It’s been exactly one year since the start of #MeToo Movement, when the sexual misconduct and rape allegations against American film producer Harvey Weinstein came to light by actress Ashley Judd. Since then, the movement spread like a wild fire among women of all ages and nationalities, also making a surprise hold in a socially conservative country, South Korea.
Since January of 2018, many South Korean women have been fighting for a new future. Indeed, there has been a tried movement from the domestic feminists in the past, but it wasn’t until #MeToo movement that the Korean women finally felt empowered enough to publicly confront the social norms that have silenced them for decades.
The movement did not discriminate against professions or ages. Many high-profile men, whether an actor or a politician, a comedian or a filmmaker, started receiving accusations of sexual harassment.
In my opinion, the movement has resulted in both good and bad.
First, the movement gave birth to what is known as the “Radical Feminists,” a minor portion of feminists that sometimes creates rather controversial issues by being overly aggressive. These feminists, mostly in the younger generation without much social experience, are the reason why some feel the instant resistance when they hear the word “feminism.”
However, that is a whole different story. In this article, I want to talk about one of the good things that the feminism movements such as #MeToo have brought to the Korean society. More specifically, I want to address how these movements have affected the Korean film industry, finally resulting in the rise of female-centric Korean films.
Earlier this year, the Korean Film Commissions published its reports after analyzing a number of films that was released in 2017.
For the first time ever, the results included gender statistics, which clearly demonstrated the lack of female presence both on and off screens in the Korean film industry.
Out of all the films that were released in 2017, only 17 out of 66 had a female lead and 7 out of 83 were directed by a female director. The Commission stated, “while the number of films that were directed by women increased relative to that of 2016, there is still not enough cumulative data to determine whether this increase is significant or not.”
These results were no surprise to anyone, for women in fictional art were often on display simply for the pleasure of a male audience. This issue had raised many questions among the public and society for decades.
Indeed, smaller works started to respond to the issue by featuring female figures as central characters – someone with a personality, whose presence goes beyond the male gaze.
For example, there has been a rise of the strong women figures in various Korean dramas, such as MBC’s “Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo” in 2016. By featuring a woman who is literally strong (both in a literary and bodily sense), the drama managed to reject the necessity of controlling leading men and heroines who are always submitting to the them.
At the end, these settings defied the element that is almost always featured in K-dramas: the vulnerable, wide-eyed “damsel in distress” with a wrist-grabbing “knight in a shining armor.”
This is a good example, only it is played on the small screen, targeting its only audience of younger women. We needed a channel that could have a bigger impact on the society – an entertainment medium that does not put a limit on its viewers against their age or sex.
Thus, the film industry takes its place.
I started paying attention to the changes in the film industry on September 12, when it was reported that actress Jung Yu-Mi had confirmed to take on the lead role in film adaptation of a controversial feminist novel, “Kim Ji-Young Born in 1982.”
Sure, I was surprised by the fact that Jung had so bravely taken over such a controversial role, but I was even more surprised that the industry decided to adapt the novel into a film at all.
The novel talks about the struggles of a woman who was born in 1982, detailing the subtle sexism that many women encounter on a daily basis, as well as the effects it could have on their sense of self-worth. Earlier this year, Irene from Red Velvet was in hot water for sharing that she had read the book, to which her fans, mostly male, reacted by boycotting the singer.
Not only will the film feature a woman as the central character, but it will also attack the unfair social treatment and distribution of unequal role for women and men in South Korea. In many ways, the film is bound to create a fight between the two genders, which has already started on Instagram of Jung Yu-Mi.
Ultimately, the film is facing the possibility of it being a total failure (in a numerical sense), for there will be an audience who may find the subject of the film rather offensive and boycott the screening, just like the Irene of Red Velvet situation.
However, the film industry surprisingly did not stop.
Afterwards, it continued to report of upcoming films that feature female characters in charge. Han Ji-Min recently appeared in film “Miss Baek,” which tells a story about a woman who has lost a complete faith in the people around her after tasting a brutal reality of the society targeting a woman at an early age. Lee Na-Young recently starred in film “Beautiful Days” which emphasize on the importance of motherhood. Park Shin-Hye and Jeon Jong-Seo confirmed to appear in the upcoming film “Call,” which feature only women in central characters. The list goes on.
By featuring woman as its central character, the film industry argues that women are more than a “sidekick” to men. This proves that the feminist movement is being heard all over the country, and various organizations have finally started to listen to the concerns.
Maybe it is not that big of a deal to some of us.
However, as a Korean myself, I’m glad that my country is finally embracing some radical changes in the society. The fact that #MeToo managed to get started and is still going strong in the country. The fact that the film industry, mostly composed of male figures on and off screen, has decided to turn “Kim Ji-Young Born in 1982” into a film. These changes have honestly taken me aback, and if I may exaggerate, restored my faith in humanity.
Ever since the Candle Light Revolution, which led to the impeachment of former president Park Geun-Hye, the citizens of South Korea have gained the confidence to voice their opinions, especially women.
And I know our voices are being heard because it’s evident through the entertainment industry, which is always paying attention to the current events in order to produce the contents that best satisfy the consumer’s needs.
Slowly but surely, the country is moving towards to becoming a society of equality.
by. Dasol Kim
Disclaimer: The opinions or views contained in this article may not represent the opinions or views of Kpoplove, The Korea Daily, its employees, agents or affiliates.