I started watching Sandglass, an old Korean drama aired in the mid-1990s which dealt with the turbulent political events happening in Korea between 1970s and 1980s, including the Kwangju student uprising. 

I have always been rather curious about this drama because every Internet reference that I have come across on this drama simply drowns it in praises.  It was immensely popular in Korea at that time and is still considered to be one of the best productions in Korea.   

Sandglass has been on my to-watch list for a long while but I never got around to it because there was always something trendier or funnier to watch.  After indulging in some rather disappointing trendy dramas lately, I decided to turn to Sandglass and get a reality check.   The historical aspects interest me and I wanted to see how some of these top Korean actors and actresses look like 15 years ago.  

I was hooked after watching the first episode.  Fifteen episodes later, I am truly and hopelessly hooked.  The drama is serious, gritty and heart-wrenching.  It has sucked me so completely that I feel like I was part of that tragic era when Korea was a military dictatorship, just by sitting in front of the computer.  The acting in every scene squeezes my heart and the images from the drama keep on replaying in my mind.   Nutcase, right?

The storyline is very engaging and acting by the cast is solid, especially Choi Min-soo who is one of the three leads.  He is DAMN good, I should say.  The sort who acts with his eyes.  I would have been a total fangirl if I had watched him in this drama 15 years ago. 

The drama soundtrack intensifies the pathos – a good soundtrack in such dramas just sticks a knife in your back and kills you off.  There is this one song in the soundtrack which does a great job of bleeding me to death.  The melody is hauntingly beautiful and moving, it evokes all the emotions of the drama. 

Tragedy.  Sorrow.  Pain.  Angst.

I found out that this is a famous Russian song titled The Cranes (also known as Ballad of the Cranes or Zhuravli in Russian) composed by Mark Bernes, a Russian singer.  According to Wikipedia, the lyrics of the song originated from a poem by a Russian poet, Rasul Gamzatov, who penned the poem in remembrance of the Russian solders who died in World War II.  According to the poem, soldiers who died in the battlefield do not become dust but turn into beautiful white cranes. 

The poem was inspired from his visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (argh, I don’t want to be reminded of this place) and the monument to a Japanese girl known as Sadako Sasaki who died from leukaemia caused by the atomic bomb.  During the course of her illness, she started folding paper cranes, believing in the Japanese folklore that the person who manages to fold 1000 paper cranes will have her wish granted.  

In 1969, Mark Bernes revised the words in Gamzatov’s poem and asked another Russian known as Yan Frenkel to compose the music.  Beautiful composition by Yan Frenkel. 

Below are the translated lyrics from Wikipedia but I am not sure if this is an accurate translation:

It seems to me sometimes that all the soldiers,
Who never came from battles of the war,
Were not just only laid into the dirt, but
Were turned into the cranes, as white as snow.
So they are flying ever since those ages.
They call for us and maybe that is why
Their voices are so full of burning sadness,
And we keep silence looking into sky.

The flock of cranes is flying slow and sadly
Through colors of a sundown. I can see
That there is a small gap between them, maybe
It is a spot that’s meant, my friend, for me.
There will be day and I will fly right there,
There will be day and may be it is close.
And from the skies above I will be sending
My voice for those I loved and left on earth.

Here is the song that I have been gushing about.  The clip here comes with English subtitles.

I also found another Youtube clip of this song being performed live by a Korean bass with orchestral accompaniment. Very good rendition, but in a different style from the Russian singer in the first clip.  I actually prefer this performance because of the style of singing.

Gosh, I have listened to this song performed by various singers on Youtube so many times now, it is on auto-replay in my head.  Even TBH can’t stop humming the song…

The Cranes – A Russian Song
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