The title of "3xFTM" at first probably looks like random gibberish. But director Kim Il-rhan explains in short order what they stand for- 3 examples of Female to Male. That is, "3xFTM" is the story of three transgender individuals living in South Korea in the mid two thousands. Technology is just on the cusp of being able to make gender transition a reality for everyone. Until that time comes, though, they just muddle about their daily lives as men.
"3xFTM", is, in a word boring. This is pretty clearly intentional. In stark contrast to Harisu, who normalized transgender identities by being an attractive tv personality, the transgender men in "3xFTM" are very schlubby, average looking, and at points even unattractive. Sure, they're all very nice. They have great personalities. And they have man boobs that are actually woman boobs.
How little that matters. Seeing these three discuss their normal everyday lives, indeed, simply seeing them engage in their normal everyday lives, it's hard to visualize them as being anything more than just the normal men you see every day working in the service industry, or coming out of a factory, or just walking down the street holding hands with a girlfriend. That these men were all born with female anatomy seems strikingly redundant and pointless, to the point I wondered why the topic even came up at all.
There are, of course, political reasons, but those are surprisingly subdued. It's one of the ways you can tell "3xFTM" was filmed ten years ago. Legal issues regarding permission to get gender reassignment surgery and marriage licenses are discussed, but only in the context of their lives. Even more curiously, the transmen regard these topics with more a sense of hurtful personal inconvenience than as one of actively offensive injustice.
This makes their pain quite a bit more relatable than more currently styled LGBT films. Because uh, feeling like I'm a man stuck in a woman's body? I don't know what to think about that. Being jerked around by government institutions that make simple processes way harder than they need to be? Oh yeah I've been there. That sucks. And it really sucks for these men too, that they have to face inconvenience like this when everyone else in their lives has figured out how to deal with it.
...Well OK, not everyone. As was the case with "Troublers", the transmen featured here are largely in the closet, and brief glimpses of their past lives indicate that the road they took to get here was not a happy one. Still, they're happy now. They are clearly happier being men now than they were being women before and you know what? All the more power to them for that.
Ah, another way you can tell "3xFTM" was filmed ten years ago- the film and audio quality is rather questionable. Director Kim Il-rhan was clearly working on a shoestring budget. Being subject to the occasional disappearance of her subjects was no doubt another difficulty. Still, I'm glad she made the effort- the stories told by "3xTFM", boring though they may be, are nonetheless important ones.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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