A new Korean film released this month in Seoul recounts the life of a martyred Catholic priest who died at the age of 25 near the end of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and in the early years of Western imperialism in Asia.
The biographical movie on the life of St. Andrew Kim Tae-gon sheds light on the birth of Korea’s first priest (played by Yoon Si-Yoon 윤시윤) amid harsh religious oppression by the monarchy, which feared Christianity as a colonizing force.
Father Kim, the first native Korean Catholic priest, died for his belief at a young age, but his short life of dedication, sacrifice and adventure is still worth looking back on after two centuries, said a report by Yonhap News Agency.
Titled “Birth” and directed by Park Heung-sik, the movie “seems like a religious film made for Catholics, but it recounts the martyr’s life in the broad context of Korean Catholicism.”
The story recounts milestones of the priest’s life through narratives of him and other compatriots as well as scenes of his voyage by sea and land.
Born to a family of Christian converts, Father Kim was baptized at the age of 15 and soon after left for Macao, which was then under Portuguese rule, to enter a seminary. He was ordained a priest in China in 1845.
He returned to his homeland, but his life as a priest did not last long after he was captured for attempting to bring in missionaries to the Korean Peninsula. He was beheaded in 1846 near the Han River in Seoul.
Yonhap said the movie “portrays how the curious young man broadens his view of the world in far-flung places at a time when Western imperial powers, including Britain and France, were aggressively expanding their muscle in Asia.”
“The examples and virtues of our saint raise spiritual questions about how to live today,” read a Fides review of the movie. “The title of the film is a reference at the birth of Saint Andrew Kim in our hearts, which is nothing but the resurrection and life in Christ in each one of us.”
Father Paolo Lee Yongho of the diocese of Daejeon and former rector of the Sanctuary of Solmeo, birthplace of Father Kim, said the film traces the “blossoming of the Christian faith on the Korean Peninsula.
“Saint Andrew Kim was the first Korean who saw the world beyond Korea, China, and Japan and recognized the interconnection of all the societies of the world,” said Father Lee.
“He experienced and promoted the need for academic and cultural exchanges for a better world. He studied Western languages and, for example, drew a map of the Joseon Kingdom, writing many Korean place names in the Western alphabet for the first time, and thus introducing them to the world,” added the priest.
The saint was also the first to write the name of the capital of the Joseon kingdom with the correct name of Seoul.
“Recounting his life today is an opportunity for the Korean Church to rediscover and update a message that can still say a lot to the modern world,” said Father Lee.
“Birth” premiered in the Vatican on November 16 and was set to hit local theaters this week. – with reports from Fides and Yonhap