The top ten box office of hits of 2017 were 'Along With the Gods,' 'Taxi Driver,' 'Confidential Assignment,' 'The Outlaws,' 'The Battleship Island,' 'Midnight Runners,' 'The King,' 'Memoir of a Murderer,' 'Steel Rain,' and 'The Fortress.' The funny part? Out of a total 50 main characters, counted in all of the movies, only 9 were women.
That's right, I specifically went to the cast listings of each of these movies to count how many women roles there were in the top five main characters of each of these movies. The result? The ratio isn't even 1:5.
I started watching Korean movies in high school and that hobby has struck me since then. Put in the popcorn, occasionally pop out the tub of green tea ice cream, and roll me on a couch of blankets and pillows, and I'm ready to inhale the most recent film. But after a while, I started noticing a pattern.
All of the movies that I loved and watched had male-dominated casts with only the smallest sliver of screen time for when and if there was a female character. And it wasn't just the off occasion that this happened, this was almost every, single, [insert curse word here] time.
True, there are female-directed, female produced, female-heavy cast gems, like Bang Eun-jin's 'Way Back Home,' Lee Kyong-mi's 'The Truth Beneath,' July Jung's 'A Girl at My Door' and the list does go on. Because thankfully there is a list of South Korean films that don't adhere to the boys club that is Chungmuro.
However, isn't it depressing that I have to be thankful that there's a list of Korean films that women have taken the center stage? Doesn't that thought in itself call for change, or at the very least call for questioning why this is the case for the South Korean industry?
And of course there can be answers to these questions, and I've definitely heard a handful of them in person. "Only the male-dominated movies make the most money," "It's hard to sponsor a female only cast," or the cherry on the top answer, "Korean films really are looking at the male-dominated realms, such as politics, war, or the shady underbelly of gangs." Do you not see a pattern? They all have misogynistic undertones.
In 2017, according to the Geena Davis Institute and UN Women, noted that 50% of Korean films have female leads or co-leads (side note: I really would like to note how they defined co-lead). And while that may be the case, if we were to take out all the love story based films, because usually, that means a female has to be a lead to round out the story, and then take the top films in Korea and see what the representation number is, I wouldn't be surprised if that 50% significantly dropped. For example, 'Old Boy,' 'Taegukgi,' 'New World,' 'The Admiral,' or 'The Chaser', I don't remember if any of them had a central woman based character.
Even take the recent 'Train to Busan,' wherein the end, Jung Yumi and Kim Su-an are the only ones left alive, both female. Yet, I hate myself for saying this, but what anyone ever remembers in 'Train to Busan' is Gong Yoo and Ma Dong-seok.
Even still, if we were to look at all the love story movies that Korea produced, how many of those movies portray the girl as the weak, dependent female clinging to the male savior? Thankfully we have 'My Sassy Girl' in the top tier ranks to not stick this broken record of a trope.
Then the question is what do we do now? If you've stuck with this extremely aggressive rant, then one might think that I have a larger picture in mind. A picture that clearly states the route that we as viewers or the route that creators need to take. Unfortunately, all I have is a bunch of answers that we've all heard before, although they are no less important to emphasize.
We need more producers, directors, writer, staff, and crewmembers that are women. If the male-dominated industry is not going to change to include more females, than we, as females need to take the lead. There are already a handful of these artists in the South Korean industry but let's make it so it's no longer just a handful.
Even more importantly, though, maybe the need for more sponsors and benefactors that will support these films. If the answer to why aren't there more women central films is always going to because backers don't want to finance those movies, we need women in power to step forward and help finance it.
And then finally, we as viewers, need to demand for such films. If you agree with me, then support these features, go out and watch 'Missing,' or 'Cart.'
And hopefully creating a more gender-equal playing field for all creatives in Chungmuro, will spiral into more support for those outside our society constructed gender binaries. I can hope, can't I?