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Korean Society Touched by Two Heroes This Summer
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Korean Society Touched by Two Heroes This Summer
  • By Jack H. Park
  • September 9, 2014, 07:18
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A promotional shot from the historical movie Myeongnyang, about Admiral Yi Sun-sin.
A promotional shot from the historical movie Myeongnyang, about Admiral Yi Sun-sin.


Two of the hottest issues in Korean society this summer were Pope Francis’ visit and the smash hit movie titled Myeongnyang. Stories about the two heroes - the Pope and Admiral Yi Sun-sin - are going beyond a mere craze to become a sort of nationwide syndrome for true leadership.

Sociologists attribute this phenomenon to the people’s disappointment about their society and politics filled with discord and conflict, and the lack of leadership witnessed in the Sewol ferry disaster. The message of humbly serving the people for harmonious unity, delivered by a religious leader and a legendary war hero alike, has resonated throughout a society that is eager to see the rise of a true leader.

So many people chanted for Pope Francis, not because they were Catholic or his visit brought economic advantages, but because he came closer to the suffering to hug them and listen to them, instead of hiding in a bulletproof vehicle. In other words, the highest religious leader practiced servant leadership in person at the lowest position. His humble attitude shown from the very first moment of his visit gave the people catharsis and brought forth spontaneous feelings of homage and respect to him. He was particularly warm to the bereaved families of the Sewol ferry victims and former comfort women for the Japanese Imperial Army, that is, those living with pain.

Myeongnyang is a film about Admiral Yi Sun-sin, who sunk 330 Japanese naval ships in 1597, the sixth year of the Japanese Invasion of Korea, with just 12 friendly ships. It attracted 15 million viewers for the first time in the history of the Korean film industry. The audience consoled themselves with the message from the hero, deeply touched by his courage and determination to dedicate his life to the nation at a critical stake.

These days, such leaders are rarely found in Korean society. Almost all prominent people are busy blaming others and inventing lie after lie. It is exactly this aspect of disappointing behavior by politicians and public servants that fueled this latest social craze. The people are longing for leaders like the Pope and the Admiral, who were ready to communicate, serve, and be responsible. Now is the time when Korea needs a leader to sympathize with Korea’s plight and pat it the back.