Korean Gender Reader

(“Alice {The Devil’s Bride}” by Stephen Fabian; source)

1) Rape and “Blood Money”

In essential reading for all expats, Ask a Korean! clears up misunderstandings about how and why victims of crimes are often offered the choice of quick financial compensation from perpetrators, rather than the latter automatically being prosecuted by the state. With a lot of pros in practice, unfortunately there are also some big cons in relation to sex crimes specifically:

Probably the biggest flaw is that often, a victim of a crime cannot properly assess the extent of her loss through the crime. If a person is beat up, the person might suffer a lingering damage that does not flare up until the settlement amount was computed. Also, sometimes it is not the victim herself who enters into the settlement. This used to lead to an incredibly outrageous situation in case of child molestation. As noted above, rape is a private crime. Since a child does not have the legal decision-making authority, the parents would handle the private crime process. And often, a molested child would come from a broken home, in which the parent would rather take a lump sum of cash right away rather than ensuring that the child rapist would go to jail. (Fortunately, this situation was redressed in 2008 by a new law that made child molestation a public crime.) Also, the inclusion of rape as a private crime is roundly criticized by many legal scholars, as it puts a burden on the victim to pursue what is a very serious crime that significantly threatens the social order. (To be sure, rape with battery, i.e. a violent case of rape, is a public crime. But, for example, a date rape involving drugs is a private crime.)

2) Non-Asians in Korean Music Videos: A Response


3) A Place of Refuge: The Sae Gil Shelter

A very welcome follow up to its February article on the Busan performance of the Vagina Monologues (videos below), BusanHaps tells us more about the  Sae Gil Shelter for victims of domestic violence, which the show managed to raise 3.4 million won for.

While the funds are desperately needed of course, fortunately great strides have been made in combating domestic violence in recent years, primarily due to a 2007 law change that requires police to forward all cases of domestic violence to a prosecutor (the previous 1998 law just left it up to their own discretion). For more details, see here.

(Via: Koreabridge)

4) South Korea Keeps Its Military Ban On Gay Sex

In a 5-4 decision last month, the Constitutional Court ruled that a 39 year-old military law criminally punishing homosexual soldiers for performing sexual acts in military barracks is constitutional. As the AFP reports:

“The legal code cannot be seen as discrimination against gays because such behavior, if left unchecked, might result in subordinates being harassed by superiors in military barracks,” it said in a statement. The law’s purpose was to ensure discipline within the whole military organization, the court said. The ruling came after an army military court filed a petition with the Constitutional Court. It asked whether the military criminal code, written in 1962, was discriminatory against gay soldiers and thus unconstitutional. Homosexuality is not illegal under the civil legal code.”

A somewhat hollow-sounding defense considering overwhelming evidence of systematic and widespread sexual harassment and abuse already occurring, as outlined here and here. Also, OnTop Magazine adds that “The Military Penal Code further punishes gay troops by lumping together consensual and non-consensual gay sex as sexual harassment”, and the The Korea Times that ‘offenders’ are also given a dishonorable discharge after leaving jail. This effectively punishes them for life in a society where military service is widely regarded as a de facto requirement for “real” citizenship.

Meanwhile, in other LGBT-related news, gay filmmaker Kim Jho Kwang-soo – only the second man in the entertainment industry to come out of the closet – has announced his marriage (alas, not legally recognized). And I’m No Picasso discusses the unfortunate consequences for one her students of Korean society denying and/or marginalizing homosexuality.

(Source: Barry Deutsch)

5) International Comparison of Gender and Unpaid Labor

For a pleasant change, Korea is only slightly worse than the OECD average for the extra unpaid labor women do compared to men.

Also, for a very interesting new book on the subject that I look forward to buying when it’s available at WhatTheBook? (hint hint), see Shattered: Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality by Rebecca Asher.

6) The Female Writer in Korea

Charles at Korean Modern Literature in Translation on the first two chapters of Ideology, Culture, and Han by Younghee Lee, which are “a brief but quite interesting analysis of women writers in the Joseon and early Modern periods”.

7) Banned Music Video of the Week: Mirror Mirror (거울거울) by 4Minute (포미닛)

Or at least, the consensus is that one particular dance move in it soon will be. If the song itself is not to your liking, then skip ahead to 2:16.

8) Booking Clubs

Perspectives on Korean and Los Angeles Booking Clubs from Blog in a Tea Cup and Hyphen Magazine respectively.

9) The Jang Ja-yeon Tragedy: Making it all go away

Committing suicide 2 years ago because of forced prostitution by her managers, alleged letters by Jang Ja-yeon (장자연) detailing the string of VIPs, including directors, media executives and CEOs she was forced to have sex with have (naturally) been getting a lot of attention recently. See The Three Wise Monkeys for the definitive guide to all the latest developments in that case.

10) Cosmetic Surgery on the cheap

GeekinHeels discusses some sort of tape used for creating “V-lines” she was given as a gift, while Martina and Simon of EatYourKimchi are a little braver and try the ones for double-eyelids for themselves:


Reading the Lolita Effect in South Korea, Part 2: Six Year-Old Does KARA’s “Butt Dance” (엉덩이 춤) on “Shabekuri 007″


(Update: as YouTube flags me for copyright violations if I post the video there, then please see here or here instead)

Thank you to everyone who’s emailed me about Japanese child star Ashida Mana dancing to KARA’s Mister on a Japanese talk show. For anyone interested in some context, issues raised, and why I think it’s problematic, then please first read Part 2, all of which was written in response to my one of my own daughters doing something similar at her kindergarten. Frankly, it was eerie how much Ashia reminded me of her.

Meanwhile, here’s the “Butt Dance” (엉덩이 춤) being referred to, with handy English subtitles:

Next, assuming that you’re read that earlier post, then consider these additional observations from Meenakshi Durham’s The Lolita Effect, which seem particularly apt here:

…Increasingly, adult sexual motifs are overlapping with childhood — specifically girlhood, shaping an environment in which young girls are increasingly seen as valid participants in a public culture of sex.

In some ways, this is not a new idea: in the 1932 short film “Polly Tix in Washington”, a four year-old Shirley Temple played a pint-sized prostitute. Sashaying around in lacy lingerie and ropes of pearls, she announced “Boss Flint Eye sent me over to entertain you…but I’m expensive!”. Critics have commented on the overt lewdness of this and other films the toddler was case in as part of the “Baby Burlesks” series, which were designed for adult viewers and included frequent scenes of little girls in diapers aping the sexual behaviors and attitudes of much older women. In latter films too, Temple projected an “oddly precocious” sensuality, as the film historian Marianne Sinclair has observed — in fact, the acclaimed novelist Graham Greene was sued for commenting on it a film review. (pp. 115-116)

Indeed, Temple herself later described the series as a cynical exploitation of her childish innocence. Appearing from 3:16 below, you’ll soon see why:

But why is it deeply disturbing when 4 year-old Shirley Temple assumes sexual poses and all but blurts out that she’s interested in having sex with the “men”, whereas it’s supposedly as kawaii as hell for 6 year-old Ashida Mana to do, well, almost exactly the same thing? Granted, some actual kissing is involved in the former, but then I’d argue that the majority of viewers would still find the film at least a little concerning without it. In contrast, I’d wager most of us have much more mixed feelings about Ashida Mana, and I’m curious as to why.

With me, I think it’s through seeing my daughter Alice in Ashida, and knowing that she’s completely unaware of the implications of what she’s saying, instead simply having fun and/or fulfilling her natural urge to mimic the behavior of adults. But which is not quite the same as saying it would have been okay for her dance to the much more sexual Mister rather than Lupin at her kindergarten however, let alone for any child do it on national television simply for our titillation.

But other than that, I’ve pretty much said all I can myself in that earlier 3400(!) word post, so I’d really appreciate hearing your own thoughts!^^

The “Reading the Lolita Effect in South Korea” series:

Korean Movie Review #3: Paju (2009)

(Sources: left, right)

I’m not allowed to love this person?

Because you say I can’t, I want it all the more.

With posters like these, then you could be forgiven for thinking that Paju (파주) is about some forbidden, Lolita-like relationship between the 2 main characters. Indeed, add promotional photoshoots of Seo Woo (서우) and Lee Sun-gyun (이선균) necking, or Seo-woo perched expectantly on the side of a bed, then why wouldn’t anyone believe initial media reports that this is basically a tale of an “outrageous high-school student” who, with “a mix of innocent and provocative appeal”, falls in love with her older sister’s husband?

A deep and complex movie that actually features nothing of the sort, Paju (파주) is very much undermined by such prurient marketing, and leads the cynic in me to believe that was designed to counter its otherwise ponderous and depressing tone by titillating audiences. Add that Paju requires: numerous suspensions of disbelief; is often frustratingly vague; and ultimately doesn’t seem to go anywhere, then, despite its accolades, it’s not a movie I can easily recommend to anyone but the most dedicated Korean film buffs.

And yet despite myself, I still agree with reviewer Darcy Paquet that it is “without question, one of the best Korean films of 2009,″ for reasons I didn’t fully appreciate when I first saw it six months ago.

One of those reasons is that, with events unfolding in a sequence not unlike Pulp-Fiction (1994), Paju has a confusing patchwork of flashbacks and flash-forwards that defies recounting here. But while this was very frustrating at first however, the timeline of events does resolve itself in the end, and in the meantime it forces audiences to think for themselves for a change.

Also, although ostensibly about Joong-shik (Lee Sung-gyun), Paju is really about his relationships with three women: first, with Ja-young (played by Kim Bo-kyoung/김보경) eight years earlier, that ends with a harrowing incident involving her baby that sets the tone for the rest of the movie; next in his marriage to Eun-su (played by Shim Yi-young/심이영), whom we soon learn dies in a gas explosion in their shared home; and finally with his much younger sister-in-law Eun-mo (Seo-woo), the relationship which anchors the story. And in particular, these women’s roles (and the skill with which they are acted) are very much one of the strengths of the movie, and something that can be difficult to appreciate for those that aren’t very familiar with Korean cinema (like myself). For, as Elizabeth Kerr of The Hollywood Reporter explains, director Park Chan-ok (박찬옥):

…is able to do something many filmmakers can’t or won’t, and that’s draw a realistic picture of modern femininity that’s blessedly free of the stereotypes that make up movie women. There’s no shrieking or weeping from Eun-mo when she recalls the events that lead to her sister’s death; Eun-su’s reactions within her fragile marriage are empathetic; and Joong-shik’s first live-in lover Ja-young, doesn’t have any ulterior motives when she re-enters his life.


Nevertheless, it is also these relationships – or, rather, Joong-shik’s role in them – that are ultimately the movie’s undoing too. Because, constantly running away from her problems aside, if Eun-mo did indeed both have the hidden strengths and be as mature beyond her years as the movie suggests, then, despite Joong-shik’s fears, (spoilers begin) she would likely have been able to recover from learning that she accidentally caused her sister’s death. But this is moot: in one of Paju’s biggest plot holes, Eun-mo wouldn’t have needed to be told any details beyond the fact that Eun-su died in a gas explosion in their home (only Joong-shik knew how it was caused), and indeed she soon learns that through her own clandestine investigations anyway. Yet by telling her that Eun-su died in a hit-and-run instead, then, rather than protecting her, all it serves to do is lead her to believe that he’s hiding something.

When he professes towards the end that he’s loved her all along then, in fact only marrying Eun-su to be close to her, his apparent deception is the main reason she doesn’t reciprocate (the other, presumably, being how he used Eun-su). And the audience can hardly blame her: not only does his confession seem somewhat forced and awkward, he never expressing anything but platonic love for her previously, but it suddenly diminishes his character, rendering what at one point seemed to be a genuine closeness developing developing between him and Eun-mo into something much more calculated on his part.

But it does at least present us with an interesting enigma: why does he permanently sabotage any chances of them becoming lovers by refusing to tell the truth?


Granted, he doesn’t realize she already knows about the gas explosion. But still, he doesn’t actually ask why she rejects him, which is inexplicable considering how he feels about her. Why not?

One solution, I think, I discovered indirectly, by realizing what so bugged me about an unrelated observation by Darcy Paquet:

In part, it is the film’s willful obscurity that gives it its strength….Personally I liked that the story’s misunderstandings persist through to the end: this is not a film where all characters come around to accept the same interpretation of the events we have witnessed. Because each character carries a different understanding – and no character possesses complete knowledge of what happened – there is a layered complexity to the film’s emotions.

In short, I think this is a fundamental misreading of the obscurity’s purpose. Rather, it’s only really two characters that have different understandings of events, and, like I said, Joong-shik very much possesses enough knowledge to change Eun-mo’s. But he doesn’t because, soon in a jail cell falsely accused of Eun-su’s murder and/or insurance fraud, he readily acquiesces in his incarceration, seeing it as a sort of penance for either the accident with Ja-young’s baby and/or his (oft-stated) insincere social activism. And, in hindsight, this is something he’s been seeking ever since he arrived in the city of Paju, and this gives us a fresh perspective on other alternative motivations for his entering into a loveless marriage with Eun-su too.

Not only is he buoyed by the knowledge that he is protecting Eun-mo from anguish then (a noble sacrifice that reminded me of the ending to The Crying Game {1992}) (spoliers end), but, if you watch the following beautiful scene from Strange Days (1995), which I was very surprised and lucky to find on YouTube, then suddenly what he’s doing really does begin to make sense. Please indulge me for 96 seconds, taking special note of  what Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) says at 1:24:

Unlike Strange Days however, which showed Lenny Nero the ultimate futility of atonement, Paju suggests that therein lies Joong-shik’s salvation. And in that sense, Paju is so much closer to Crime and Punishment (1866) than it is Lolita (1955), and cinema goers in 2009 would have appreciated the movie all the more if its marketing had reflected that.

(For more Korean Movie Reviews, see here)


Pussy Galore This Weekend!^^

Just another quick reminder of V-Day-related events happening in Seoul and Jeonju this weekend: please click the images for further details. And, like Chris in South Korea says, don’t ever complain about not getting enough vaginas in your life!