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Queer East Festival: A Korea Focus

Date: Tuesday 18 April - Sunday 30 April 2023
Various venues

Tickets: Various | Ticket links below
Queer East- composite image of stills from the Korean films
Clockwise from top left: A Man and a Gisaeng | Sa Bangji | House of Hummingbird | Home Ground | Peafowl | Memento Mori | King and the Clown | Stateless Things | VR Experience: 5.25m²

Here is a listing of the eight Korean feature films, six shorts and one VR experience that are included in this year’s Queer East film festival. You can find the full press release here.

Film descriptions are courtesy of the Queer East website.

Time Movie Location Book
Thu 20 Apr 9:00pm Peafowl (공작새)
Dir: Byun Sung-bin 2022 115min
Genesis Link
Sat 22 Apr 3:45pm Stateless Things (줄탁동시)
Dir: Kim Kyung-Mook 2011 120mins
Garden Link
Wed 26 Apr 6:00pm A Man and a Gisaeng (남자와 기생)
Dir: Shin Sang-ok, Shim Wu-seob, 1969 86mins
PCC Link
Wed 26 Apr 8:30pm King and the Clown (35mm) (왕의 남자)
Dir: Lee Jun-ik 2005 119mins
BFI Link
Fri 28 Apr 9:00pm Memento Mori (여고괴담 두번째 이야기)
Dir: Kim Tae-yong, Min Kyu-dong, 1999 98mins
Genesis Link
Sat 29 Apr 2:30pm Shorts: Queer Korea – A Mixtape

  • Ice (Dir. Lee Seong-wook, 2019, 28min)
  • Cicada (Dir. Yoon Dae-woen, 2021, 17min)
  • Butch Up! (Dir. Lee Yu-jin, 2022, 12min)
  • Don’t worry (Dir. Kim Tae-yong, 2022, 19min)
  • How Do I Kill That B? (Seo Ji-hwan, 2022, 27min)
Rich Mix Link
Sat 29 Apr 6:50pm Sa Bangji (사방지)
Dir: Song Kyung-shik 1988 94mins
Genesis Link
Sat 29 Apr 8:55pm Shorts: All About My Mother
Programme includes: A Good Mother (Dir: Lee Yu-jin, 2022, 24 mins)
Genesis Link
Sun 30 Apr 2:30pm House of Hummingbird (벌새)
Dir: Kim Bo-ra 2018 138mins
Rich Mix Link
Sun 30 Apr 6:15pm Home Ground (UK Premiere)
Dir: Kwon Aram 2022 78 mins
Barbican Link
18 Apr – 23 Apr VR Experience: 5.25m²
Dir: Kim Kyung-Mook 2022 20mins
BFI n/a

In addition, included in the Artists’ Moving Image Programme entitled Alien Body, Human Dreams there’s a video by Glasgow-based Korean American performance artist Soojin Chang entitled BXBY. The programme screens at the Barbican on Thu 27 Apr 2023 at 18:15. Chang’s work was recipient of a Jerwood/FVU Award 2022.

Synopses of the individual films follow:

Home Ground (UK Premiere)

Kwon Aram 2022 78 mins
Barbican Centre 30 April Sunday 6:15pm | Book here.

The exterior of LesVos bar at night

In the mid-1990s, the first openly lesbian bar in South Korea, LesVos, opened its doors in Sinchon, Seoul. This documentary follows one of the bar’s proprietors, Myong-woo, whose witty commentary prompts a broader reflection on Seoul’s lesbian scene, and the evolution of the city’s queer spaces over the past five decades. In her feature debut, Kwon Aram documents generational change as she makes connections between past and present: from the 1976 police raid on Chanel, a women-only café that existed in Myeong-dong in the 1970s, to the more recent threat posed by Covid-19 to community solidarity. This is a film about a shared sense of belonging, and shared environments of kinship. Offering a rare insight into Seoul’s often-hidden lesbian history, Home Ground reveals the vibrancy and endurance of South Korea’s queer culture.

Kwon Aram is a filmmaker who documents the memories of minority groups. She co-directed To become 2 (2013), which chronicled the transition of a transgender person, and directed Queer Room (2018) and 463 Poem of the Lost (2018), the latter about the ‘comfort women’ brothels overseen by the Japanese occupiers in wartime Thailand.

This screening is followed by an online Q&A with the director Kwon Aram, moderated by Melanie Iredale, Director of Reclaim The Frame.

Presented in partnership with Reclaim The Frame.

Peafowl (공작새)

Byun Sung-bin 2022 115min
Genesis Cinema 20 April Thursday 9:00pm | Book here

Still from the movie Peafowl

Shin–myung is a transgender woman and dancer who competes in waacking, a form of voguing. Having cut ties with her family and rural hometown, Shin-myung seek various ways to fund her gender reassignment surgery. But one day, she is informed that her estranged father, a master of Nongak folk music, has died. He stipulated that Shin-myung can receive her inheritance money if she returns to the village and performs a traditional drum dance, as part of his memorial rituals. Unwilling to yield to her intolerant father’s posthumous demands, the unapologetic Shin-myung is forced to reluctantly reconnect with her past while staying true to herself. Driven by an empowering vision of trans identity, this assured debut feature from Byun Sung-bin contemplates the possibilities – and limits – of forgiveness.

Stateless Things (줄탁동시)

Kim Kyung-Mook 2011 120mins
The Garden Cinema 22 April Saturday 3:45pm | Book here

still from the movie Stateless Things

The second instalment in Kim Kyung-Mook’s acclaimed ‘Things’ trilogy, this arthouse drama follows two young men in parallel stories. Joon, a young North Korean man who has illegally emigrated to South Korea, works in a gas station. When his colleague Soon-hee, a Chinese immigrant of Korean ethnicity, is subjected to sexual harassment, Joon steps in to protect her. Hyun is a young gay man, financially reliant on his older lover, in whose luxury apartment he lives. He feels suffocated by his claustrophobic existence. Although their stories are very different, Joon and Hyun are connected by their loneliness and desperation. A poetic work that draws thematic parallels between the life experiences of homosexuals and illegal immigrants, Stateless Things evolves into a searing indictment of social exclusion and cultural hypocrisy.

A Man and a Gisaeng (남자와 기생)

Shin Sang-ok, Shim Wu-seob, 1969 86mins
Prince Charles Cinema 26 April Wednesday 6:00pm | Book here

still from the movie A Man and a Gisaeng

In this rediscovered comedy from South Korea, a man named Tae-Ho is fired from his office job for being ‘unmanly’ but is soon offered an unusual means of making money: he can work as a gisaeng, a traditional hostess and entertainer. Tae-Ho is initially hesitant to dress up as woman, but is so convincing in his newfound profession that he inadvertently becomes successful. Things become complicated, however, when he starts to receive proposals from several of his male clients – including Mr. Heo, the boss who fired him. Raucously funny, the film is ultimately constrained by the prevailing ideologies of the time, yet pushes at the edges of what was considered acceptable in 1969. Fully restored, A Man and a Gisaeng showcases a society in transition, and calls into question traditional views on gender and sexuality.

King and the Clown (35mm) (왕의 남자)

Lee Jun-ik 2005 119mins
BFI Southbank 26 April Wednesday 8:30pm | Book here

still from the movie The King and the Clown

The late 15th century: Jangsaeng and Gong-gil are jesters who tour the country performing tightrope acts and bawdy comic routines. The beautiful Gong-gil takes the female roles, and out of the public eye, offers his sexual services to rich customers. Jangsaeng and Gong-gil become tremendously popular after developing a treasonous act that mocks King Yeonsan, and brought before the monarch, they soon become ensnared in a web of dangerous passions. Released in 2005, this was highest-viewed film of the year in South Korea, making a star out of Lee Joon-gi and attracting attention for its frank portrayal of queer attraction, which was unusual and controversial at the time. Contemplating the fluid nature of desire, The King and the Clown depicts violence as a force that is both repressive and repressed.

Memento Mori (여고괴담 두번째 이야기)

Kim Tae-yong, Min Kyu-dong, 1999 98mins
Genesis Cinema 28 April Friday 9:00pm | Book here

still from the movie Memento Mori

This Korean horror from the late 1990s is regarded as a breakthrough for LGBTQ+ representation. Min-ah discovers a secret diary and realises that her schoolmates Hyo-shin and Shee-eun are not just close friends but have, in fact, begun a forbidden romance. The mysterious diary begins to consume Min-ah. But when one of the diary’s writers is found dead from an apparent suicide, rumours spread, and Min-Ah begins to sense a strange presence. Soon, the once tranquil school is transformed into a morbid, uncanny place of terror, as the words in the diary begin to take on a life of their own. Transcending exploitative and misogynistic portrayals of queer desires as monstrous, Memento Mori offers a frank and empowering portrayal of lesbian characters, who are finally allowed to step out of the shadows.

Sa Bangji (사방지)

Song Kyung-shik 1988 94mins
Genesis Cinema 25 April Tuesday 6:50pm | Book here

still from the movie Sa Bangji

Presented in 4K restoration, this rediscovered classic dramatizes the mythology of Sa Bangji, an intersex person who according to historical records lived during Korea’s Joseon Dynasty. Taken in by a kindly benefactor, Sa Bangji lives in a monastery that is one day visited by a young widow, Lee So-sa, who is in mourning following the death of her husband. The pair’s meeting seems predestined, with the erotic attraction between Sa Bangji and Lee So-sa soon evolving into something far more transcendent – and dangerous. Lee Hye-young gives an incredible performance as the hero-heroine in this unsettling and provocative work, a film that refuses to shy away from the horrendous stigmatization faced by its character. While aspects of the film – its stylised depiction of female actors and sex – identify it as a product of its time, Sa Bangji is undeniably a milestone in screen representations of intersex people.

House of Hummingbird (벌새)

Kim Bo-ra 2018 138mins
Rich Mix 30 April Sunday 2:30pm | Book here

still from the movie House of Hummingbird

Seoul, 1994: fourteen-year-old Eun-hee’s chaotic life is bearable thanks to her secret boyfriend and best friend at Chinese class. But at home, her parents are overbearing and distant, while her brother beats her. Eun-hee’s world changes when a new, free-spirited Chinese tutor arrives at the school, taking a genuine interest in her feelings, and teaching her about things beyond her own experience. But for Eun-hee, even the good times seem like they won’t last forever. This warmly nostalgic coming-of-age story uses the historical backdrop of South Korea in the summer of 1994 to evoke the teenager’s feelings of discovery and change. In her debut feature, director Kim Bo-ra pays tribute to the confusion and joys of adolescence, assisted by a captivating performance from Park Ji-hu in her first leading role.

Shorts: Queer Korea – A Mixtape

Rich Mix 29 April Saturday 2:30pm | Book here
Programmed by Dongyun Lee.
Content warnings: drug use, violence, and blood
Total Running Time: 103 min

A collection of modern queer Korean shorts that blend genres from horror to action to comedy. In early South Korean cinema, LGBTQ+ characters were often victimised and portrayed as being stuck in violent and self-destructive patterns. However, in this programme, the films draw on familiar themes but offer alternative twists. The characters are empowered to control their destinies by embracing their queer identities. Shedding light on the versatility of queer storytelling through unconventional cinematic styles, the films in this collection are cruel, gentle, and downright grotesque, all in one wicked mixtape.

Individual shorts as follows:


Still from the short movie IceLee Seongwook | 2019 | 28min

Seung-jin and Tae-yoon, friends with benefits who engage in chemsex, embark on a road trip to meet their drug dealer and end up spending a night in a hotel. Despite their anxiety and fear of getting caught by the police, they cannot resist their desire for pleasure.


Still from the short movie CicadaYoon Dae-woen | 2021 | 17min

This horror short is about Chang-hyeon, a transgender sex worker, who meets a client with mystifying questions about her past. The uncomfortable conversation between her and this strange, yet familiar, intruder soon becomes violent.

Don’t Worry

Still from the short movie Don’t WorryKim Tae-yong | 2022 | 19min

Hanyeol, a openly gay man, has a secret crush on Suho, his soon-to-be-married best friend. Suho has secret affection for Hanyeol. A night, Suho decides to make a move that could change the pair’s relationship completely.

How Do I Kill That B?

Still from the short movie How Do I Kill That B?Seo Ji-hwan | 2022 | 27min

Ha-Yoon works as a maid in a luxurious mansion, and is not too fond of a new employee, Ji-Young. When a forest hunting game is proposed by the mansion owner, the tense relationship between the two maids reaches an extreme level.

Butch Up!

Still from the short movie Butch UpLee Yu-jin | South Korea| 2022 | 12min

Mi-hae, the lead vocalist in a band, has just been dumped by her girlfriend and band. Miserable, she cannot get herself to sing her old band’s most popular hit, Oppa’s Girl, but then she meets Chaechae, a transgender TV celebrity.

VR Experience: 5.25m²

Kim Kyung-Mook 2022 20mins
18 Apr – 23 Apr | BFI Southbank | Free

still from the VR Experience: 5.25m²

In 2015, filmmaker Kyungmook Kim was sentenced to 18 months in prison for objecting to Korea’s mandatory military service. He then came out as a queer, which left him in solitary confinement, isolated from other prisoners for thirteen months, until his parole. Kim’s haunting VR work 5.25㎡ recreates a virtual cell of the same size, 1.5 x 3.5 metres, enabling viewers to experience a prisoner’s sense of time and space. We encounter the figure of an inmate wandering like a ghost, while hearing his voice as he writes a letter to a friend who is serving in the military. This powerful work uses VR to recreate a claustrophobic environment in which contact with others is completely prohibited, while acknowledging the possibilities of a rich, meditative inner life.

Shorts: All About My Mother

Genesis Cinema, 29 April Saturday 8:55pm | Book here

Still from the short movie: A Good Motherincludes: A Good Mother (굿 마더)
dir. Lee Yu-jin | 2020 | 24min

Su-mi is a respected school teacher and proud mother of her daughter Ji-soo, who works as a human rights lawyer. However, Su-mi struggles to fully embrace Ji-soo’s lesbian identity, especially in front with their old family friends.

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