Yoo Si Jin, played by Song Joong Ki

The debate on how to coming to terms with war tragedies is heated online as Vietnamese Facebook fanpages of "Descendants of the Sun" have attracted around a million of users. Many Vietnamese youth are presently pasting their faces over an image of Captain Yoo Si Jin's army uniform using a popular new app. Vietnamese celebrities like Tran Thanh, Bao Anh and Dong Nhi have posted photos of themselves in Korean army uniform on social media. 

The trend sparked some bitter recalls of South Korean troops' presence in Vietnam in the 60s. 

"During the Vietnam War, Korean troops spread terror in Phu Yen, Binh Dinh, Quang Ngai and Quang Nam, not among the army, but among innocent civilians. All it took was one dead Korean soldier for the Korean troops to massacre an entire suspected village. [...] Some villages were completely wiped out by Korean troops. [...] I believe that if the victims' souls are still around and haven't been reincarnated, they'd watch South Korean shows. But if they spot a South Korean soldier on TV, that would no doubt break their hearts." - Tran Quang Thi (Facebook user)

The above Facebook post has been shared over 87,000 times.

From 1964 to 1973, 300 thousand Korean troops served as U.S. “mercenaries” and killed thousands of unarmed civilians, according to a paper by Hyun Sook Lee Kim.

Massacre memorials scattered throughout Central Vietnam serve as the few historical records that remain. One such memorial in Dien An commune, Quang Nam province, reads: “74 civilians were massacred by South Korean troops […] on February 12 1968.”

"Martyr journalist Duong Thi Xuan Quy – my husband’s aunt - was also killed by South Korean troops. I remember that clearly and will not watch ‘Descendants of the Sun’. I don’t mean to spread hatred towards South Koreans but I also cannot uphold anything that praises and applauds our old enemy." - Nguyen Anh Dang (Facebook user)

"I have personally witnessed the tears and heard the painful stories of the people of Quang Nam province. I once consoled an old lady who had begun shivering at the mere sight of a group of South Korean tourists. Some tried to rush them away, even though these tourists had no idea what was going on. I still watch South Korean dramas and their cool shows. However, people shouldn’t create a politically related craze out of them. There are still many people out there who suffer and are afraid." - Nguyen Ngoc An (Facebook user)

Defenders of the Song Joong Ki craze argued that the drama represented a personal choice that's no more politically fraught than watching any foreign film.

"Don't people still watch American and French movies?" - Chi Nguyen T (Facebook user)

Others, stressed the need to move on without forgetting the past.

"We can't re-live the atrocities committed by Korean troops every time we sit down to eat a bibimbap. [...] Patriotism and knowledge of history do not require one to live in hatred and teach that hatred to the next generation; or that we need to be compensated for our loss. We don't need an apology from the other side of the battlefield to begin seeking reconciliation or peace of mind. Nearly every country bears scars of war and those scars must not be forgotten. But they should serve as a reminder to live with civility and compassion." - Thuan Vu (VTC)

Last month, in the 50th commemoration of Go Dai massacre, where 380 civilians were killed by Korean troops in 1966, chairman of Korea-Vietnam Peace Fund Roh Hwa Wook said: “I am sorry, I am really sorry. This happened such a long time ago and only today I came here with flowers to apologize.” Nguyen Tan Lan, a Vietnamese massacre survivor, replied: "I recall the old memories not to call for hatred. Recalling the past is a way to learn how to live with forgiveness. Because forgiveness is not about forgetting it all."

After pirated online versions of "Descendants of the Sun" received massive views, state-owned television channel HTV2 purchased the copyright and will air the drama at the beginning of April. The channel announced its plan to have Song Joong Ki and Song Hye-kyo speak Vietnamese in their introduction clip.

South Korea has a strong relationship with Vietnam. It is the number one foreign direct investor with over $40 billion committed so far.