Most people would not think of South Korea as a country that produces extraordinary gay films. In "The Land of Morning Calm," LGBT issues are largely ignored by the government and gay culture is generally stigmatized by society. Yet, the Korean film industry has deviated from these traditional, conservative views. Playing by their own cultural rules, Korea's film sector has been slowly putting out LGBT-focused films for the last several years. With stories ranging from the medieval to modern day, here are four films that will take you into the secret world of Korea's gay culture:
Jin-hyuk is rich, handsome, charming, and looking to fall in love. In order to lure in women, he opens a cake shop where he believes they are sure to visit. Jin-hyuk hired a famous patissier, Sun-woo, who had had a crush on his new boss during their high school days. Enlisting Gi-beom, a former boxing champion, and a clueless bodyguard named Su-young, Jin-hyuk and his friends breathe fresh life into the neighborhood with their shop, named Antique. Though all seems well on the surface, each of the men have pasts that haunted them. As business starts booming, secrets begin to unravel.
This lovable film saw over a million moviegoers during its first two weeks, making it one of the most successful Korean movies ever. The unique characters and slapstick comedy make for a fun mix, though there is also a darker side to the story that brings some needed gravity. Antique will leave you satisfied and certainly craving some dessert.
3. Two Weddings And A Funeral
Two Weddings and A Funeral bring us Min-soo and Hyo-jin, a gay man and a lesbian woman who marry so Hyo-jin can legally adopt a child with her lover and Min-soo can please his parents while staying closeted. Min-soo and Hyo-jin appear to be a happy couple as they pull out all the stops to keep up their charade. However, as Min-soo's parents become increasingly involved in the couple's life, they unknowingly threaten their scheme and their chances at true love.
Two Weddings and A Funeral is a wonderful film for a variety of reasons, most notably the way it illustrates Korean society's suppression of gays and lesbians. Gay men and women engaging in "sham marriages" to save face while privately pursuing personal happiness is all too common in many Asian countries.
2. A Frozen Flower
When the King of Goryeo was younger, he developed a close relationship with Hong-rim, a child training to serve as the King’s personal bodyguard. Years later, the King is married, yet unable to consummate his marriage and produce an heir. It is no secret to the Queen that her husband is in love with Hong-rim, now the commander of the palace guards. Under mounting pressure from the Yuan Kingdom to produce an heir, the King is faced with the threat of losing his throne. To maintain his position, the King asks Hong-rim to sleep with the Queen, a task that comes with unexpected consequences. As the King begins to realize he is losing control of both his Queen and his lover, he starts down a dark path of vengeance and destruction.
A Frozen Flower is a truly tragic Korean film. It is also considerably risky by Korean standards, as it deals openly with homosexuality and includes explicit sex scenes. A fantastic period piece, this story may also be rooted in truth according to Korean historical records.
1. No Regret
Su-min is a young gay man trying to create a life for himself in Seoul. By day, he works at a factory, and at night he drives drunk people home from bars. One night, a client expresses interest in Su-min, but he is turned down. Shortly after this, Su-min is laid off from the factory. By chance, the client he drove home appears and is revealed to be Jae-min, the factory owner’s son. Jae-min reverses the lay off, but Su-min quits out of pride and begins work as an escort at a gay host bar. Jae-min continues to pursue Su-min, who eventually gives in and the two fall in love. Jae-min’s looming responsibilities as a chaebol son, however, require him to marry a woman and have children. When Jae-min's mother finds out about Su-min, she orders her son to marry. Jae-min breaks up with Su-min, pushing him to take drastic actions.
No Regret was released in 2006 and is regarded as the first "real" Korean gay film. While the film morphs into something on par with a soap opera, No Regret is worth watching for the emotional depth of its characters and its fascinating look into the gay host bars of modern South Korea.
Looking for more films to add to your list of Korean movies? Check out some of the best Asian action flicks in the video below:
Have you seen any of these films? Which one is your favorite? Share in the comments below!