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Gay movie's success echoes in Seoul's closet - NYT
Gay movie's success echoes in Seoul's closet
By Norimitsu Onishi The New York Times
THURSDAY, MARCH 30, 2006
SEOUL "King and the Clown" lacked a single top star from South Korea's booming film industry or the other usual ingredients of a surefire blockbuster.
And in a country where homosexuality was removed from a government list of "socially unacceptable" acts only in 2004, the film centers on a gay love triangle in a 16th-century royal court: a young male clown torn between his love for a fellow clown and an amorous king.
But to everyone's surprise, not least the director's, in mid-March the movie became the most popular ever in South Korea's history, seen by more than 12 million people, or one in four residents. In U.S. terms, it would perhaps be the equivalent of "Brokeback Mountain" - to which this movie has been loosely compared - grossing as much as "Titanic."
As a cultural phenomenon, "King and the Clown" has led to sometimes confused, sometimes uncomfortable discussions here about the nature of homosexuality, something that was rarely discussed publicly until a few years ago.
At the core of the movie, which the producers hope to take to the United States, are two male clowns, a masculine one named Jang Saeng and a feminine, delicate-looking one named Gong Gil, who assumes the female part in skits.
Itinerant performers who depend on handouts for their survival, they are condemned to death one day for a bawdy skit insulting Yonsan, a king remembered in Korean history for his tyranny. But after succeeding in making the king laugh, the clowns are pardoned and allowed to become court jesters.
The king becomes enamored of Gong Gil, and the ensuing relationship fuels Jang Saeng's jealousy. Physical displays of affection are subtle: The king kisses the sleeping clown in one brief scene; in another showing the two clowns sleeping next to each other, Jang Saeng gently tucks in his partner.
All tame perhaps, but many here consider the movie a taboo-breaker in its matter-of-fact portrayal of homosexuality. Popular culture had long ignored gays or, in more recent years, relegated them to caricatured roles.
"One or two films tried to describe gay relationships in a serious way, but were unsuccessful commercially," said Tcha Sung-Jai, one of the country's best-known producers and a professor of film at Dongkuk University. "That's why everyone in the industry was so surprised when 'King and the Clown' became a hit."
"I cried when I saw the movie," he added, "and I'm a very strong heterosexual."
In addition to homosexuality, other previous taboos, like human rights violations during South Korea's military rule and North Korea-related themes, have been broached recently in films. Movies have mirrored, and sometimes tried to stay abreast of, a South Korean society that has been socially and politically transformed in the last decade.
Until a decade ago, when a tiny gay rights movement was started by Korean-Americans on a few college campuses here, most Koreans had been unaware even of the existence of gays. Even though Seoul has long had two neighborhoods with small clusters of gay bars, Itaewon and Chongno, gays remained hidden and homosexuality went unmentioned.
Then, in 2000, the issue was tossed into the public arena when a well- known television actor, Hong Suk Chon, became the first major figure to come out of the closet. Hong was immediately dropped from his show, and his career appeared over. But in 2003, in a sign of changing attitudes, the actor began a successful comeback.
"We feel that the last 10 years is the equivalent of 100 years because so many changes occurred in such a short period," Oh Ga Ram, an official at the Korean Gay Men's Human Rights Group, said in an interview in the organization's office in Chongno.
No other public figure has come out of the closet, and most Korean gays remain hidden. But Oh said "King and the Clown" was a "positive step" because "there is a discourse now that did not exist before."
The discourse, though, was often confused, Oh said. Because the love triangle hinges on a feminine male clown, some viewers say the relationship is not a gay one at all. "In the minds of many Koreans now, 'pretty males' equal gay," he said.
The movie's title in Korean is more direct about the nature of the relationship: "The King's Man."
Still, its director, Lee Jun Ik, was hesitant to define his movie as a gay- themed one and minimized it as a taboo-breaker.
"This is not homosexuality as defined by the West," Lee said in an interview. "It's very different from 'Brokeback Mountain.' In that movie, homosexuality is fate, not a preference. Here, it's a practice."
Lee said he had been more interested in evoking the world of itinerant clowns, many of whom were involved in same-sex relationships.
One person the director consulted was Kim Gi Bok, 77, who is considered the last surviving itinerant clown. Kim was amused at the attention he had gotten because of the film.
"Before we were treated as beggars, but now we are considered traditional artists," he said in an interview in Anseong, a town north of Seoul, where a center to keep alive his craft was established.
Intense relationships developed among itinerant clowns, Kim said, because they worked in all-male troupes and traveled together all the time.
"It was also difficult to get a wife," he said. "We were beggars. Who would marry a beggar?"
As in the movie, a masculine clown and a feminine clown often became a couple. The masculine clown showed his love by buying his partner, called a biri, a watch, Kim said.
"They would stay together all the time, sleeping in the same room, helping each other out," he said. "The biri would go into people's kitchens and even beg for food for both of them.
"Some of the biris were extremely beautiful - they had hair down to here," Kim said, pointing to his waist, as his eyes lit up at the memory. He added that some clowns who did manage to marry would sometimes leave their wives for fellow clowns.
Kim himself married and had one son. He said he, too, had biris during his life, though he said the relations had not been sexual.
"Relations between men were very sincere and genuine," Kim said. "It was an amazing, remarkable relationship, much closer than anything between a husband and wife."
My Side of the Mountain A gay-themed film becomes a surprise hit in Korea.
2006年 03月 29日 水曜日 15:18 JST
［ニューヨーク ２８日 ロイター］ 同性愛者団体ＧＬＡＡＤは今年度のメディア作品賞に２人のカウボーイの純愛を描いた「ブロークバック・マウンテン」を選出した。アカデミー賞作品賞を逃したものの、今年度の主要映画賞を総ナメにした同作品に新たな栄誉が加わった。
'Brokeback Mountain' is tops at gay media awards
Tue Mar 28, 2006 1:30 AM ET
By Chris Michaud
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oscar may have snubbed "Brokeback Mountain," but the so-called gay cowboy movie was tops with a gay watchdog group on Monday, adding the top prize to its burgeoning roster of honors at the GLAAD Media Awards.
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation named the film, which lost an Oscar for best picture to "Crash," the year's best wide release motion picture at its 17th annual awards.
Director Ang Lee accepted the award, commenting: "Finally, an award that actually means something."
Noting that "Brokeback Mountain" had won a slew of awards, Lee said, "Some of these are very meaningful to me.
"OK, there was that one that got away, but that's OK," he quipped.
Lee, who received a standing ovation from the audience at a Manhattan hotel, said it would likely be "the very last award I will accept for 'Brokeback Mountain' ... And to end the journey here tonight is like coming home. The fact is 'Brokeback Mountain' has helped to change the world."
Other winners of GLAAD's annual awards, which recognize mainstream media for "fair, accurate and inclusive representations" of the gay community, included Newsweek for magazine coverage, the FX reality program "Straight/Gay 30 Days," and ESPN's SportsCenter for its news segment "Andrew Goldstein," which profiled a gay lacrosse goalie.
Presenters included Oscar-winning actor Michael Douglas and comedienne and actress Sandra Bernhard. Writer-actor Bruce Vilanch, who has written the Oscar shows for several years, hosted the evening.
GLAAD was formed in New York in 1985 in response to sensationalized AIDS coverage by tabloid newspapers and local news stations.
17th Annual GLAAD Media Awards
My Side of the Mountain
A gay-themed film becomes a surprise hit in Korea.
By Mark Russell
March 27, 2006 issue - Like "Brokeback Mountain," South Korea's "The King and the Clown" is a mainstream movie featuring homosexual characters that urges viewers to put the story ahead of sexual politics. But unlike the highly publicized "Brokeback," the $4.2 million "King and the Clown," produced by Eagle Pictures, emerged from obscurity. It's since become the biggest film in Korean history, seen by 12 million of the country's 47 million citizens. That translates into $77.5 million at the box office; by comparison, the highest-grossing foreign film ever shown in Korea, "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King," made only $38 million. "Before the première, we knew it was good," says director Lee Jun-ik. "We hoped it might sell 5 million tickets. But nobody could have predicted what happened."
Fantastic word of mouth has fueled the film's success. Despite being a period drama devoid of big-name stars, "The King and the Clown" has sparked enough buzz to draw swelling crowds week after week. Set 500 years ago, it's the story of two traveling entertainers—the macho Jang-seng and the effeminate Gong-gil—who become official performers in the royal palace. The movie skillfully mixes comedy and drama, against a fast-paced backdrop of high-wire acrobatics and clown culture, and has obviously struck a chord with audiences.
The gay scenes are subtle but not sugarcoated. When the movie begins, an unscrupulous troupe leader is pimping Gong-gil to lecherous nobles for food. In the palace, King Yon-san leaves his concubine because he is so fixated on the feminine Gong-gil. As with "Brokeback," filmmakers focused on the human nature of the relationships , which many in the conservative country found liberating. "While I was sitting in the theater, I thought, Oh, my god, director Lee, thank you so much," says gay actor Hong Suk-chun, who was virtually blackballed from television when he was outed five years ago.
"The King and the Clown" is paving the way for other gay-themed movies. On March 1, "Brokeback Mountain" was released, selling a modest but respectable 150,000 tickets so far. Last week, the Japanese indie film "La Maison do Himiko," which also deals with homosexuality, opened and quickly sold 70,000 tickets. "In terms of audience reaction, 'The King and the Crown' definitely helped," says Josh Lee, vice president of international sales at CJ Entertainment, which imported "Brokeback" to Korea—and is selling "The King and the Clown" abroad. Soon, the rest of the world will get to see what all the buzz is about
TOPICS | 2006/03/06
Larry Carroll, MTV News
A `Brokeback' backlash
Hollywood jilts the cowboys and loses its Oscar heart to `Crash'
Published March 8, 2006
Hollywood isn't being straight with gay community
By Wesley Morris, Globe Staff | March 7, 2006
Why did 'Brokeback' fall with a 'Crash'?
Tuesday, March 7, 2006 Posted: 1556 GMT (2356 HKT)
NEW YORK (AP) -- We chatted about it, joked about it, argued about it, spoofed it. "Brokeback Mountain" was everywhere in our popular culture -- yet it lost the big Oscar it was supposed to win.
2006年 03月 9日 木曜日 07:48 JST
［北京 ７日 ロイター］ 第７８回アカデミー賞で台湾出身のアン・リー監督が「ブロークバック・マウンテン」で監督賞の栄冠に輝いたニュースは、７日付の中国各紙でも大きく取り上げられ絶賛の嵐となった。ただ、国営メディアでは、中国政府の意向に沿わない部分などについては、スピーチの内容を一部削除する措置も見られた。
Ang Lee's Oscar hot topic in China
Wed Mar 8, 2006 8:57 AM GMT
By Jonathan Landreth
BEIJING (Hollywood Reporter) - "Oscar honour brings joy to Chinese" read a front-page headline of Tuesday's China Daily, after "Brokeback Mountain" director Ang Lee became what the state-run paper called "the glory of Chinese cinematic talent."
But Lee's film about romance between two men -- which made him the first Asian to win the best director Oscar -- is not likely to screen in China, industry critics say, and has turned the Taiwan-born filmmaker into something of a political football.
"China's a socialist country and, like in the Soviet Union before us, many subjects cannot break through in this system," said Cui Zi'en, an openly gay filmmaker and professor at the Beijing Film Academy.
While its mature themes didn't stop "Brokeback" from distribution in Hong Kong and Taiwan, its R-rating in the U.S. works against it in China, where homosexuality wasn't removed from the China Psychiatric Society's list of mental disorders until April 2000.
Foreign film companies -- limited as they are by law to a total of 20 revenue-sharing theatrical releases in China each year -- tend to submit titles they guess won't offend Beijing's censors, who tend to frown on sex and violence.
Either way, Chinese already can buy widely available pirated editions.
Observers say that the chances of "Brokeback" screening here might be further complicated by the fact that Lee, 51, hails from a self-governing island that Beijing calls a renegade province; and yet he has just won an honour that has eluded mainland directors for years.
"Lee must be the envy of Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige," Yang Rui, China Central Television host, said Monday night on his primetime talk show "Dialogue." (CCTV's movie channel showed the Oscars the same morning with a two-hour delay to accommodate interpreters' voiceovers and censors' cuts, producers said.)
Appearing on "Dialogue," Beijing Foreign Studies University film critic Teng Jimeng called Chen's "The Promise" -- China's foreign-language Oscar submission this year -- a "failure" and praised "Brokeback."
Not making things any easier for Lee on the mainland, he was hailed as "the pride of Taiwan" by the island's democratically elected leader Chen Shui-bian, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported from Taipei on Monday.
Chen is perennially in hot water with the mainland for his talk of lasting independence for Taiwan, and is the object of unusually sharp criticism this week in Beijing, where China's legislators are gathered for their annual meeting to discuss, among other things, reunification with Taiwan.
Printed directly above its story hailing Lee for bringing "joy to Chinese" through film, the China Daily ran a story saying Taiwan legislators loyal to Beijing had condemned Chen for his "radical secessionist path."
Oscar coverage in other mainland media also reinforced the communist party's "One China" stance.
On Monday night, CCTV cut from its Oscar re-cap the part of Lee's acceptance speech in which he thanked Taiwan and Hong Kong separately from China.
On Tuesday, the Beijing Youth Daily gave strong play to the fact that Lee punctuated his English-language speech to Hollywood with a "Thank you, everyone" in Mandarin Chinese, the official language of both the mainland and Taiwan.
Notably absent from CCTV's Oscar coverage was the translated voiceover for the film montage introduced by actor Samuel L. Jackson about Hollywood's power to reflect political and societal change. The editorial choice left the majority of viewers in China unable to fully grasp clips from films such as "Philadelphia," in which Tom Hanks plays a man dying of AIDS, and "All the President's Men," in which Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman play reporters who reveal government corruption.
Gay director Cui's films have not been distributed on the mainland, but he acknowledges that there have been minor recent advances in open discussion of gay issues in some media in China.
A single line in Tuesday's China Daily reported, "the gay community was especially upset" that "Brokeback" did not win best picture.
Mixed Oscar results for gay, transgender themes
Monday, March 6, 2006; Posted: 10:40 a.m. EST (15:40 GMT)
LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- Even before the first gleaming Oscar was presented, Hollywood's biggest night was already a milestone for the gay, lesbian and transgender community.
Three films -- "Brokeback Mountain," "Capote" and "Transamerica" -- dealt with gay or transgender characters, drawing critical acclaim and a combined 15 Oscar nominations.
But a sweep wasn't in the cards for those films.
"Brokeback," with a leading eight nominations, did win Oscars for best director, adapted screenplay and original score. "Capote," which had five nods going into the awards, earned the best-actor honor.
"Transamerica" was shut out, despite great reviews for lead actress Felicity Huffman.
Gay advocates said the number of Oscars earned by those movies wasn't as important as their impact on Hollywood and America.
"The films lead to conversations, and conversations lead to greater awareness, a level of comfort with gay and lesbian Americans," said Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Others weren't surprised that the gay-themed films found mixed success at the Oscars.
"I think America sent a message to those in the industry that this isn't something that they're interested in, and hopefully this was something that weighed heavily on them as they voted for these pictures," said Alan Chambers, president of Orlando, Florida-based Exodus International, a Christian organization that promotes "freedom from homosexuality."
Chambers acknowledged, however, that Hollywood will likely keep pushing the envelope with more films dealing with gay themes.
All the attention -- and even the jokes -- that "Brokeback" and the other films generated helped gay cinema, said Jennifer Morris, co-director of the San Francisco International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgendered Film Festival, which is marking its 30th year in 2006.
"That's the best thing about these films, especially with 'Transamerica' and 'Brokeback Mountain,"' Morris said. "This really was a groundbreaking year."
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
○Philip Seymour Hoffman - CAPOTE
×Heath Ledger - BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
×Jake Gyllenhaal - BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
×Felicity Huffman - TRANSAMERICA
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
×Catherine Keener - CAPOTE
×Michelle Williams - BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN
ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATOGRAPHY
ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTING
ACHIEVEMENT IN MUSIC WRITTEN FOR MOTION PICTURES
ACHIEVEMENT IN MUSIC WRITTEN FOR MOTION PICTURES
×"Travelin' Thru" - TRANSAMERICA
BEST MOTION PICTURE OF THE YEAR
Berlinale Success Story
"The Transsexual Is a Symbol for the Gender Confusion We all Feel"
(Spiegel English 2006/02/20)
"A Soap," a film about a straight woman who falls in love with a transsexual man, came away with two prizes over the weekend. But what's the fascination? SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke with the film's director Pernille Fischer Christensen about the gender confusion in all of us.