Eyes of Dawn

One of my favorite courses in college was Literature of the Holocaust. Among the texts for the course was a thin paperback, Night (by Elie Wiesel). I devoured the book in one sitting and sat dazed for hours after that. All the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust in one little book written with such clarity and simplicity even a child could understand it.


When the first scenes of Eyes of Dawn unfolded, I thought immediately of Wiesel’s book. The women herded like cattle into the cattle car, their eyes wide with fear. Where were they going? To a concentration camp? I had to remind myself: “Hey, this isn’t Europe. This is China.”

Be prepared for a harrowing ride as you watch the drama.  Be prepared for horrific scenes involving comfort women and human experiments.  This is not your trendy drama, it is World War II.  In the very first ten minutes of Episode 1 a woman is raped. Many more rapes will follow in just the first two episodes alone. A baby wailing on the ground is shot dead moments later. If you’re a Korean watching this, it is going to make you mad as hell. If you’re a Chinese or Japanese, you may experience all sorts of mixed emotions: rage, denial, guilt, indignation, shame… It’s very gripping stuff but highly disturbing.



As the drama begins, the fate and destination of the women in the cattle car become clear: they are comfort women headed for a Japanese army camp in Nanjing. Screaming and wailing like pigs about to be slaughtered, they are thrown into the comfort barracks.

Among the women is a tall and frail-looking girl, Yun Yeo-ok (Chae Si-ra) – physically violated even before the train has reached the camp, chosen as main course for the commanding officer because of her beauty. But at the camp, her beauty has no bearing. Like all the other women, the only thing that matters is that she is female. Who cares if she is fat, pockmarked or hunchbacked? She just has to lie on the bed and wait, like a fresh carcass awaiting the vultures and hyenas. And they come… in the hundreds.


Among the Japanese soldiers in the camp is a young man, Choi Dae-chi (Choi Jae-sung). He’s not Japanese but has a Japanese name, Sakai. Conscripted against his will to fight the Chinese, he is taunted and abused frequently because not only is he Korean, he is a student. A Korean student soldier – the worst and most lowly combination.

As expected, Dae-chi falls in love with Yeo-ok and she becomes pregnant with his child. It is his child because only with him does she not use any ‘protection,’ only with him that she emerges from her log-like state. But then he is sent away to Burma, leaving her with the baby in her womb and his parting words: “Stay alive. You must live no matter what.”


Herded to another camp, Yeo-ok continues to ‘service’ the soldiers. It does not matter that she is heavy with child; what matters is the soldiers have needs to be met. And so it would have continued if not for the intervention of a young Korean medic, Jang Ha-rim (Park Sang-won). Telling the Japanese officers that she has venereal disease, Ha-rim succeeds in getting Yeo-ok isolated so that she no longer has ‘customers’ to service. 


On the surface seemingly distant with her and speaking little, Ha-rim quietly ensures that Yeo-ok is protected in the Japanese camp.  Because of his efforts, she can stop being a comfort woman, at least until the baby is born. Much later, when they meet again as prisoners of war under the Allied Forces in Saipan, he once more arranges for her special care, this time in exchange for classified information that he gives to the Americans.  (Ha-rim’s devotion to Yeo-ok is one of the main reasons why I love Park Sang-won in Eyes of Dawn.)


There is so much happening in the drama. Without English subs, it would be impossible for me to follow the story. There are many location changes (different cities in China, Korea, Japan, Saipan, Burma…), many actors (and it’s thrilling to recognize many familiar faces and to marvel at how young they looked 15 years ago!), different themes (World War II, Japanese occupation of Korea and China, communist insurgence, the Korean Independence Movement, war atrocities and so on).



But I love the drama for its raw honesty, for portraying the tenacity of the human spirit (and also its frailty) and most of all, for the love story between Ha-rim and Yeo-ok.  At the beginning of Episode 20, I realized Ha-rim was going to do something to save Yeo-ok from being killed by the Japanese Military Police. And when the enormity of his decision hit me, I cried.

So great was his love for this comfort woman whom he had met at the lowliest point of her life. She had another love and so did he. And yet in the tumult of the war their paths crossed. Neither had expressed to the other how each felt because there was no need. It was clear from the glow on their faces when they met again in Shanghai. How I love that scene when she appeared in front of him as the geisha Cho-sun and he couldn’t believe his eyes. He couldn’t stop smiling, so deep was his joy at seeing her alive and well and looking so beautiful.

16 thoughts on “Eyes of Dawn

  1. Hi, thundie!

    Eyes of Dawn… It’s my best Korean TV drama.
    When the drama aired on MBC, I was a young student preparing for upper school entrance exam. I had little spare time except for studying. But, I could not help watching it over and over again. Tragedy for historic fate, love, sacrfice, and exotic(to me) locations, all really moved me and it was really really epoke making drama at that time.

    Most of all, I loved Choi Dae Chi. I deeply felt pity for him. I have seemed to like “tough guy” since then.^^;
    But, my friends preferred Park Sang Won or Jang Ha Lim as you.^^

    The ending… I might replay the scene 100 times.
    Every time I watched, I cried.

    It’s surpring that I find review of this drama in your blog. Thank you for reminding my memories.

  2. Hi JW La!

    Eyes of Dawn is fantastic, isn’t it? It just blew me away, to the point I even started a forum for it (www.eyesofdawn.net; but I’m closing the forum soon, alas, because of a lack of interest and because I simply have no time to maintain it). It got me so interested in Korea’s history. The cast was out of this world, too. Best ensemble cast ever. Best drama ever.

  3. hi!
    i am an avid fan and historian on ww2 and japan issues and also a korean drama fan, i came across the drama whilst researching online on dramas to do with comfort women, i see u have the limited edition w/h eng subs~omg! someone has uploaded partially the drama incomplete without subs but i am following it..do u know where i can get the eng subs version or even better could u upload the eng subbed ver. on youtube?? i would follow it and make sure i give words of encouragement all the way~i’m sure there’ll be tons of hidden fans out there despite the seeming lack of interest~~please please please~~~haha..

  4. Hi chinese chic

    I googled the English-subbed Eyes of Dawn for you. The set is sold out at Yesasia where I bought it, but it’s still available here: http://hanbooks.com/eyofdambctvd.html

    I’m sorry, but I have no idea how to rip anything from a DVD. I’m sure YouTube will also immediately remove the videos because of copyright.

    If you love history (like I do) and are interested in the Pacific War and its atrocities (comfort women, human experiments, etc.), Eyes of Dawn is a must-watch. It’s a beautiful set; you won’t regret it!

    Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Aw, I wish you wouldn’t have closed Eyesofdawn.net. I have a lot of interest in this drama but the English subbed version isn’t available on DVD, and even just the Korean version is hard to find (I bought viewing rights on the MBC website). Even though places like Hanbooks and Seoul Selection say they have Eyes of Dawn DVD set in stock, none of them really do- when I tried to order I get the e-mail that they are sold out.

    Anyway, it’s good for my Korean to watch without subs, but it’s a shame that this drama is not more widely available to international audiences.

  6. Hi Bonnie

    I wished I didn’t have to close EyesofDawn.net too, since I put a lot of effort into building it from scratch. But there were very few postings from others; in contrast I was getting thousands of spambot registrations which frustrated me to no end. The latter was the main reason I closed the site because I just didn’t have the time or resources to keep deleting those nuisance registrations. It was a tough decision, sob.

    But… good news! There’s a high possibility WITHS2 (which I’m a member of) will pick this up as a side project in the middle of the year. If it takes off, the translator is none other than MisterX. 😀

  7. hi from south korea.
    i’m very happy to see you review. this is such a hard story and it’s very surprising to meet peer reviewer outside of korea.

    anybody here want to see the drama?
    click here : http://cafe.daum.net/lyhyounghunlee/SL2A/12?docid=1JHoe|SL2A|12|20110513210730&q=%BF%A9%B8%ED%C0%C7%20%B4%AB%B5%BF%C0%DA&srchid=CCB1JHoe|SL2A|12|20110513210730

    there is no eng sub but you can at least see all the episodes

    • Hi korean girl, thanks for dropping by. I’m always thrilled when a reader from Korea visits the blog and takes the time to comment. It doesn’t happen often so it’s extra special! 😀

      My review isn’t a review at all and does not do the drama justice. Later this year, the fansubs group that I belong to will start releasing new English subtitles for EOD. Hopefully that will allow many more people to watch this fantastic and life-changing drama. I hope to write a more worthy review then.

    • Hi,
      I am so excited to find the videos posted, but I only see 26 episodes (out of 36). Is someone posting the rest? I don’t think I should start watching without knowing they will all be there. I won’t be able to stop at 26! Thanks.

  8. Hello!!!..I am from Romania..:)..and I just finished to see “Eyes of the dawn” on azn.tv.This drama was very very touching.I was excited to see Choi Jae Sung,Chae Si ra,Ko Hyun Jung and many others in their youth

  9. Hello! I know it has been many years since you posted this review and I don’t know if you are even using this site any longer, however, I just found out about this drama a few months ago. It seems like it is nowhere to be found on the internet and I want to watch it so badly! I am a huge fan of any drama from the 90’s, because for some reason they are just so much better than todays dramas and I love learning history from dramas too. I have watched The Sandglass, and apparently the person who wrote that drama also wrote Eyes of Dawn. I really want to know of a place I could buy the drama with or without subs because that’s how badly I want to watch it. I have clicked on all the links, however, none of them have the drama any longer. I have only had the opportunity to see a few short clips of the show without any subs. I am learning Korean, but the language used in period dramas is very hard for me to understand. If you could somehow help me track down a copy of this drama, I would truly appreciate it, more than words can express. Thank You!

    • Hello, have you been able to find it? I have a link for you if you haven’t. I’m not sure if Thundie would want the link to be posted here, so if you could let me know if you still check this site, I can then help you.

    • MBC Classic channel has this show on Youtube it you are willing to watch it without subtitles. If you download it from Youtube using various tools, you should also be able to use WITHS2’s subs on them.

Have your say

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s