Saturday, April 01, 2006

Korean "Brokeback Mountain"?

"Gay-Themed Film Gives Closet Door a Tug". Once again, a NYTimes article so will require signing and will probably be gone in a couple days.

"King and the Clown" is HUGE in Korea. Lee, Jungi, the actor who plays the feminine clown Gong-gil is so popular, it's not even funny.

One thing I find interesting is how weird the English title is. The original Korean title translates into "The King's Man." I don't see what made it necessary for the change.

The article mentions the incident with Hong, Suk-Chun. The mostly comic Korean actor who was ostracized from Korean television for coming out as a gay man. Tall, skinny, with his distinctively bald-shaven head, it didn't really come as a surprise when he did come out. He was a Paul Lynde type character, made famous by playing effeminate comic roles. If I remember correctly, his most popular being the fashion designer/boutique owner in the hit Korean sitcom "Three Men, Three Women."

Soon after Hong, Suk-Chun came out of the closet, he all but disappeared from TV. I still remember how one day, a couple of months after it had happened, my friend and I were out and about as usually in the E-dae (Ehwa Women's University) and Hong-dae (Hong-ik University) area, and while transferring at a subway stop we walked past someone who I was sure looked awfully familiar.

"Hey...I think I just saw Hong, Suk-Chun," I told my friend who hadn't seen him, but after a short while I convinced her we should go follow him. When took off in the direction I thought I saw him go in, and when we finally caught up with him at the tracks of one subway, gasping for breath, I asked, "You're Hong, Suk-Chun, right?"

The look on his face was indescribable. He looked nervous, ashamed, and unsure all at the same time. We could both barely hear him as he nodded and said yes, looking around to see if anybody else was looking at us. We asked him for his autograph and he signed our planners, still looking unsure about the whole thing. He had probably gone through a lot, and I don't know what things happened to him whenever he got recognized in the streets, but just as he finished signing the note paper in our planners, his train pulled in and we smiled and thanked him as he quickly slipped into the train. He didn't break a smile or look anything less than uncomfortable the whole time and I remember how sad I felt and wondered if we should've just left him alone.

I wish the article went more into detail about the transition of how homosexuality is viewed in Korea. Korea is a society where homosexuality is not accepted, true, but where it is being "accepted" in a sense is obviously with young people, and mostly in the realm of the arts. Nonetheless, I'm skeptical how this will really change anything.

For example, when in 1997 Wong, Kar-Wai's "Happy Together" came out, it was welcomed with acclaim, and people seemed to think, surely this will change how society thinks of homosexuality. But did it really? I don't think this movie was popular for the subject matter, it was popular for being a Wong, Kar-Wai film. It came out hot on the heels of "Chungking Express" and "Fallen Angels,"

How about the popularity of Ha, Ri-Su the transgendered singer? Honestly, I was skeptical because she didn't seem to be more popular than as a novelty act. If Ha, Ri-Su wasn't a beautiful looking woman, and was a bald gay guy like Hong, Suk-Chun had been, would she have been as accepted for coming out? This was something a lot of people pointed out, and frankly I agree with them that this didn't show any real acceptance on Korean society's part, but more or less she was pretty, and good for show biz. On top of that, all it did was play into the stereotypical role of transgendered/cross dressing people as being only suitable as entertainers. You can visit clubs in Itaewon with all transgendered/cross dressing revues and nightclub performers. Many of them "imported" to Japan to perform at clubs there.

Interestingly, Ha, Ri-Su did pave the way for an all transgendered group known as Lady.

So back to the point of "King and the Clown." Do I think the popularity of this movie means anything? Maybe, who knows, but the cynic in me wants to speculate that the producers were also trying to pander to the popularity of yaoi comics among young women in Korea. It was a slow evolution really. So you have the gorgeous pretty boys were already popular for a long while now, so the popularity of yaoi doesn't really surprise me because it's almost like the exact same reason why guys like girl-on-girl action.

Anyhow, I don't want to be too big of a cynic. The movie managed to find an interesting topic within the usually stale historical drama category by dealing with the lives of travelling entertainers. I highly suggest reading up on these folks. They were mostly outsiders of society also so the change in how society viewed these people is another topic on its own.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, that movie isn't like Brokeback Mountain at all. If you know the actual historical background of what had happend to that king then you would know. To keep it nice and short...I was told that the King was mentally unstable, after his father order his mother to drink poison and die.
So, the king is confused. And secondly men and women in most Asian countries have different relationships with each other. The guys can be more closer and hug and I guess you can say more female like. But that does not mean that they are gay, bi, or a lesbian. They just have a different kinds of way that they act, but for loyalty and friendship. If you have more things to say or discuss with me then please email me at .
Thank you.

12:40 AM  
Blogger nabiya said...

Hey anonymous!

Thanks for the comment, I already emailed you a response to this, but I'll put up a response post soon to follow.

9:05 PM  

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