Censored Hearts

Home > Culture > Features

print dictionary print

Censored Hearts

True love. Once in a while it arrives late, as it did for Park Chi-gyu, 73, and Lee Sun-ye, 72.

But once it did arrive -- the pair fell in love at first sight in a Seoul park two years ago, -- they let no seconds get away. Yet in the twilight years of their lives, the couple found themselves the center of a firestorm over one of the most controversial films in Korea -- "Too Young to Die."

At a press premiere of the film in a Jongno theater Tuesday, the couple, dressed in matching coral hanbok outfits, looked, well, almost like teenagers. Mr. Park held his wife's hand and periodically kissed her cheek.

There was good reason for the two to giggle and smooch that afternoon. "Too Young to Die," which is the story of the couple's love and love life -- was finally allowed to open in theaters Dec. 6.

In May 2001, the television producer Park Jin-pyo was looking around for some real-life Koreans for his documentary "Human." He heard from a friend about a retired couple who lived in Seoul's Seongdong district. The couple had met late in life and people in their neighborhood knew how much they cared for each other. In their 70s, the couple was not afraid to be affectionate with each other in public, rare for seniors in Korea.

Park Jin-pyo's documentary was a success, but Mr. Park felt the couple's story was too precious to be part of a smaller piece for television. The producer quit his job at iTV and started all over again to tell the story of Mr. Park and Ms. Lee, using a 6-millimeter digital camera. His plan was to turn the project into a feature film. In October 2001, "Too Young to Die" was completed. It was 67 minutes long and told the story of how the couple met in the park, fell in love and moved in with each other. It graphically showed Mr. Park and Ms. Lee, who married in March 2001, having intercourse.

Last April, Park Jin-pyo was invited to the Cannes International Film Festival. There, the French magazine Liberation praised the film as "a hymn of love with erotic sensations," while Variety, the American show business publication, called it an elders' version of "In the Realm of the Senses," the classic Japanese film of sexual obsession by Nagisa Oshima.

The movie was scheduled to open in Korea in July. That didn't happen. The Korea Media Rating Board, an organization under the Minstry of Culture and Tourism, decided the intercourse scenes between the couple were "vulgar and unfit for the general public." Kim Su-yong, an esteemed director and head of the rating board, voiced worries over the film, saying "I know 'Too Young to Die' is a quality film, but if it opens, pornographic films will take advantage of the decision."

The board banished "Too Young to Die," which was titled "Jugeodo Joa" (No Regrets to Die at This Moment), to be shown only in "restricted" theaters. The problem is restricted theaters do not exist on the peninsula.

The decision generated a great flap within the Korean film community. Park Chan-wook, the director of the popular "Joint Security Area" (1999) was furious, calling the ban outrageous.

With renewed determination, May Films, the movie's production company and chief investor, resubmitted the film to the board. In August, the board once again sentenced the movie to restricted theaters.

Soon civil movement groups took up the cause against the censorship, chiefly by protesting to the media. The hubbub drew the attention of the National Assembly's Culture and Tourism Committee. On Sept. 25, The committee said "Too Young to Die" was "meaningful for its new approaches to elderly citizens."

For nearly a month, advisers urged Mr. Park to trim his film. "I will never, ever, trim the film," the director said, "even if it means the movie can never be shown in theaters." What about darkening the film? production firm officials and distributors asked Mr. Park.

In early October, Park Jin-pyo relented. He darkened several of the film's intimate scenes. Back to the Korea Media Rating Board the film went. On Oct. 30, the board reached a unanimous decision: The film could open, but viewers had to be at least 18 years old.

The core of the controversy has been the explicitness of oral sex. In the final, darkened version, that act, which lasts seven minutes on screen, is barely noticeable due to Mr. Park's darkening process.

Even with the seven minutes diluted, viewers on Tuesday called the scene beautiful and moving.

The film is not a pornographic movie, Park Jin-pyo has always argued, for it tells a story of genuine love, and is a true story. In the movie, Park Chi-gyu and Ms. Lee quarrel, wash each other and make hot chicken soup when one of them is sick -- just as they do when they're at home. In fact, the movie was filmed in their home in northern Seoul.

Nonetheless, the film focuses on numerous sexual encounters. But as Park Jin-pyo stressed on Tuesday, one is never to old to learn, to love and, just as important, to make love.

After the premiere, the director said, "Through the sex scenes, I wanted the viewers to see clearly that elderly couples are alive in all senses of the word."

A journalist on Tuesday asked the couple how many times a month they make love. Park Chi-gyu was about to reply when the director, Park Jin-pyo, grabbed the microphone and said, "No more such questions." Suddenly smiling, he amended that response with, "Just as many as others do."

The film, which is in color, is not a sophisticated creation. Because the director made it over two months, in bits and pieces, the finished product is choppy. The hip-hop music used seems out of place, particularly when Mr. Park is doing his morning calisthenics -- to stay healthy for Ms. Lee.

On Tuesday, Mr. Park and Ms. Lee expressed happiness over the completed film. "I'm an old granny and feel a bit bashful about showing my naked body on that huge screen," Ms. Lee told reporters. "But all in all, I'm proud."

If she has one real regret it's that she has been so busy with romancing her husband that she has been unable to practice the musical instrument she plays, the janggu, an hourglass-shaped drum.

Mr. Park for years ran a small shop, and Ms. Lee was a housewife. Both lost their spouses several years ago. Ms. Lee said, "My children have difficulty accepting the fact that I'm in this film, but I don't think it's shameful."

"Youth is ephemeral," cut in Park Chi-gyu. "I want young people to know that by seeing the film."

The film will open in 20 theaters in Seoul and 10 theaters outside the capital. An official with IM Pictures, the distributor, said that there is a plan at some point to show the film with English subtitles.

by Chun Su-jin

Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)