In the online world of film reviews, it's a bitter battle between the sexes
The concept of gender polarization is nothing new in Korea, as the waves of feminism began washing up on the shores of the country a few years back.
The aftermath of these waves is heated backlash, especially online, that comes from even the slightest mention or indication of feminism and the starkly contrasting views between the two sexes on issues related to gender equality.
The film industry has been no exception to these heated debates.
Films with plots based on social issues of the times became the target of internet trolls, usually males, who would hurl trashy comments and reviews and purposefully give low ratings.
A classic example of this battle was seen when director Lim Sun-ae’s “An Old Lady” was released on Aug. 20. Actor Ye Su-jeong took the helm to portray 69-year-old Hyo-jeong who is raped by a 29-year-old nursing assistant. Although Lim commented to the press that she was inspired to create this film based on real cases, netizens began leaving hateful reviews with many going as far as to say that the notion of an old lady being raped by a young male is “outrageous” and “like a novel” or “fantasy,” exactly mirroring the disbelief and judgments that the protagonist had to endure in the film.
Just how differently opposite genders interpreted the film was most prominently seen on the Naver film site (movie.naver.com). Unlike other film rating boards, Naver not only sums up the average score but also categorizes the raters, or netizens, by age and gender. “An Old Lady” was rated 3.06 out of 10 by males but 9.89 by females, a stark contrast evening out the overall rating to 8.64.
What’s more is that anyone, whether or not they’ve actually seen the film or not, can leave comments. Although there’s a separate rating board for audience members who have reserved their tickets through the portal site and film critics, due to its easy accessibility, the most active battleground is the board for netizens. How messy and intense the battle is could be felt when members of the male-centered online communities come in groups to “attack” the film, hence the 3.06 rating.
“Whenever a film with a [sensitive] social issue is released, it’s subject to clashes which are inherently shown on our system,” an official from Naver who wished to remain anonymous said. “We have implemented the system [only with] the intention of providing various knowledge and recommendations for films. Although we are aware that its easy accessibility hinders the original meaning of ratings, there are separate categories for audiences and film critics, and we want to provide as much information and open grounds for multiple opinions about the film.”
Other such local films that found themselves at the center of similar controversies upon their release last year are “Kim Ji-young, Born 1982” and “Miss & Mrs. Cops.”
The former is based on the novel with the same title which became an icon of feminism. It tells the story of a woman named Kim Ji-young, the most common female name in Korea during that generation, who represents all the women facing gender inequality. “Miss & Mrs. Cops” is about two female police detectives cracking a case of molka (illegal filming) and drug abuse. The films received ratings of 6.72 and 5.7, respectively, but upon closer inspection, data revealed that males gave a 3 and 2.03 for the two films, while their female counterparts gave much higher scores of 9.47 and 9.28.
Culture and film critic Hwang Jin-mi noted that this phenomenon was unique to Korea.
“There are, in numbers, just so much of the population participating in writing comments and on social media,” Hwang said. “The drastic speed of which a certain issue becomes a hot topic exists nowhere else in the world. The whole society immediately gravitates toward such issues — not only related to feminism but also in politics or the entertainment industry — by the minute, but it also goes away just as instantly. They [the issues] are just prey, sacrifices of these people, and [feminist films] just happen to be one of the easiest targets to prey on.”
Local films are not the only ones susceptible to these predators.
Even female-centered Hollywood blockbusters can't avoid the backlash, “Terminator: Dark Fate” and “Captain Marvel,” both being examples.
“People tend to think of content from Marvel, DC or the Terminator series as their own exclusive property,” Hwang said. “And they object to why such films are ruining their entertainment by spewing feminism. In their minds, the male gender has always been the neutral and common gender [in the stories]. Before, there was no need to mention this out loud, but the creation of such films threaten [this traditional] norm. They believe what’s theirs has been invaded and tarnished.”
Luckily, the correlation between low scores on rating boards and how commercially successful the films turn out to be seems mostly unrelated.
“An Old Lady,” since its release, has been seen by 7,398 people according to data from the Korean Film Council. Taking into consideration that it's an independent film dropped right in the midst of scaling numbers of Covid-19 cases and that the average number of ticket sales for an independent film is 9,774, according to the latest data in 2018, it is, at least, pulling through.
The other above mentioned films tallied ticket sales that were considered to be commercially successful, exceeding their break-even points. The new rule of thumb seems to be that the louder and more disputable a film is, the higher the possibility is for it to succeed as it receives more spotlight from the public and the media, such as in “Kim Ji-young, Born 1982” and “Captain Marvel,” which each reaped 3.6 million and 5.8 million in tickets sales.
Both films were labeled as feminist films — and for the former, the leading stars of the film, Jung Yu-mi and Gong Yoo, were slammed by internet trolls for taking on such roles.
“Online ratings no longer really define the value of the film,” Hwang pointed out. “We’ve come to accept that numerical ratings are irrelevant when it comes to proving the content’s worth. It’s just a tug-of-war [between the haters and supporters] in which ratings fluctuate day by day. What’s more important is how many participants are there. [In other words], the context of the comment —whether it’s malicious or positive— and how much attention it garners, that’s what’s come to matter.”
BY LEE JAE-LIM [email@example.com]