Being Gay in South Korea - A Look at Lee Dong-Ha's Weekends

G-Voice Weekends

   Jae-woo is a doctor by trade, a musical director for a gay male choir by night.

   As Lee Dong-ha's camera frames Jae-woo in the elegant and eloquent Korean documentary Weekends, our protagonist recalls the moment a fellow chorister sought urgent advice from him on matters of love. Unexpectedly, a turn of phrase by his lonely-hearted peer inspired in Jae-woo the refrain for a new song he was writing: “I wanted to portray ‘realistic’ love stories among gays," the doctor noted. "Not something just pretty and fairytale like.”

   From the conversation between a wounded romantic and his eager listener, grew the pivotal refrain of what must surely be G-Voice's magnum opus 'Miracle on Jongno Street'. The tale within the song details a hopeful cry for compassion from a would-be lover and pivots on the line Jae-woo re-appropriated for the choir:

   “Though there are many men I wanna sleep with, you’re the only one I wanna hold hands with.”

   Weekends is very much a documentary which echoes the sentiments found in this song's lyrics - Lee has created a film about hope and solicitude, about bonds and connections and, ultimately, about holding out one's hand for those in need.

Korean bar

   The feature slowly introduces us to members of the group and, in doing so, we find much to relate to even if our lives don't mirror theirs exactly. We meet vocalists who are shy and coy; lovers whose relationship falls apart over a wandering pair of eyes; a couple who met through factually inaccurate online profiles; a young man forthcoming about his one-night stands and open relationships. These are 'realistic' love stories we can empathise with, experiences which are not "just pretty and fairytale like".

   As we get to know more about the cast of singers, our hearts open up and swell. Lee interviews G-Voice and we hear from Min who remembers he first realised he was gay whilst getting changed for gym at school; Ki-hwan recalls ogling his swimming teacher. The film too features the rather grim memories of a guilt-ridden former Christian trying to pray away the gayness inside of him, and of the young man abused by a married preacher. When one of the choristers speaks of his membership of the group, we now understand the appeal entirely: “There’s a sense of not standing alone.”

Korean LGBT parade


   To celebrate a decade of G-Voice - “It’s been ten years now but we still suck” - the group prepare themselves for a special performance, their biggest concert yet but, alas, find themselves confronted by intolerance and bigotry in the guise of feces-throwing, religious patriots. To have walked a mile in the group's shoes and see them challenged with such evil fills us with rage. Yet, it is the graceful and level-headed musings of singer Nam-woong which provide perspective: "These people are not monsters. They are people like my father, or like people in the church I grew up in".

   Homophobia, we see, is rooted in South Korean and Christian culture but we also observe the way to defeat wickedness is through kindness. A national catastrophe strikes and, in this moment, G-Voice realise the only things they can offer are the songs in their hearts and a consoling hand reaching out. "It's cold and life is hard, and there’s much to be sad and angry about," the band tell an audience filled with hurt. "Through the lyrics we’d like to say we’re with you and that through solidarity, we can make miracles come true."

   In this moment comes the acknowledgement that, regardless of how low one may feel, if we offer care to one another, there will never have to be a sense of standing alone. Indeed, to quote a rather great musical, if you give a little love then it all comes back to you.









   As with all great films, Weekends is a movie with a very specific topic but, simultaneously, is imbibed with universal themes we can all relate to, learn from and cherish. The movie shows us how, as people, we can each be crass and cruel, pious or hypocritical, mean or close-minded. Yet, equally, each us has it inside of us to be filled with hope and love, song and dance, mirth and awe. Grief can consume us, hatred can swallow us whole but it is community and only love for one another which can elate us.

   We need not miracles or fairytales, just empathy and love - something Lee Dong-ha's hugely important film has the power to pump through each of our veins.

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