Last Letters – Documentary – Review

Last Letters

 A heartwrenching tragedy


On the 16th of April 2014, a ferry en route from Incheon to Jeju Island in Korea capsized. 304 out of 476 passengers and crew members died in this tragic accident. This short film follows eight families that lost loved ones that day and explores the physical and emotional spaces that the tragedy left behind. The film juxtaposes documentary and fictional elements. It shines a light on this still unsolved tragedy and shows the isolation the families feel while they pose for an incomplete family portrait.

Year: 2016
Countries: South Korea
Languages: Korean
Genre: Documentary, True story, Short-film
Director: Nils Clauss
Cast: The real family members, Choeun Jung, Taekyun Kim, Youngdal Kim, Seoungyeon Won


For those who are not familiar, on 16th April 2014, a tragic incident occurred where over 300 people drowned to death out of which the majority were school children. They were abroad a ferry named “Sewol” which was going to Jeju Island in the southern tip of the Korean peninsula. The cause of the Sewol Ferry incident is not completely discovered as of yet. Most Koreans blame this on the corruption and political influence. The accident can never be fully investigated as the government could not salvage the shipwreck and has in many ways abandoned the issue despite nine people still being missing. The bodies have not yet been discovered. While all this is infuriating, on the day of the incident the rescue workers were inefficient and the entire handling of the accident was deemed inept and utterly disappointing.


Since the accident, there have been several artistic and realistic takes on this issue as well many to show the grievances of the victims and their families while others to try and discover the truth behind the tragic loss of death. This short film is an artistic take on how the victims’ families did and still are bearing after hearing the news of their loved ones passing away. This film is a gateway to seeing life through the eyes of the ones who remain and have to somehow still have to continue living after losing their dear ones.

In the entire film there is only narration and as the title goes the surviving family members in a way say their final words to their departed family members. While watching the film I constantly had goosebumps from the first minute till the end. It was so heavily laid with emotions and sort of left a hollow feeling in my chest. The stories felt both haunting and liberating in a way. Haunting because they will never truly move on and forget the deaths of their family members and liberating because they could convey their final sentiments to the dearly departed.

The movie itself was very creatively made. I really felt a great sorrow watch those kids and adults running in slow-motion in various natural backdrops. It felt as if the director was trying to convey that no matter how desperately those victims tried to run or tried to escape, it wasn’t enough. Many people might not know that yellow was the colour used to show support for the Sewol Ferry victims and their families. Eventually, it became the colour of activism by families demanding the proper investigation of the accident and appropriate punishment being dealt out. I believe it is for this reason that those victims were seen wearing yellow masks.

Family Photo - Last Letters

Another part that really made me shake with sadness and overflow with sympathy was when they showed the family members posing for a family photo but with each family one chair was empty. This, I felt, was such an empowering depiction of the state of the families. These families now had an empty chair or empty space in their lives but unlike a normal chair, this one could never be replaced or filled by someone else. For the rest of their lives, they will continue to live with that empty chair.

Also regarding the actors of this film, all the family members are the real family of the victims of the Sewol Ferry and all pictures and family photos and things are all real. Only the actors shown running in slow-motion are unrelated to the accident and are by profession actors. I think this is the reason this movie hits you even harder. It is a documentary with an artistic take.

This is a really beautiful and harmonious depiction of the pain, sorrow and suffering of the surviving family and I highly recommend this movie to anyone and everyone. It is all of but 7 minutes but it would probably make you feel and think for long after.

Here is the link to the short film which you can view for free online.

The stories, the narration and the imagery are all very simple and not excessively shown. Yet, it pricks at your heart and makes you think…. What if I was in their place?

(I don’t want to rate the story and acting parts of the movie as I feel that it is like rating their experience and tarnishing the memory of the victims)


  • Music/Sound: 9
  • Overall: 10

Have you seen ‘Last Letters’? If yes, what do you think about this documentary? Comment below! If not, does it sound interesting to you?

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About Poornima

A Korea-phile by nature~ Love everything Asian and originally from India. Fluent in Korean language and knows Chinese language as well. Has Masters in East Asian Studies (with special interest in Korean culture and politics)

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