Two Weddings And A Funeral (Du Bunui Gyulhonsikgwa Han Bunui Jangryesik)
Korea (2012) Dir. Jho Gwang-soo Kim
Doctors Min-soo (Kim Dong-yoon) and Hyo-jin (Ryu Hyun-kyung), who work at the same hospital, get married. Nothing wrong in that except he’s gay and she’s a lesbian. Hyo-jin is in a relationship Seo-Young (Jung Ae-Youn), who just happens to live next door to Min-soo, and the pair want to adopt a baby, which is easier for a “regular” married couple while Min-soo just wants to get his nagging parents off his back about still being single. But keeping such a big secret in homophobic Korea isn’t easy.
If the title elicits the knee jerk reaction that this is a Korean rip-off of the successful British comedy Four Weddings And A Funeral then let’s put that to rest right away – it isn’t. Instead it if a brave look at a controversial, nay taboo subject for Korean cinema, homosexuality.
Rather than take an out and out gay bashing approach, or being a full on gay rebuttal, this second feature length outing from producer turned director Jho Gwang-soo Kim instead looks at the overall human effect being gay has on both sides. Naturally it isn’t all pretty but it doesn’t exactly confront the issue as head on as it could have.
The premise is one that is open to much comedic potential and indeed the first act is rife with near farcical moments such as Min-soo’s rather particular mother (Shin Hye-Jung) showing up unannounced and Hyo-jin, in a race against time, has to dash across the hallway to keep up the pretence without looking so obviously absent, while Min-soo also feels the heat having to hide musician boyfriend Suk (Song Yong-Jin) with whom he is sharing the marital bed! This doesn’t exactly lead to many side splitting laughs but it is politely amusing and eases the audience into the story without hitting them between the eyes with its manifesto.
Elsewhere Min-soo’s gay friends are the typical tropes of closet gays and the openly gay, complete with the flamboyant personalities and colourful clothes just in case the audience isn’t sure how a stereotyped gay person is supposed to be represented. Tina (Park Jung-Pyo), a cross dressing singer who has an unrequited crush on Min-soo; effete club owner Kyoung-Nam (Lee Seung-Jun); in the closet lawyer Joo-no (Kim Joon-Bum) and loud and proud “Big Sister” (Park Soo-Young). And to finalise the clichés, Seo-Young is an androgynous make-up free woman who works as a carpenter because all lesbians are butch!
A lot of the first half of the film is made up with the group teasing Min-soo about his situation and trying to keep his gay side alive and well as he has juggle his sham marriage with his hospital work. In between this Min-soo finds himself becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the deception he is committing to his parents and the general homophobic attitudes of Korean, preferring the less threatening climes of France.
Suk knows how Min-soo feels when his own brother Jun (Yoo Yeon-Seok) forbids him from attending his wedding as his being gay would upset his future in-laws and cause immeasurable embarrassment to the family, the very reason Suk ran away from home in the first place. Pretty soon the secrets are all revealed and everyone, both inside and outside of their circles, has an opinion on them, creating a divide among Min-soo and Suk, leaving the rest of the group to help put the pieces together again.
The climax of the film and the titular funeral is brought about by the actions of a bigoted taxi driver (Jung In-Gi) whose role is to speak on behalf of all the homophobes in Korea while putting him firmly in the camp of the wrongdoer as a result. Unfortunately there is an inference that being gay is a bigger crime than others in Korea, a sad indictment of our supposedly tolerant modern world which is something Jho Gwang-soo Kim is keen to expose.
The very thrust of his story is to show Korea that being gay isn’t a disease and that they are equally productive and dependable human beings as anyone else. The baby adoption angle is one that is fiercely underplayed when it could have been used to underpin the unfairness of the adoptions laws against gay couples as an aside to the main messages.
Even the scenes where the couple are outed feel less dramatic than they should, quickly dealing with it then brushing it under the carpet to avoid the disapproving tuts of the heterosexual staff. If the intention of this film was to give gay Koreans the courage to come out it sadly doesn’t achieve this, but it does at least turn a cold spotlight on the bigots and the judgemental types at whose hands the gays suffer.
Equally underdeveloped is the relationship between Min-soo and Hyo-jin which surely should have been a prime plot point. Despite being superficially married, any teases of their ties strengthening are never given any room to grow, while Seo-young is barely seen, again robbing this film of some simple but effective emotional drama based on this potentially intriguing situation. This also means no lesbian smooching scenes for the straight males watching – the guys get all the action her, cos only gay males kiss.
Newcomer Kim Dong-yoon picked a brave first role for his big screen debut and is a typically pretty choice to play gay doctor Min-soo, as is Ryu Hyun-kyung as Hyo-jin. Everyone else is comparatively “normal” looking as so to not put a mainstream audience off but they at least involve themselves admirably in their difficult roles.
Jho Gwang-soo Kim has taken a bold step to address an issue in one of the few countries still hung on up with Two Weddings and a Funeral and the fact he has been given such a mainstream platform to do it on is a positive development. It might not lead to a major shift in attitude towards gays right away but it’s a start and an entertaining one at that.