I don’t know if you know of the K-drama one-shot Daughters of Bilitis (esoteric historical ref) but it was an explicitly lesbian venture. Actually I wouldn’t recommend it at all, but it exists (and stars an actress I like, but that couldn’t save it).





Oh, okay. I am corrected!

Reading up on it, it looks kind of interesting? Was it just bad acting that was the problem or was it sending weird messages? I can’t say SGHSI is telling the most uplifting story, but I think it’s sadly realistic enough. I was telling my friend about the storyline and preview and how I hoped there’d be some reconciliation so that at least they were being bullied together and she was like, oh, that’s what we’re hoping for?

Oh man, I can’t actually remember, it was released years ago in 2011 (correct title Daughters of Club Bilitis) and I think came to my attention from Dramabeans of all places. (Of all places because Dramabeans isn’t exactly a bastion of f/f appreciation.)

AfterEllen apparently did a recap! My interest had been partly piqued because Han GoEun plays the “cool unni” and she was fantastic in Capital Scandal (high recommended period piece comedy romp, except for the part where all of the spoken Japanese is absolutely dreadful on the ears). I remembered being surprised to see her as part of the project. 

The drama features three pairs, in different generations. A high school pair, a middle aged pair, and a senior pair. I remember there being a lot of cliched tragic tropes. It’s a one-off and, while an insight into South Korean attitudes (kdrama Life is Beautiful got a lot of accolades but also a lot of backlash), probably wouldn’t fit Western tastes. OMG, looking over AE’s recap, I forgot the whole part with the children coming to recriminate the mother. Man. Yeah.

I’m still holding out for some A-lister to one day venture down the sapphic role path. (Im SooJung, I’m looking at you, because I think if you dedicate yourself to the role, you could sell it. With whom, I’m not sure, because I can’t quite see Son YeJin being that daring despite roles like My Wife Got Married.)

There may be future “lesbian” content coming out of South Korean in the form of its adaptive remake of Fingersmith. Which. Um. Well. Considering the director—Park Chan-Wook of Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, Thirst, Stoker, but also I’m a Cyborg, but It’s Okay (with a great performance by Im SooJung!) fame—it may be more demonizing than anything. There are few less than savory deviant depictions of lesbians features in South Korean cinema, like In My End is My Beginning, which I haven’t seen, but just look at that summary!

Ooh, yes, excited but apprehensive about the Fingersmith adaptation. My friend suggested he might de-gay it, but then you lose so much of the plot, and would Sarah Waters even allow that? Maybe she would, and she’s not Miss Happy Ending all the time anyway. But then again, maybe the story is already weird and dark enough for him?

Thanks for the additional info on Daughters of Club Bilitis, I think I’m curious enough to try it out. I don’t really have any preference for particular actresses (though I’m not gonna lie, when I heard there was a lesbian storyline on SHSGI, I did immediately think of Stephanie Lee’s character) and I’m actually okay with it not involving one of the main characters this time. If you recall how the US started out with its Lesbian Kiss episodes, in the ’90s and early ’00s, there were a few good efforts here and there but mostly just salacious sweeps type things. At least this involves actual feelings and a relationship and not whatever it was that happened in that ep of Ally McBeal. I’m just glad that any queer kids watching will see that the bullying is entirely on the bullies (one of the things Glee did consistently right).

I guess if the evolution of LGBT media in other countries is any kind of blueprint, we can expect a few more years of heavy focus on gay panic and coming out angst and bullying. So many countries start with the soaps, just because there’s a large ensemble cast and it’s easy to add in one more romantic relationship and the big gay reveal and storyline gets to be inherently dramatic. And kdramas are pretty soapy in general. While I don’t think we’ll get anything with a central focus in mainstream yet, even though there’ve been fairly daring recent projects like Valid Love and Secret Love Affair, I think we might see something like W/T or Calzona as a kind of side main character storyline. And then years down the line, something like Faking It that’ll still focus on the Gay. I do like the deeply romantic kdramas though, so as long as there’s a happy ending, I’m all for more of their typical romances and romcoms just also including queer relationships.

Unfortunately, Daughters of Club Bilitis was laudable for its intent, but utterly disappointing in its execution. It flopped in all three areas of acting, writing, directing. Not even sexy as hell Han Go Eun could save it.


On a side note, I would like to add that the most recent (and arguably one of the best) portrayal of lesbians in Korean film occurred in last year’s breakout korean indie film A Girl At My Door or Doheeya 도희야  written and directed by July Jung in her feature film debut, and starring Bae Doona and Kim Sae Ron. 

Part of the reason this hasn’t been talked about much is that most people haven’t had the chance to see it, and reviewers who have seen it refrain from mentioning the homosexuality because it’s a huge plot spoiler, but I’ll do it here anyway for the sake of this discussion. 

Bae Doona plays Lee Young Nam, a cop from the city being sent down to head the local police department of a rural fishing town. It’s obvious the move was against her will, but the film only reveals later on that she’s sent down as one-year “punishment” for her homosexuality. She’s basically determined to do her job, keep a low profile and wait the year out. 

The film’s central plot focuses on the relationship between Lee Young Nam and Kim Sae Ron’s troubled Seon Do Hee, who is physically abused by her father, who also happens to be the village gangster-sort. One day, Lee finds out about the abuse and brings Do Hee to her home to protect her from her drunkard of a father. The two get closer, and Do Hee develops an almost obsessive pseudo-crush on Lee, who she sees not just as the fill-in for an absent mother, but as a refuge from the pain that she grew up in and in a way, a model of female beauty that she has not had.

The obsession is so much so that when Lee’s ex pays a visit from Seoul (they fight, they make out, they get spotted by village gangster/Dohee’s dad), Dohee gets jealous and proceeds to do some horribly psychotic and destructive things. (I always fear for the mental health of child actors/actresses who portray such screwed up characters… no wonder my dear Kim Sae Ron said she couldn’t watch herself in the final product)

Concurrently, as Lee gets uncomfortably close to dishing out all the illegal smuggling/human trafficking activity that Dohee’s dad is masterminding, he resorts to reporting on her homosexuality as blackmail, and accusing her of being a pedophile toward Dohee. Lee is drawn in for questioning, unable to attest to her innocence when the questions she was thrown are driven by the assumption that if you are gay, you can’t live with a child of the same sex without being a sexual predator as well. 

I’ve spoiled enough, so I’ll leave the ending out, but the film does a great job of incorporating commentary on attitudes toward homosexuality within the bigger context of a film that seeks to paint a portrait of conservative rural Korea. Certainly worth a watch.

P.S. This goes without saying, but Bae Doona is like the dream.