Seen by more than 12 million people, or one out of every four Korean people, the Korean film "The King and the Clown" is the most popular ever in Korean cinema history. To become the Korea's No.1 movie, it didn't take one single top movie star or any other blockbuster special effects. Then, what made this movie so powerful and very popular in the current Korean society? And what does this movie really tell us about?
This film deals with a gay love triangle set at the Joseon Dynasty on the Korean Peninsula in the 16th Century: a young male jester between his love for a fellow male jester and a king close to tyrant. Some articles in newspapers and magazines around the world mentioned that the unexpected success of the movie was due to the nature of homosexuality in Korea that was rarely discussed in public.
Those articles said that since Korean people think homosexuality as a taboo, the theme of the movie "The King and the Clown" stimulated the Korean viewers.
, the director of this movie however, showed different thoughts towards these opinions. He didn't see his movie as a gay-themed movie like Hollywood movie "Brokeback Mountain". "This is not homosexuality as defined by the West", said director Lee in his recent interview with the New York Times. "It's very different from 'Brokeback Mountain'. In that movie, homosexuality is fate, not a preference. Here, it's a practice, "Lee added.
Similar to the Hollywood movie "Brokeback Mountain" which delivered a fateful love story of two young cowboys who met in the summer of 1963, "The King and the Clown" showed a sort of gay love, yet it also focused on evoking the world of itinerant clowns, the U.S. newspaper pointed out.
"Before, we were treated as beggars, but now we are considered traditional artists", said Kim gi-bok, who is considered the last surviving itinerant clown. "It was also difficult to get a wife", he said. "We were beggars. Who would marry a beggar?"
Therefore, as it is in this movie, a masculine clown and a feminine clown often became a couple, according to Mr. Kim. "They would stay together all the time, sleeping in the same room, helping each other out. The relationships between men were very sincere and genuine", Mr. Kim said. "It was an amazing, remarkable relationship, much closer than anything between a husband and wife", he said.
As Kim and director Lee told in their interviews, this movie gives the view of the unknown sides of the Korean culture to the people with its firmly organized screenplay. The current phenomenon and great success of this movie was not just for the sensitive topics of homosexuality in Korea, but also for the truth and reality that this movie contains.
By Jun Hwi-gon