Seen in Jeonju

Rainbow Eyes (2007)

22nd September 2010

lposter039231-k2Rainbow Eyes, directed by Yang Yoon-ho and starring Kim Kang-woo, Kim Gyu-ri and Lee Soo-kyeong, is a very frustrating movie. I expected better of Yang. After mulling it over for half a day before writing this, I think I finally found what the problem is. Rainbow Eyes feels old, out of step with the times. You might think I would like that as I seem to spend a lot of time watching older movies and it would be true–if he had managed to capture the feeling of films from the sixties or seventies. But Rainbow Eyes feels like a Korean movie from the early nineties…not the best time for films. The music seems old–like the tinny piano music that would often spring up during emotional scenes in 90s melodramas and soft-porn (which many films from this period were). The camera tricks seemed old and tired, suddenly turning to double vision before or after changing scenes or during points in the movie where graphic gore is being obscured. Worst of all, the attitudes seemed old.  If you are making a movie in which the main chracater is struggling with his sexual identity, you would think it would be more sensitive to his plight and confusion instead of having characters spouting slurs.

Road Movie, King and the Clown and No Regrets had been made in the years just prior to this. Frozen Flower and Antique were just on the horizon. Each of these films dealt wih homosexual romances, often with reluctant or secretive participants, in their own way wih varying results. Western critics and audiences sometimes criticize these films because of the secrecy of the relationships or the fact that these films often end badly for the characters, but those critics are not taking the culture into account. Homosexuality is still considered a mental disease by many and coming out can still destroy careers–just ask actor Hong Seok-cheon. In 2000 his acting career came to a halt when he was outed by a comedian Kim Han-seok on the Seo Se-won talk show. At that time, Hong admited to being in a 3-year relationship with his male lover. Although this part of the talk show was never aired, word spread quickly. Hong’s contracts were cancelled the next day and it became almost impossible for him to get roles. There was a five year stretch where he did not appear in anything.

Times have changed a little. Hong is working again and movies like the ones listed above are being a little more fair when dealing with their gay characters. However, as I mentioned at the beginning, Rainbow Eyes seems out of date with the trend. True, the bumbling cop who is wrong about everything is the one making the most anti-gay comments and slurs, but he is given an uncomfortable amount of time onscreen to do so. Other characters just turn a deaf ear when he speaks, but someone really needed to put him in his place.

All of the main characters–police, suspects and villains– are masking there secrets and dealing with gender issues and this was a nice touch. Kim Gyu-ri’s character, tough-as-nails Eun-joo, is not gay but she is struggling with the fact that her co-workers treat her like a man and she is masking her love for her partner, Kyeong-yoon.  Her partner, played by Kim Kang-woo, is trying hard to put his past behind him. He was in love with his classmate at an all-boy’s school but is now trying to live a ‘normal’ life and preparing to marry his lover Su-jin. His former lover, Yeong-seo, attempted suicide after enduring multiple rapes while performing his mandatory military service. Failing that, he has opted for a transgender operation that he hopes will let him fit in better with society and its expectations.

It would be a lie to say that I enjoyed this movie, but from an academic standpoint and how it fits into Korean queer cinema (or fails to do so) was interesting.  That is, until the end. Not the end of events for the characters, but the twist ending that appears as the credits start to role. It is very bleak and destroys the sacrifice the characters make for each other and rendering their actions useless and unneccessary. It left me feeling depressed and a little angry. Yang Yoon-ho recently directed Grand Prix which is now in theaters… I will not being seeing it

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