Korean Film Probes Masculine Ideal

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim

Professor Kim Ju Yon (left), Professor Carter J. Eckert (middle), and Curator Dima David Mironenko-Hubbs present “Bungee Jumping of Their Own” at the Harvard Center for Government and International Studies.

A projector screen hanging in CGIS-S250 offered a window Monday evening into an oft-overlooked aspect of 20th century Korean culture.

The Korea Institute presented “Bungee Jumping of Their Own,” the first of five films screening as part of the Institute’s Korean Cinematheque program titled “Male Affections: Re-Gendering Korean Masculinity.”

Sponsored by the Academy of Korean Studies, the annual program shows Korean films and hosts group discussions to foster a better understanding of Korean culture on campus.

This year, the program is screening contemporary Korean films that deal with men who struggle to fit into rapidly changing definitions of masculinity.

The masculine ideal in the 1970s was a militarized figure, said Professor Carter J. Eckert, who is chair of Korean Cinematheque. But since South Korea’s democratization in the 1990s, “it’s a different world” for masculine identity in Korean society.


“The ambiguity of masculinity is still being debated today,” said Assistant Professor of English Ju Yon Kim, the guest speaker for the event.

“Bungee Jumping of Their Own” portrays protagonist Seo In-Woo’s struggles with his attraction to a male high school student who reminds him of his first female love.

It was the first mainstream Korean film to deal with questions of sexual orientation, said Dima David Mironenko-Hubbs, the event coordinator for the Korea Institute.

“It was like the ‘Brokeback Mountain’ of Korean cinema,” he said.

The group discussion held after the showing explored how Korean society reacted with hostility to Seo In-Woo’s perceived homosexuality.

Although South Korea is a modernized country, it is still very conservative, Mironenko-Hubbs said. The films and the group discussions will shed light on a topic that many Koreans refuse to discuss, he said, but also a topic relevant to America.

“There’s a famous quote that goes something like, ‘By learning about other cultures, we learn about ourselves,’” said Mironenko-Hubbs. “The films help us understand Korean culture and the culture here.”

The Korean Cinematheque will feature the films “Road Movie” on Oct. 17, “The King and the Clown” on Oct. 24, “No Regret” on Nov. 14, and “Like a Virgin” on Nov. 28. Screenings begin at 4 p.m. in CGIS-S250.