New shows bring gay love to prime time

Home > National >

print dictionary print

New shows bring gay love to prime time


Lee Min-ho, right, will play a man who pretends to be gay so he can live with a woman played by Son Ye-jin, left, who wants a gay friend in the MBC TV drama “Personal Preference.” Provided by MBC

Gay love was once a hush-hush topic in Korean TV dramas, but starting this month two prime-time shows, “Life is Beautiful” and “Personal Preference,” will deal with two kinds of homosexual relationships, and in very different tones.

Life is Beautiful, written by “soap opera queen” Kim Soo-hyun, who most recently penned “Mom Has Grown Horns” for KBS2, depicts the struggles of a gay couple played by Song Chang-eui and Lee Sang-woo, whose families, unaware of their orientation, constantly pressure them to go on blind dates with women. The show premieres March 20.

“Kim is one of those writers who is quick to read changing trends in society,” said Park Hyun-jeong, a vice head of the public relations team at SBS. “Kim wanted to talk about love, especially marginalized or unaccepted love, this time through a gay couple along with the story of a remarried family.”

Meanwhile, Personal Preference, which begins March 31, tells the story of a woman, played by Son Ye-jin, who wishes she had a gay friend. Lee Min-ho appears as her new roommate, a straight man who pretends to be gay.

Characters have referenced homosexuality in TV dramas for years, but it’s rarely been the main focus of a show. And real homosexual characters are still rare. For example, “Coffee Prince” from 2007 depicted a romance between a male protagonist and a worker at a coffee shop whom he thinks is a boy, but who turns out to be a girl in disguise. Using cross-dressing to tease at male sexual identity is a trick older than Shakespeare - not exactly revolutionary.

Korean filmmakers have looked frankly at gay love, no doubt helped along by decades of international interest in their work, but homosexual pioneers on television have had a rough road. In fact, Hong Seok-cheon is still the only local TV celebrity to admit to being gay, and it wasn’t his choice to begin with.

Hong was forced to confess his long-held secret in 2000 in the face of swirling rumors about his sexual orientation, and the tears he shed at the press conference stirred a range of reactions, some sympathetic, but many viewers were disgusted.

Right after the press conference, Hong, who had been a regular on many hit shows and sitcoms thanks to his affable, easy public persona, was fired from all of them - even the popular educational program for children “Ppo Ppo Ppo,” or “Kiss Kiss Kiss.”


Song Chang-eui

After the firings, executives at Hong’s erstwhile employer MBC - which airs Personal Preference this month - explained that they feared Hong might be a bad role model for young children.

It took three years for Hong to mount a comeback to TV, but that too was a disaster. When the writer Kim gave him a role as a gay man in “Complete Love” in 2003, Hong received a barrage of hate mail from viewers. The bulletin board for the drama overflowed with vulgar curses targeting Hong. Ever since, serious depictions of gay characters have all but disappeared from local TV.

But Hong, who now runs five restaurants and is a frequent contributor to TV dramas and cable TV shows, feels times have really changed.

“It’s been 10 years since I came out of the closet, and things have dramatically changed today compared to a decade ago,” Hong was quoted as saying to a local sports newspaper late last year. “I can’t believe Lee Min-ho, who is so popular, will play a gay role.”

In a nation where Confucianism is still deeply rooted, most promising male leads still refuse outright to portray gay characters, afraid of typecasting or worse. But Lee Min-ho, though his character is not actually gay, is at the peak of his popularity, just coming off an acclaimed run as a rich kid on the 2009 TV drama “Boys Over Flowers.”

Two other famous actors, Lee Jun-ki and Kim Nam-gil, also gained a huge fan base after they played gay roles in the films “King and the Clown” (2005) and “No Regret” (2006), respectively. Perhaps this time Korean viewers are ready to accept that some people do have different “personal preferences.”

By Sung So-young []
Related Korean Article

‘안방 금기’ 동성애, 김수현 작가가 물꼬트나

성적소수자인 동성애자에 대한 관심이 스크린 '쌍화점'에서 브라운관 '개인의 취향', '인생은 아름다워'로 옮겨졌다.

1990년대만 해도 영화나 드라마에서 동성애자들에 대한 언급은 금기시돼 왔으며 대중들 또한 이들에 관해 언급하는 것을 꺼렸다. 배우 홍석천은 지난 2000년 스스로 동성애자임을 커밍아웃을 했다가 대중들의 질타로 약 10년간 TV출연을 하지 못했다.

2000년대 들어오면서 인디 다큐멘터리를 시작으로 동성애자들에 대해 조심스럽게 다루기 시작했으며 몇몇 감독들에 의해 동성애를 소재로 한 영화가 대형 영화관에서 개봉됐다.

그중 '번지점프를 하다'(2000), '로드무비'(2002), '후회하지 않아'(2006), '쌍화점'(2008), '친구사이?'(2009) 등이 관객들의 호평을 받았다. 영화에서 동성애를 연기한 배우들은 '번지점프를 하다'의 이병헌과 임현빈, '로드 무비'의 황정민과 정찬, '후회하지 않아' 이영훈과 김남길, '쌍화점' 조인성과 주진모까지 인지도와 연기력을 인정받은 배우들이 동성애를 연기했다.

  • 한글 기사 보기
  • 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)