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[Editor’s Pick] Genuine love without lust

It’s hard to believe that The Poet and The Boy, which won Best Screenplay at the Busan Film Critics Awards and the Women in Film Korea Awards, is only the feature debut of director Kim Yang Hee. In the film, married poet Mr. Hyeon (Yang Ik Joon) finds inspiration and infatuation in attractive young man Se Yoon (Jung Ga Ram) who works at a donut shop near his home.

There are many questions about whether Mr. Hyeon and Se Yoon are truly in love or not. Rather than giving an exact answer, Kim Yang Hee shows the parallel between the backgrounds of the two and their surrounding characters. Mr. Hyeon is out of ideas and teased by other poets for writing vague and lame poems. With his wife (Jeon Hye Jin) urging him for a baby, he is even more stressed to learn that he has low sperm count.

While in his slump, Mr. Hyeon meets his muse Se Yoon by chance, which helps the poet a lot both in life and at work. Vulnerable and desolate, Se Yoon quit school to join the labor force and take care of his gravely ill father. Mr. Hyeon is the only one who cares about him and supports him mentally and financially. Both of them are desperately in need of certain things that they find in each other. So, is it a genuine romance or a merely platonic love and sympathy?

In the final scene of the movie, when they meet each other again a few years later, their facial expressions in the close shots reveal their feelings for each other. Though he says “it’s already the past,” Se Yoon also expresses his hope to stay with the poet by uttering “come with me” in a slightly despairing tone. I was deeply moved by this scene, especially Jung Ga Ram’s complicated yet sorrowful expression. I first knew Jung Ga Ram from OCN’s recent mystery thriller series Mistress. Much to my surprise, he actually debuted in 2011 and appeared in dramas like High Kick and The Heirs. As a rising actor, he shines with his outstanding performance in this movie, even alongside experienced actors like Yang Ik Joon and Jeon Hye Jin.

There is no doubt that the ever depressed and pessimistic Mr. Hyeon gains a better and more fruitful life through his encounter with Se Yoon. Some might be confused about the poet’s love as he provides financial support to the boy, which turns him into something of a “sugar daddy.” Just as Se Yoon’s father once tells Mr. Hyeon that he wants to die because this is the only way his pitiful son can live a carefree life, Mr. Hyeon is perhaps willing to give the boy all his money in hopes that he can enjoy freedom – that is the only thing he can do for him. In fact, Mr. Hyeon struggles as well with the question of whether he truly loves Se Yoon and if he should leave his wife and baby for the young man.

Though there is now high global awareness of LGBT issues, it is still a sensitive topic to some people. Kim Yang Hee handles this potentially sensitive issue quite well in The Poet and The Boy. The film reflects the thoughts and reactions of different people towards same-sex love in a society filled with stereotypical beliefs on gender. Everyone around Mr. Hyeon and Se Yoon criticizes their relationship, particularly Se Yoon’s gang of friends who make malicious comments towards Mr. Hyeon when he begs Se Yoon to run away with him. Despite being mocked by others, the two never feel ashamed of their fondness for each other, and Se Yoon seems certain and sincere about his bond with the poet. Even when Mr. Hyeon’s wife asks the poet if he is gay, he just casually answers, “I would’ve been a bisexual in that case.” He struggles with his sexual orientation at first, but never considers it as something wrong or embarrassing.

Perhaps the meaning of the poet and the boy’s relationship is exactly how Mr. Hyeon puts it: “A poet is someone who cries in place of other people. To a poet, sadness is an ingredient of writing poetry.” Se Yoon is woefully destined to be his unfulfilled love and poetry inspiration.

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