[FOUNTAIN]Ah, for sex as it was in the old days!The year 1972 was a very tragic in Korean history. The Yusin constitution, which made President Park Chung Hee a dictator, was promulgated in October, and Korea froze into what the poet Yang Seong-wu called the “Winter Republic.” Amid this depression, Choi In-ho’s novel, “Heavenly Homecoming to the Stars” grabbed readers’ attention when it was run as a serial in a newspaper in the fall.
The 26-year-old first-time writer was determined to add excitement to his novel day by day. Since the world had no fun to offer, Koreans became hooked on the story. A pretty and modest office worker named Gyeong-a falls for the wrong man, becomes a hostess at a bar and eventually commits suicide. The tragic plot was unconventional at the time. It inherited the suggestive and provocative legacy of “Free Madam” of the 1950s. “After reading the story of the day, men went out to drink thinking of Gyeong-a, and women sighed and pitied the tragic fate of the heroine,” Mr. Choi recalls.
A million copies of “Heavenly Homecoming to the Stars” were published. Two years later, the filmmaker Lee Jang-ho adopted the novel into a hit movie. People loved the symbolism of dialogue such as “My lips are a tiny shot glass.” When Gyeong-a said, “Women are very strange. Their right or wrong is determined by men,” it certainly caused a stir in the patriarchal society.
“Heavenly Homecoming to the Stars,” was a romance that made its mark in Korea’s popular culture. At the same time, however, the images of the heroine’s downfall in the nightlife and pleasure-seeking world revealed the reality of hostesses and prostitutes spawned by the economic development-driven system under the authoritarian regime. The chairman of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry recently called the new Special Act on Prostitution a strange law that had ruined the national economy. His comment was essentially a confession of his distorted perspective, having benefited from the development-driven, male-oriented autocratic rule over three decades. If the leaders of the nation consider strict controls on the sex trade strange, even if the taxpayers’ money is used to assist women leaving prostitution, we cannot help the likes of Gyeong-a from heading for a “Heavenly Homecoming to the Stars.”
by Chung Jae-suk
The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.