Monday, May 22, 2006

Responding to viewer mail

I remember promising to respond to a comment for this post a while back, so here goes.

Anonymous reader, you are definitely correct. This movie is nothing like "Brokeback Mountain," hence the question mark in the title, the point of the post was to question the credit the NY Times seemed to be hinting for this movie breaking down barriers in Korean society.

I have yet to have seen the film since it's been released back in Korea, so I felt uncomfortable about the movie's actual story/content. Nonetheless, I still wanted to talk about what I've experienced as far as how Korean society seems to respond to alternative sexualities. While now will always be an improvement from the past, I can't help but be cynical because I feel like alternative lifestyles are being used more as a curiosity and marketing draw.

But the anonymous reader brings up a good point about same sex relationships in Asian culture that I barely glanced on. The reason I mentioned that I wanted people to look more into what the actual former clown said about relationships is because in Korean society very deep same sex relationships (that are not sexual) is common.

I think this mostly comes from the almost familial relationships that come from a more Confucian background. People older than you are called Older Brother and Older Sister, or they are your Elder and you are the Junior. Your parents' friends are automatically Uncle and Auntie. And when you talk to an elderly man or woman you don't know, they are Grandmother and Grandfather. Depending on how close and what kind of age difference, titles differ, but there's always something familiar even in impersonal titles. Not just a cold Mister or Miss, but the same words you use for family members. People who are older automatically feel like they must teach and steer those younger than them, while those younger have someone they can look up to and respect. One of the culture shocks I encountered when I first came here was the fact that relationships seemed more awkward and forced because you ahd no neutral ground to address people from. In Korea, you had your proper and formal language that you first tested the waters of a relationship first when you just get to know people. And while the use of proper and formal terminology may seem like useless shields and highly impersonal, the fact is it's much easier to feel out how you relate to another person when you both start out at the same neutral level. However, in America where adults sometimes insist that they be called by their first name even if you don't know them too well, the process of gaining an acquaintance seems much too rushed and you don't have enough time to dance the chereographed dance of getting to know one another.

Of course this is in best case scenarios. Such elder/younger relationships can be abused as well. I can bring up the Korean military as an example where such a thing can be easily abused, but that's another topic in and of itself.

But back to what Anonymous brings up. I remember many years ago when Americans who would visit Korea would be confused to see girls walking down the street holding hands (and I mean not 7 year olds skipping down the street together, but girls well into middle/high school age). I pick on this example specifically beecause it illustrates exactly what Anonymous is mentioning as well as what I mean by familial ties. And I think that the retired clowns explanation that the relationships between entertainers was not sexual as being highly plausible beecause of experiences like this. Not to say it's wrong, and who knows maybe some of those relationships did evolve into something else...but yes, the point is this movie is not the Korean "Brokeback Mountain." Don't worry, Anonymous. I agree with you on this, in my own rambling stream-of-consciousness way.

While we're on the topic of Asian movies, let me present to you either a really really bad joke that fell through or quite possibly an incredibly insulting review in the Washington Post for "Promise."

Just read the first couple of paragraphs. Really. Just read the writer serious? Please tell me they are not. Stephen Hunter sort of qualifies his random spoutings with, "Possibly that represents some new policy of pan-Asian ecumenism on the part of the Chinese film industry, or possibly it's just sound box-office demographics, but I'll leave commentary on the subject to someone who might actually know something about it," but COME ON...this is like some reviewer watching an American movie going, "What the hell..this sucked, why wasn't Tom Cruise in it?" or someone watching British TV going, " Benny Hill in this one too?" or, I don't even know. I really need to know, is Mr. Hunter being serious here? I honestly hope it was him being facetious very badly because the first opening paragraphs of the review just sound ignorant.

While I can't speak for the other actors he complains about not being Zhang Zhiyi or Chow Yun Fat (and Lord knows I love Chow Yun Fat...but his pre-Hollywood days when he was still doing "A Better Tomorrow" and whatnot), let me explain a possibility for casting Jang Dong Gun. While I don't expect everyone to know everything about Asia, maybe if you did take an interest in the "Huh, I wonder why they cast these people," aspect of it instead of turning it into some throwaway remark, then yes, you could've done a little digging to find out that the "Korean Wave" affect in Asia where Korean dramas and especially their actors are starting to gain popularity outside of Korea. For example Bae Yong Jun's rise in popularity in Japan (or as they call him there, Yon-sama), the popularity of Korean musicians that spawn outright copycat versions in mainland China, and of course, Mr. Jang Dong-gun who's been doing well for himself in China as well as places like Vietnam where his dramas have been aired. And even if you didn't catch that angle, yes, it probably was a marketing ploy to make the movie highly marketable in Asia since it is going for a blockbuster angle. Just look at any Korean group where the next thing they try to do is branch out. The Korean singer BoA is a good example of that, learning Japanese and creating albums in Japan, or hell, even Takeshi Kaneshiro, who uses his mixed heritage to make Hong Kong or Japanese films, but is popular in Korea too.

I honestly didn't want to play into the whole thing of "Holy crap, Asian SMASH! Can't Tell us APART! Make Hulk MAD!" but this is just so wrong. "Gee, I honestly don't know anything about movies made in Spain or Mexico or those other Spanish speaking places, but I think they should all star Gael Garcia Bernal and Antonio Banderas, no matter what country it's set in because why would I watch some movie in another language if I don't know who the hell is in it...nevermind they're not making this movie specifically catered to me."

It's like how I die a little bit inside whenever some American movie has a bit part of "Gruff French cop/detective/private eye" and you don't even need to see the credits to know they cast Jean Reno. The man can do other things you know. And he can do more than just bit parts. How about "Le Grand Bleu" anyone? He can do comedy too. Ever watched "The Visitors"? It's good lowbrow comedy right there.

Man....anyhow, that's my rant. I don't know, maybe I'm in a foul mood today.


Blogger Kakki said...

do you like boa ??

3:47 AM  

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