Whenever we read about a dictatorship, it’s easy to focus only on all the repression and conservative attitudes that lead to censorship in that place and forget about other aspects of the country or region. However, if we only think about this issue, we would be forgetting about what the Ancient Romans called “Panem et circenses” or “bread circuses”. That wasn’t the case during Chun Doo-hwan's government in South Korea. Doo-hwan rose to power in 1980 after leading a coup d’etat following the assassination of president Park Chung-hee in 1979. His rise to power wasn’t easy. On the contrary, it involved severe and violent acts of repression, even closing universities and prohibiting all political gatherings. However, once his hold on power was secured, he decided to do things differently in order to further establish his position and put an end to all the different protests going on in the country.
Prostitution (1988) Dir. You Jin-sun
Popularly known as the “3S” policy (sex, sports, and screen), Doo-hwan decided that the best way to keep people’s minds away from politics and social issues was to keep them entertained. He distributed thousands of color televisions throughout the country, started a baseball league that kept people at home watching the multiple games transmitted, and finally, he encouraged and promoted the national film production and distribution. He also believed that sex and eroticism were the best tools to appease people’s nonconformity and channel their energy, giving them a chance to freely explore their urges and desires. To do so, he lifted the night curfew that had been established for 37 years. It was a time when sexual attitudes were extremely liberal, while social and political matters were terribly suppressed.
Ae-Ma Woman (1982) Dir. Jeong In-yeob
The erotic Korean films of the eighties couldn’t be considered as pornography, not even soft-core, but they were consumed as such. With the opening of Ae-Ma Woman in 1982, it’s said that the lines were so long and people were so excited to watch the film that they broke the glass in the box office. People were so eager to watch these movies that this genre became the most popular of the entire the decade, thanks to the support of the government, of course. However, this apparent freedom came with its own set of rules. Filmmakers had to present the scripts to the government censorship officials, who would then decide if they could be produced.
Between the Knees (1984) Dir. Lee Chang-Ho
Still, some scriptwriters found the way to subtly and indirectly portray their social concerns and trick the system. But besides that, what’s really noticeable was the absolute freedom to explore human desires and passions; these films could be as explicit and graphic as they wanted and could deal with so many subjects regarding sex without being concerned about being banned. That’s why the film productions of this era made a change in the way female pleasure was portrayed and understood. It was a time of liberation for women in popular culture, and therefore, in the public’s reality. Despite being often seen as objects of male desire, these female characters were, in fact, challenging patriarchal and conservative norms. That’s why, although these plot lines might not be that profound or meaningful, they can teach us so many things about our own sexuality and passions.
Mulberry (1985) Dir. Lee Doo-yong
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