Wars don’t end on the platforms of battleships, they live on in quiet solitude through experiences and memories. And Thereafter II, the second installment of Hosup Lee’s documentary trilogy about Korean military brides living in the United States, is a quiet film that speaks loudly to the prolonged effects of the Korean War and its continued US military involvement.
Ajuma (a Korean term for a mature woman) awaits the inevitable through dark and lonely days in a New Jersey suburb where she is ostracized by both her dead husband’s family and the Korean community for being a former prostitute. Resistant to the film at first, but never restrained, Ajuma is shockingly frank about her experiences as a sex worker, detailing the poverty and desperation of the post-war era. Her story is one often left untold because of the shame and spite that has resulted in Ajuma’s exclusion. But Ajuma has been hardened by a life of having nothing to lose.
Unexpectedly, director Lee serves as a supporting character to Ajuma. Initially Lee assumes Ajuma’s story will fit his treatise about the inequities of the US military in Korea, but Ajuma resists his definition. More and more they develop a connection beyond the standard subject/filmmaker relationship (Ajuma gets Lee to fix her blinds, cooks him Korean stew, and they travel together to Atlantic City casinos). Through reflective long takes and routine chores, Ajuma’s story unravels and Lee must re-evaluate his preconceptions about Korean military brides as Ajuma reveals the possibilities of solace in a seemingly wretched life.
– Aram Siu Wai Collier