“Three Sisters” (Scon)
The Korean film industry as a whole weathered a tough year in 2021, with only a few movies opening in theaters amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Looking at the list of films that did get a cinematic release, once again, it is hard to ignore the conspicuous absence of female actors.
On the list of 20 highest grossing films in Korea last year are five Korean films --“Escape from Mogadishu, “Sinkhole,” “Hostage: Missing Celebrity,” “Hard Hit” and “On the Line” -- each of them absent of a female lead actor.
“Three Sisters” is one of very few notable films released last year that featured female characters in the leading roles, telling in-depth stories about different women’s lives. The film attracted just 83,284 moviegoers.
Moon So-ri, who co-produced “Three Sisters” shed light on the dearth of female characters, especially those in their 40s and 50s, in Korean movies during her recent interview with a local news outlet. Moon said it was time to make changes.
“I have a lot to do. Feminism became a trend and it is a very important period in the history of the Korean women’s movement. As I go through this era, I can’t be ignorant. I am an actress and I am experienced. If there are not many roles for female actors, I’ll have to make them myself,” Moon said.
Commercial films slow to change
Curiously, there have been many changes in the indie film scene, while the commercial film sector appears to be lagging behind when it comes to women‘s roles in the industry.
In recent years, the Seoul Independent Film Festival has been stressing the growing role of female film creators that can lead to an increase in the number of films with female narratives.
In 2021, films by women directors accounted for 55 percent of the 120 films screened during SIFF.
SIFF director Kim Dong-hyun said that while there have been improvements in the commercial films sector as well, they are not yet significant because the industry is still dominated by people who deem female movies “less attractive.”
“Escape from Mogadishu” (Lotte Entertainment)
“There was a report by the Korean Film Council that noted that there were more women in diverse sectors of the local film industry in 2020, compared to the previous year,” Kim told The Korea Herald. “But from the investment to the production stage, the Korean film industry is still male-dominated, and this makes it hard to change the current status quo instantly.”
“I think in order to create a new wave, independent film creators, both male and female, who are making great films with female narratives should get more opportunities. This way, the change can take place naturally.”
Film critic Jung Ji-wook said that there is a tendency in the Korean film industry to prefer movies that cater to the tastes of male viewers.
“Production firms should change,” Jung said. “Even when they are making a story with a female character, they do it from the men’s perspective or create a character lacking any depth.”
Korean film industry in 2022
This year will see notable action films with female leads directed by male directors, including Park Hoon-jung’s “The Witch: Part 2,” Park Dae-min’s “Special Delivery” and Ryoo Seung-wan’s “Smuggling.”
Kim agrees that these movies are positive signs that can lead to greater change.
“Of course, there are male directors who do a great job. But it cannot be the same as the films made by female directors. To provide a diverse experience through films, it is crucial to open more opportunities for female filmmakers to create commercial films. I see that as the right direction,” Kim said. “Having more action movies like that with female leads can be part of the process heading toward that direction.”
Nonetheless, Jung said that it could be just a one-time thing if those films lack depth in their storylines.
“Sure, they are using female characters, but I am not sure about that improving the current situation,” Jung said.
He explained that simply changing characters’ gender to female will have its limits.
“There were action films in the ‘70s with female leads. Hong Se-mi used to play those roles,” Jung said. “But that was it. It was just one unique character.”
He added that there is nothing bad about having action movies with female leads, but it is more important to have diverse films that tell in-depth stories about women.
“If those movies have that, then they could be meaningful,” he said.
By Song Seung-hyun (email@example.com