By Kim Tae-jong
In "The King and the Clown
", the hit film set in the Choson Kingdom, a notorious tyrant king falls in love with an effeminate male court jester, causing deep anger and jealousy in his favorite concubine. This jester, who usually plays female roles in performances, in turn shares intimate feelings with another male clown.
The film deals with a homosexual theme, a taboo subject in Korean cinema. However, it is now expected to become one of the most commercially successful films in history.
The reason for its success may lie in its treatment of its homosexual content. The complicated relationship seems founded on an apparent love triangle between the three men, but the film avoids directly referring to it. Instead, the film is filled with ambiguous implications and does not contain intimate love scenes between male characters.
Some critics have pointed to Lee Jun-gi, the actor who plays the effeminate court jester, as a large reason for the film's acceptance, as his pretty face and sweet demeanor in the film prevents moviegoers from having a negative reaction against the homosexuality-represented.
The film hit the 5-million-viewer mark in 21 days since its release on Dec. 29, beating out other blockbusters such as "King Kong" directed by Peter Jackson and local film "Typhoon
", and it seems poised to reach the 8-million-viewer mark, if it continues on its current pace.
But does the film's critical and commercial success indicate that society has become more open to homosexual themes and sexual minorities?
"The King and the Clown
" is based on an acclaimed play titled "Yi", a fictional account of the true story of King Yonsan, or Yonsangun in the 16th century. It's a story about a tyrant king and his favorite court jester, Kong-gil, with the addition of fictional characters such as Jang-saeng, leader of clowns.
But whereas the play made the sexuality of the characters more explicit, the makers of the film version decided to take out most specific references to homosexuality in their film, said Jeong Jin-wan
, producer of "TheKing and the Clown".
"When we finished writing a script for the film, we actually realized that it was too plain in terms of homosexuality compared to the original play. That's why we deiced to put in a kiss scene between Kong-gil and Yonsan", Chung said.
Chung added that the film definitely has a theme of homosexuality, but "We didn't intend to make it a movie about gays". Rather, Chung said, they wanted to make the relationship more understandable to a larger audience.
Hahn Chae-yun, director of the Korean Sexual-Minority Culture & Rights Center, agreed that the film is a well-made gay-themed movie, but its success actually proves that people have still a strong prejudice toward homosexuality.
"It is just a matter of wrapping. People are just generous about what they find pretty without giving an attention what the reality is", Hahn said.
Comparing people's responses of "The King and the Clown
" and other conventional gay movies such as "Road Movie
" (2002), she pointed out that people showed two extremely different standards on gay-themed movies, and it proves that they have still strong prejudice or pre-concepts against homosexuals,.
", which depicted the love between two homeless men, flopped commercially. And despite the efforts to shed light on the sensitive issue, it was said that it only attributed to raising homosexual phobia.
"Films like `The King and the Clown
' could help people re-think their attitudes to homosexuals, but they easily fail to apply what they were moved by through films in real life. They may have other stereotypes of homosexuals who are beautifully portrayed in films", Hahn said.