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Spoiler Alert:  If you haven’t seen Frozen yet, crawl out from under your log and do it, or read on at your own risk.

“Is it ‘Do you want to build a snowman?’ or ‘Do you want to make a snowman?’,”  my hapkido instructor asked me last week, genuinely interested in the grammatical intricacies of Disney’s newest blockbuster, Frozen.  At that point I knew that if my 관장님 (Master), a forty-something man with no small children, had seen and loved the film, that it had taken a firm hold on the minds and imaginations of the Korean public.

All things Frozen are all the rage at our hagwon, where the sing along version (a bootleg, I’m guessing) routinely plays on our lobby’s TV screen.  During the class change breaks, hordes of children–boys and girls alike–gaze wonderingly at the electric, animated glow of Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell.  It’s a standing-room only affair that frequently causes someone to be late for class.  In fact, more than once, our desk teachers have had to turn it off because the kids were getting too excited and forgetting to go to classes.



Now, you might insist that any child is drawn to the seductive, digital allure of a television screen, and I would not dispute that.  However, these kids not only push and shove to watch ten minutes’ worth of the film, they also know ALL the words to ALL the songs.  While this may not be all that remarkable for American kids, keep in mind that these kids have learned all those songs–word for word–in a foreign language.  Even my youngest Howdy students, who can barely form an English sentence, can belt out an eyes closed, fists clenched rendition of “Let it Go”.  And they will do it in the middle of class with only the slightest encouragement needed.  Girls AND boys.

The musical score to the film has also been the source of a variety of K-Pop covers by Korean pop idols.  Singing sensations like Hyo Rin, Dia, and Song Sungyeon have all released “Let it Go” covers, and Kpop artist Ailee has covered the song in concert.  South Korean guitar virtuoso Sungha Jung’s arrangement of the theme has garnered nearly 2.5 million YouTube views.  Frozen is kind of a big deal here.

But why?  I mean, Korea doesn’t really get that much snow.  Disney princesses are here and all, but the kids generally prefer movies like Iron Man or The Avengers.  And the icy Norwegian setting couldn’t be farther from the weather of sunny Busan. So what is it about this movie that resonates so deeply in the hearts and minds of Koreans?

While Ana is spunky, vivacious, and fun, I think it’s Elsa who really captivates most of my students.   Unlike so many other Disney heroines, Elsa’s conflict (while magical in nature) is very real.  She is struggling to reconcile her true desires and identity with her parents’ expectations of what a perfect daughter should be like, grappling with an inability to be who she really is for fear of bringing shame or ruin to her family. This IS what it means to be a Korean youngster.  Parental and societal pressure is very real here, be it related to grades, appearances, or societal concepts of appropriate behavior.  These kids know what it’s like to have to put away who you want to be in order to please the parents you love dearly.  In a society that stresses homogeneity of appearance, academic achievement (as measured by standardized tests), and openly condemns any kind of “deviant”behavior (from homosexuality to weight gain to choosing not to get married), these kids are like a generation of little Elsas, just trying to figure out how to reconcile their family ties with their desire to be who they really are.  Even the act of singing a song as willful and gloriously defiant as “Let it Go” must be packed with emotional catharsis.

And, as another plus, Frozen is far more enjoyable to me that “What Does the Fox Say?”, which used to be my students’ number one request when asked what English music they wanted to hear.  Idina Menzel’s Norway over Ylvis’s any day, y’all.


Filed under: Uncategorized Tagged: Busan, Frozen, Korea, Teaching


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