Thursday, March 29, 2007

Brokeback Mountain

Towards the end of having lunch with a friend we discussed what to do next and decided on a movie at what has become our regular DVD Bang nearby. My wife wanted to watch Brokeback Mountain and, having spent several years in the UK - which seems to have launched her on a mission to broaden other Koreans' horizons, asked said friend whether she wanted to see a 'love story'. I expressed my thought - in the privacy of English - that this was a mistake but my wife was determined, so I fought to keep a straight face as certain details were revealed while the biggest detail of all remained in the closet. I think our friend was really looking forward to seeing a romantic film so all I could think of as we walked towards the DVD Bang was 'this is going to be interesting'.

There are an absence of women from the early part of the movie, which I thought may give the game away, but the reality only dawned on our friend just before all was revealed. I heard some rushed, surprised and I dare say shocked comments emanating from her mouth - it's funny how in times of stress language barriers seem to fade and somehow you just know exactly what the other person is thinking. I don't think she was terribly impressed by my wife's deception.

Our friend took a couple of phonecalls as the movie progressed, which she left the room to take, and I couldn't help but think that had things been different she would have called back later. As it was, she made her excuses and left before the end anyway, leaving me alone with my wife, who I hope understood by my look that she'd finally crossed the line with her friend.

I don't really understand Korea enough to know to what extent homosexuality is tolerated here, but I get the impression that it just isn't - at best there's a society-wide don't-ask-don't-tell policy in operation. That's not to say that everyone is visibly straight here because they aren't. I'd love to relate the difficult tale of a Korean living here who is one of the most camp men I've met anywhere - and I come from a pretty liberal background - but such is his rarity any details would run the risk of outing him if any Koreans ever read this. Aside from the important principle of not outing people whatever the circumstances, you might wonder how someone so apparently camp could be outed anyway, because in the West nearly everyone would just know, but in Korea they don't, because people don't think about these things so much, and that's what you have to get your head around.

As it is, I've met a few other people leading 'normal' lifestyles here who have caused raised eyebrows on my part, but in a country where they forgot to call time on the New Romantic Period, it's not always easy to tell where the line between fashion victims and camp-clothing. For example, 'man-bags' are very much 'in' in Korea, even if they are in many cases almost identical to the handbags women carry. Even so, one gets the impression that life here for homosexual people may be very similar to the kind of experiences people in the West had fifty or sixty years ago. This said, one is also left wondering to what extent these people realise that had they been born in the West, they might have chosen a completely different lifestyle.

And as for our somewhat shocked friend, we met her again later and she explained that while she was surprised, she wasn't in any way offended or disapproving of what she saw. But I'm not so sure.

7 comments: said...

I'm reasonably sure there were better films to screen whether she wanted a romantic comedy, or something to broaden the mind. At least she didn't choose Secretary or Kissed or something like that!

As for Brokeback Mountain, you may like the French take on it ;-) (the idea of the ad is that a friend is describing the film to another friend, but leaves out one crucial detail. The subtext being that you need to see films for yourself, not have them described for you) said...

English language version of said advert here:

Anonymous said...

What you missed Harisu's (transexual) wedding on the news a few weeks ago?

Also, if you look at other things like women getting slapped in public for smoking (in fairly recent history) or their attire (short skirts, tanktops), I think tolerance issues extend beyond homosexuality.

In any case, I would try to try to get more sources before you make up your mind.

Anonymous said...

Hmm... Living in the ultra-conservative Kyoungsang province may colour your perceptions of Korean culture significantly, you know.

Loved this film. A bit on the artsy side, but very frank and poignant.

Mike said...

Wonderful Electric,

Thanks for sharing that, obviously though that's the movie Brokeback Mountain should have been :-)

Mike said...

Anonymous, you raise an interesting point there. In my forays into the countryside outside Busan I've found attitudes more conservative as you might expect, but it may have lulled me into the false perspective that Busan was slightly more liberal by Korean standards when perhaps it isn't. It's all a question of degrees.

Mike said...

And thanks for the film link Anonymous, we're going to try track that one down and watch it if we can.

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