The #MeToo movement has gained traction in the South Korean film industry.
Sexual harassment and assault victims are speaking out in the wake of rape and sexual misconduct accusations against Venice Golden Lion-winning filmmaker Kim Ki-duk and actor Cho Jae-hyun. Veteran TV actor Jo Min-ki was another high-profile entertainment industry figure who faced allegations that he sexually harassed students at a university where he taught drama. Jo killed himself after the multiple allegations surfaced.
The Korean entertainment industry has seen several actresses commit suicide, leaving behind notes about how they were forced to have sex with sponsors who helped them get roles in TV series and film projects. But, despite a growing wave of outrage, it took a time for any institutional remedies to be offered.
Now, however, as dozens of accusations against high-profile figures have been made and the campaign has gained momentum across the country, the film industry, women’s organizations and the government have started to create corrective measures.
The Korean National Assembly’s Education, Culture, Sport and Tourism Committee, the Korean Film Council (KOFIC) and Women in Film Korea co-launched Deun-Deun: Center for Gender Equality in Korean Film to counsel and support victims, conduct gender researches in the industry and suggest policies. Deun-Deun and KOFIC are jointly hosting a policy forum about gender equality in the film industry on Oct. 9, during the Busan festival.
Apart from the public institutes, the film industry itself is responding to the #MeToo campaign, the growing demand for films made by women filmmakers and stories centering on female characters.
CJ Entertainment’s crime drama “The Negotiation” stars top actress Son Ye-jin (“The Last Princess”) in the lead role. Son has lent her weight to film projects where women characters play major roles — she contributed $885,000 (KRW 1 billion) to 2016 hit “Last Princess,” in which she played the lead.
“There are not many biographies about women in Korea. Nor do I always get the chance to play such a role. In that sense I wanted ‘Last Princess’ to be made smoothly,” said Son.
Fledgling production house Bombard Film has announced that it would make a film version of Korean feminist novel “Kim Ji-young, Born 1982.” A story about a woman in her thirties who experiences gender discrimination, the book has been a best seller since its release in 2016. When actress Jung Yu-mi was announced to play the lead role, she was criticized for “promoting conflicts between genders” A petition was launched calling on the government to stop the film from being produced. Despite that, the film is sailing ahead.
Gender parity has been a big issue at several A-list festivals this year, as Venice, Locarno, Sarajevo and Toronto all signed documents pledging to work toward gender balance. Busan has not signed the agreement, but works by women filmmakers account for almost 30% of the total selection this year, a figure higher than most other film festivals. Two of the three Korean nominees in the New Currents section — “House of Hummingbird,” and “Second Life” — were made by female directors. A majority of the Korean Cinema Today — Vision films, including “Between the Seasons,” “A Boy and Sungreen,” “Bori,” “Sub-zero Wind” and “Youngju,” are stories about teenage girls.
“We [programmers] discussed the gender balance in our selection at our meetings,” Nam Dong-chul, BIFF programmer in charge of Korean selections, told Variety. “Apart from the program selection, events related to gender equality and the #MeToo movements will take place during BIFF.”