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A Good Time for Gay Movies in East and West

2006/03/08 | Permalink | Source

Planning on "coming out?" Now might be a good time, as a slew of recent hot-topic movies produced and released in Korea, the U.S. and Japan are drawing attention to the topic of same-sex love affairs and perhaps making the idea more accessible to the conservative masses.

Above all, the recent hit Korean movie "The King and the Clown" just became the biggest blockbuster of all time here by attracting more than 11.8 million viewers nationwide as of last week. It focuses on King Yeonsan (Jung Jin-young) and his love for the clown Gong-gil (Lee Joon-gi). The milestone puts the movie ahead of patriotic blockbusters like "Silmido" or "Taegukgi". Homosexual themes, however, are fairly discreetly woven into the tapestry of the film, even if the original Korean title itself -- which translates as "The King's Man" -- is fairly unequivocal in its connotations.

In Hollywood, "Brokeback Mountain" directed by Ang Lee has been no stranger to public controversy either. Set on a ranch in Wyoming, the movie deals with the love shared between two cowboys -- not an icon one would usually associate with homosexuality. Its commercial success, too, has gone beyond all expectations, with the film picking up four Golden Globes and Lee's winning the Oscar for Best Director. Back in the East, "La Maison de Himiko", which deals with a gay man in love with a straight woman, an unusual topic even for an art film, drew some 30,000 viewers in three months since its release in Japan in October.

So far, homosexuality has been dealt with mostly in independent movies. In Korean society, which traditionally doesn't look to kindly on gay relationships, the success of "The King and the Clown" therefore seems an even more exceptional feat. The major force of the movie lies in its solid storyline, but the kiss scene between Jung Jin-young and Lee Joon-gi seems so natural that viewers almost forget to squirm. That such stories have moved into the mainstream can be attributed to the watchwords of cultural diversity and political tolerance of the early 2000s. The film critic Shim Young-seop says the result has been mighty step forward for Korea, which now seems able to approach homosexuals as human beings.

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