|A scene from director Kim Soo-hyeon’s “Life is Peachy” (Mountain Pictures)|
After this year’s success of “Miracle of Jongno Street,” the nation’s first gay-themed documentary, Korea’s film scene sees the arrival of two very different queer films.
One is the feature debut of So Joon-moon, one of the four gay men featured in director Lee Hyuk-sang’s documentary released in June. In the non-fiction film, So appeared as a struggling film director who often gets discouraged by social scrutiny of his sexual orientation.
His upcoming tragic queer romance, titled “REC,” portrays the last night of a gay couple who have been secretly with each other for five years. The film actually takes place on the night of their fifth year anniversary, in a cheap motel room in Jongno, Seoul’s popular gay district.
It begins as Young-joon (Song Sam-dong), one of the two, suggests making a personal video of their special night, using his own video camcorder. Joon-seok (Cho Hye-hoon), his boyfriend, is reluctant at first, but soon agrees.
Almost the entire movie is shot by the two actors and makes one feel as if watching an hour-long, unedited personal footage of the couple. The two make seemingly ordinary conversations while filming themselves, telling what they like and dislike about each other.
Yet such small talk inevitably reflects their experience living as sexual minorities, and their internalized despair resulting from it.
“When I disliked you the most (throughout our five-year relationship) was when you told me that ‘people like us’ have no future together,’” says Joon-seok in the film. “But that’s the truth,” Young-joon replies, in a rather casual tone.
“This film is an amalgam of my own relationships that took place in Jongno,” So said during a press premiere of the film on Monday. “I want this movie to be a piece of consolation to those who cannot live as who they really are.”
The two straight actors, Song Sam-dong and Cho Hye-hoon, were not at all familiar with the gay genre before working on the film.
“I was worried in the beginning,’ Song, who broke up with his girlfriend after appearing in the film, told reporters during the conference. “I thought, what if director So likes me? But apparently I am not his type. I went to gay bars for the first time with the director for this movie, and thought, oh, this is actually not anything weird. I’ve been studying a lot about LGBT issues since working on this film, and to be honest, I’m still not 100 percent sure (what to think of it). All I can say is, I like working with director So, and it’s been very comfortable.”
“I had no idea what the word ‘queer’ was before working on the film,’ said another actor Cho. “The most important thing was to somehow become friends with Song as fast as possible.”
So, who saved the movie from being an awfully conventional melodrama by focusing on some of the grimmest aspects of the Korean LGBT experience, paid a special tribute to modern poet Gi Heyong-do (1960-1989) at the end of the piece. “I get very cautious when I say this,” said So. “He is obviously my favorite poet and I’ve been seeing a lot of connotations of queer sexuality in his works.”
The movie received an R rating, for its sexual content and nudity. “Sex is a part of the LGBT life,” So said. “I wanted to show what it is really like ― which many would consider ‘not even imaginable’ or unspeakable.”
Another gay movie hitting the screens is “Life is Peachy,” which was the opener of this year’s Seoul LGBT Film Festival back in May. Starring actress Kim Hyo-jin and Kim Kko-bbi, the film was invited to last year’s PIFF, this year’s Berlinale and Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival. It is the second film made by director Kim Soo-hyeon, who took an eight-year break after his debut “Too Cute” in 2004.
|A scene from director So Joon-moon’s upcoming film “REC” (JINJIN Pictures)|
Unlike “REC,” the film focuses on the universal human relationship and its nature, though telling it through its two young female characters who accidentally fall in and out of love with each other. The two women ― one a sales associate and the other a pickpocket ― are not interested in what others think of them. They focus on their own needs and wants, and so are not surprised when they find themselves falling for the same sex.
It captures a series of moments that turns one’s love into hatred, and how such strong emotions change with time and separation. The movie reminds one of Missy Higgins song of a similar title “Peachy,” which goes: “It’s no-one’s fault/ It’s no-one’s fault/ that I fell on you and you on me/ That’s what humans do/ They pass on through.”
Kim, who delves into the theme of femininity and intimate human attraction by using exquisite, repeated image of water and fetus-like body moves, said he was “bored of seeing heterosexual relationships” in both movies and real-life. “The movie could’ve been told through a heterosexual couple and perhaps it could’ve been easier that way,” he said. “I wanted to tell a love story of content and self-driven women, and this is how it turned out.”
Kim Kko-bbi, who has participated in a number of successful indie films, including “Breathless” (2008) and “The King of Pigs” (2011), said performing in love scenes is the same experience regardless of the gender of the fellow actor.
“You are not in love with the person anyways, and it’s all acting,” she said. “So it does not matter if you are doing with a man or a woman. It’s practically the same.”
The actress said she hopes the movie can help her audience understand better about LGBT experience.
“Many would think how can you possibly fall in love with a person of same gender,” she said. “And that’s what happens in the movie. A girl finds herself in love with someone, and that person turned out to be a girl, too.”
“REC” opens in theaters on Nov. 24, while “Life is Peachy” will be released on Dec. 8.
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)