On Nov. 19 at Art Space C in Jeju City roughly 40 people, mainly Westerners, were on hand to watch “Miracle on Jongno Street,” the first Korean documentary about homosexual men. In his debut as director, Lee Hyuk-sang has created a film that shows the daily lives of four gay Korean men living in a society that has yet to accept them as equals.
▲ Director Lee Hyuk-sang. Photo by The Jeju Weekly
Released nationwide at 20 theaters on June 2 of this year, the film follows Joon-Moon, film director; Byoung-gwon, a gay rights activist; Young-soo, a chef who moved to Seoul from the country; and Yol, an HIV/AIDS activist who wishes to live in a world that accepts his partnership with his HIV-positive lover. Connected around Jongno Street in Seoul, a “little paradise” for homosexual men according to the film’s synopsis, the documentary does much more than simply depict their lives as gay men, but attempts to break down walls of prejudice and show that their hopes, dreams, and goals are the same as those of heterosexuals.
“The responses [to the movie] were mostly from the heterosexual community,” said Lee during a question and answer session after the film, “and they were really surprised [to see that the lives of homosexuals] were not that different from the heterosexual.”
Co-produced by Pinks and Chingusai with 3 million won (US$2,600) plus money from Lee’s own pocket, this film was a very personal subject to all involved because its protagonists would be proclaiming their sexual orientation to the world for the first time.
“Because this documentary is about coming out in Korea, conservative Korea, I [am] always thinking about the possible threat or terror to my protagonists after screenings,” said Lee adding that fortunately there have been no repercussions.
For Lee, the most difficult part of creating this film was that he, like the subjects he captures, would be openly stating his homosexuality. He told The Weekly when production first began on the documentary, he was essentially a fly on the wall, attempting to not speak to those he was filming or interact with them on camera. “I just wanted to hide myself behind the camera with no interaction with my friends because that was my fear of coming out as a gay director in Korea,” said Lee.
As the documentary progresses though, there is a subtle shift with Lee openly asking his protagonists questions from behind the camera and scenes where the stars of his film offer Lee food and drinks. He said that through the encouragement of his subjects, he was given the strength to reveal his own sexual identity. “They gave me the confidence and power to come out. After that, my way to shoot my friends changed, I joined the situation in the film, [I] talked, they [were] feeding me, that was [the] actual change ... of my attitude.”
For Lee and the four men in his film, this helped make up their minds to proclaim their sexual identities through this documentary to fight prejudice. “ We were resolved from the start. They were resolved to come out in the film, so we can see this version of the documentary.”
Next, Lee is thinking of shooting another documentary about homosexual men in Korea, but this one will be less tame and he hopes to create an even larger window into the lives of homosexuals. “I want to make a film regarding … [the dynamic] side of gay people. Deep and dirty and emotional.”
▲ Photo by The Jeju Weekly
The two-hour-long film is utterly honest and moving. It allows an insight into a subculture that has long been segregated from the populace by prejudice and fear. This film, as Lee himself said, may seem about a “cliche subject” for Western viewers, but in this country, where prejudice against homosexuals is still strong, this is a pioneering documentary in Korean culture.
“I think this is the first steps to opening peoples minds ... After this film I hope there will be more films and books and plays and TV dramas and some cultural media and … products [about] LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people] ... I and we are still hungry for that kind of expression and representation,” Lee said.
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