LGBTQ+ representation in Korean films

LGBTQ+ representation in Korean films

Korean cinema is known for its neo-noir elements and its lingering sense of tragedy that encompasses many storylines, as well as light and heavier dramatic stories. Korean cinema is a favorite of moviegoers around the world. But what about the LGBTQ+ theme? What are the best Korean LGBT movies to check out?

Depictions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) characters or themes in South Korean film and television make up a relatively small portion of overall South Korean film media.

The topic has consistently generated discussion both in academia and in public LGBT movements. When South Korea’s LGBT rights movement emerged in the 1990s, cinematic portrayals of queer characters became more common.

It is also interesting to note the coming out of a Korean celebrity, Hong Suk Chun, on September 9, 2000, under this era of camouflage. Harisu also appeared in March 2001 with her famous commercial where she openly shared her experience as a trans woman.

These two characters have symbolized and sparked conversations about LGBT themes within the industry.

With the rise of social media and the popularity of the BL genre, cinema and dramas in South Korea, especially regarding LGBT representation, have steadily increased over the years.

A recent study conducted at the National University of Chonnam indicates that attitudes towards homosexuality are becoming increasingly positive.

The general atmosphere and media where LGBT representation as well as sexuality in general was more explicitly embraced and this remains salient to this day. One of the most notable changes in the past decade has been the use of LGBT themes in more traditional Korean dramas. LGBT themes began to surface in dramas such as Coffee Prince (2007) and Personal Taste (2008), but really surfaced in Life is Beautiful (2010). These days, LGBTQ+ topics are more accepted, which is why filmmakers can get funding and distribution. Here are some of the best LGBTQ+ movies to come out of South Korea.

Between Seasons (2016)

Mi Kyung is a single mother who raises her son Soo Hyun on her own, who one day begins to take her friend Yong Joon to his house, a discreet young man who does not say much. A few years later, Soo Hyun finally completed his military service. He then decides to go on a trip with Yong Jun but a car accident occurs and he falls into a coma. That’s when Mi Kyung discovers the secret that her son and Yong Joon are hiding from her.

Long Time No See (Web-drama/Movie)

Two hitmen from enemy camps fall in love with each other, each lying about their identities. Chi Su is a hitman known as “Flying Dagger”. After meeting Gi Tae, the young man begins to develop feelings he had never experienced before. But Gi Tae is hiding a heavy secret from Chi Su… The two young men will have to fight and overcome obstacles in order to preserve their love.

A Frozen Flower

A king, from the Goryeo dynasty, faces the political rise of the Yuan dynasty. For fear of reprisals, he creates a close guard headed by Hong Rim, commander-in-chief. For several years, the two young men have maintained an almost brotherly relationship. Growing up, the King used to watch Hong Rim practice battle in the courtyard. Fascinated by his enthusiasm (he trained day and night), he took him under his wing to share various activities. They gradually began to have a more intimate relationship. For her part, the Queen gradually begins to become aware of the moods shaking her husband. Taking Hong Rim and the Queen apart, the King demands that they father an heir in his place. Shocked by the king’s orders, the queen and the king’s lover are reluctant to obey, but no one in Goryeo can oppose his will for long. In the end, Hong Rim and the queen comply with the king’s order and soon realize that there is more to them than just a royal edict. As the love between them grows, the King begins to suspect that there may be more than just a willingness to follow his command, between his lover and the Queen.

nightflight

A disused and abandoned gay bar serves as a meeting place between two teenagers condemned to hide their homosexuality. Yong Ju is a bright student who wants to go to college while Gi Wung is the leader of a small-hit gang that plagues the high school Yong Ju attends. The friendship between Yong Ju and Gi Wung has deteriorated over the years to the great despair of Yong Ju who has always hidden his true feelings towards his friend.

road movie

road movie is a 2002 South Korean film about a love triangle between a woman, a man who loves her, and a gay man who loves her. Living on the margins of society, they set off on a journey together. After losing everything he had, his savings, his job and his wife, Suk-won wanders in the limbo of Seoul where he meets Dae-shik, a mysterious homeless man who saves his life. Together, they will travel the roads of Korea in search of an Eldorado where love, purified of all prejudice, is possible.

Lost to Shame

Songjun is an unknown actor who often has to borrow money from his brother to get by. During one of his dark days, Songjun is chosen to play the lead role in a play about homosexuality. The play is a success and Songjun is praised for his performance. By taking on the role and making efforts to better understand the LGBTQ+ community, Songjun believes he has overcome his prejudices. But after discovering his brother’s secret, he realizes that he is still unable to accept homosexual love.

The King and the Clown

Korea, 16th century. While the Chosun dynasty reigns supreme in the territory, Jang-seng and Gong-gil are two comedians who work together on the country’s roads. Jang-seng persuades Gong-gil to perform in Seoul, hoping to get rich. Arrived there, they are arrested during a show for having insulted the King. Jang-seng then offers a crazy bet: if they manage to make the King laugh, they will be free. Gong-gil, of a very reserved nature, then delivers an impressive number provoking the King’s hilarity. The bet is won, they can stay at the Palace. A new relationship then begins between the King and Gong-gil…

No regrets

Sumin, a young Korean orphan, arrives in Seoul to study art. He catches the eye of Jaemin, a boy from a wealthy and conservative background. Although having resisted Jaemin’s advances, he gradually succumbs to her sincerity. The latter immediately falls madly in love with “Lee Su-mi” who refuses his advances, unaware of each other’s status. Very quickly, “Lee Su-mi” loses his job at the factory. The two men then engulf themselves in a passionate relationship which becomes complicated when Sumin discovers that Jaemin’s family has arranged a marriage for him with a wealthy young girl from his social class. Sumin then decides to thwart their plan…

Antique

What could be more natural than four handsome men running a bakery? Kim Jin Hyuk (Joo Ji Hoon) is a wealthy young man who has it all. Along with his money, beauty, and irresistible charm, the only thing Jin Hyuk lacks is a special woman to share his life with. He decides to open a bakery called Antique, with the idea that it will be a meeting place for young single women. Jin Hyuk hires Min Sun Woo (Kim Jae Wook), a talented pastry chef who had a crush on Jin Hyuk at school. Yang Ki Bum (Yoo Ah In) is a former boxing champion who becomes an apprentice pastry chef, and Soo Young (Choi Ji Ho) is Jin Hyuk’s bumbling bodyguard. As the four men try to run the bakery together, their respective pasts catch up with them all at Antique.

Hello my love

Ho Jeong works at a radio station as a DJ. Her boyfriend, Won Jae, has promised to marry her when he returns from France. When he arrives in Korea, Won Jae introduces him to Dong Hwa. It is then that Ho Jeong discovers that the relationship between the two men is ambiguous. Shocked, she is heartbroken when her boyfriend (with whom she has been for more than ten years) confesses his homosexuality to her. He then decides to leave her for Dong Hwa. That’s when Ho Jeong engages in a fight to find her boyfriend, battling against a rival she never imagined before.

Just Friends?

A young man goes to visit his boyfriend who is doing his military service in a Korean base. Their romantic weekend is not going to go as planned. Seok I and Min Soo are a gay couple who hide their relationship from their parents and those around them. One day, Seok I goes to visit her boyfriend, Min Soo who is doing his compulsory military service. Upon meeting, they get permission for the day but an unforeseen event takes place. They come across Min Soo’s mother who is unaware of her son’s relationship with Seok I and thinks they are just friends…

Ashamed

Yoon Ji-woo is a department store employee. His work does not delight him much, and his private life is not much happier. One day after work, thinking about suicide, she throws a mannequin off the roof of her store to watch her fall. Kang Ji-woo is a pickpocket on the subway. One day, she is surprised by a plainclothes policeman. As she tries to drive away with an accomplice, her car hits the dummy falling from the sky. The two young women thus end up handcuffed together.

Man on High Heels

Ji-wook is a hardened, scarred policeman who will do anything to catch the criminals he hunts, especially Heo-gon, a notorious and cruel mobster. A cold-blooded detective, portrayed as a man with a habit of brutally assaulting and arresting criminals, struggles to find her identity as a woman, as is her desire despite her very masculine appearance. The day she decides to have surgery… She doesn’t know that he has only one desire: to become a woman…

The Handmaiden

Korea, 1930s, during Japanese colonization. A young woman (Sookee) is hired as a maid by a wealthy Japanese heiress (Hideko). A con man operating under the name “Count Fujiwara” plans to seduce the Japanese heiress, then marry her and lock her in an asylum to steal her inheritance. He hires a thief named Sook-hee living in a family of crooks to become Hideko’s chambermaid and confidante to encourage the latter to marry the “earl”. She lives on a large estate, cut off from the outside world and under the control of a tyrannical uncle, who wants to marry her. But Sookee has a secret. With the help of a con artist posing as a Japanese count, there are other plans for Hideko.

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