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  • Writer's pictureJeffrey

1987: When the Day Comes – A Monumental Chronicle of South Korea’s Democratic Struggle

1987: When the Day Comes is a gripping and poignant portrayal of a pivotal moment in South Korea's history, directed by Jang Joon-hwan. The film meticulously reconstructs the events leading up to the June Democratic Uprising, a watershed in the nation's struggle for democracy. It masterfully intertwines personal stories with the larger narrative of political upheaval, creating a compelling and emotional cinematic experience.


Plot and Narrative

The film opens with the death of a student activist, Park Jong-chul, during a police interrogation, which becomes the catalyst for a nationwide protest movement. Through a series of interconnected stories, we follow the courageous individuals who risk everything to expose the truth and fight for justice. From journalists and prosecutors to ordinary citizens, the film paints a vivid picture of the collective effort to bring down a repressive regime.


The narrative is both harrowing and inspiring, highlighting the brutal tactics of the government while celebrating the indomitable spirit of the Korean people. The ensemble cast, including Kim Yoon-seok, Ha Jung-woo, and Kim Tae-ri, delivers powerful performances that bring depth and humanity to their roles.


Historical Significance

1987: When the Day Comes is more than just a historical drama; it is a tribute to the resilience and courage of those who stood up against oppression. The film's depiction of the anti-government demonstrations of the 1980s, especially the crucial year of 1987, serves as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made for democracy in South Korea. For those who remember seeing news clips of these events, the film evokes a profound sense of nostalgia and reverence.


The events of 1987 were a turning point in South Korean history, leading to the establishment of a more democratic government. The film captures the urgency and intensity of the demonstrations, making it an essential viewing for anyone interested in understanding the nation's journey towards freedom and democracy.


Personal Reflections

For me, the film resonates deeply on a personal level. It reminds me of the demonstrations I witnessed during my time in Korea, specifically the week-long protest at Yonsei University in the summer of 1996. During that time, the atmosphere was charged with thousands of riot police battling students holed up inside the campus. I had to teach around the demonstrations at the Foreign Language Institute, with the air often thick with tear gas. One morning, on my way to school, I had to literally step over student demonstrators who were sleeping in a parking lot not far from one of the buildings they had taken over. These experiences left an indelible mark on me, an experience I recount in my memoir, Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm.


Inspiration for Writing

1987: When the Day Comes has also been a significant source of inspiration for my current work in progress, The Girl in the Torture Room. The film's detailed and heart-wrenching depiction of the era's brutalities and the fight for justice provides a rich backdrop for exploring themes of resilience, truth, and redemption in my novel.



1987: When the Day Comes is a masterfully crafted film that captures a critical moment in Korean history with authenticity and emotional depth. It is a powerful tribute to the brave individuals who fought for democracy and a must-watch for anyone interested in the history of South Korea. The film's impact extends beyond its historical significance, offering inspiration and reflection for those who have witnessed or been touched by similar struggles for justice and freedom.

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