In exploring the issues of homosexuality within the Korean military, director Lee Song Hee-il’s (이송희일) short film Going South (남쪽으로 간다) is a somewhat culturally sensitive affair on an oft-known, yet seldom discussed topic. Forming part of the director’s 2012 trilogy alongside White Night (백야) and Suddenly, Last Summer (지난여름, 갑자기), Going South also depicts the evolving relationship between two men over the course of several hours, in this instance as they travel through the countryside towards an army barracks. The returning soldier, Gi-tae (Kim Jae-heung (김재흥), is distraught as his lover Jun-yeong (Jeon Sin-hwan (전신환) has ended their relationship following the completion of his mandatory military service. The narrative explores their differing ideology regarding homosexuality within the trauma of separation, emphasizing key socio-cultural issues throughout. Yet the film also struggles with the debate and the increasingly tense relationship, sparingly introducing information about the couple resulting in a somewhat bland, yet very attractive film.
The most striking feature of Going South is undoubtedly the colour palette as director Leesong employs highly effective use of the natural green tones of the countryside. The director’s artistic sensibilities are acutely on display throughout as he captures the vibrant greens of the forests that serve as a backdrop for the protagonists, providing a palpable energy as Gi-tae and Jun-yeong fight and curse at each other during their break-up. Within this realm Gi-tae’s military uniform seamlessly merges with the surrounding environment while Jun-yeong’s city fashion is completely at odds, and director Leesong does well in employing costume to highlight the stark differences between the two protagonists. The contrast with the brown hues that enter the film are also profound, adding potent symbolism for the various stages of their rapidly deteriorating relationship.
Central to the narrative is the issue of homosexuality within the military, which is wonderfully articulated through Gi-tae and Jun-yeong. For Gi-tae, being gay is part of his identity; for Jun-yeong, it is a phase that men go through during military service. As the two clash over their different ideological perspectives, letters that were exchanged between them when they served together are edited within the film, harking back to their history and the sweet exchanges that took place. Such title screens are quite distracting however, and serve to pull the audience out of the film due to their unnatural insertion. Despite this, Going South quickly becomes an examination of contemporary Korean masculinity, and the role of the military in defining sexuality.
Yet attractive visuals and central theme aside, Going South is a somewhat flat queer film. Much of the running time is preoccupied with driving through the countryside, with more information required to make the protagonists and their ‘journey’ more compelling. The narrative does pick up in the later stages to end on a high note, yet the actors aren’t really stretched into creating the required impetus for these scenes to truly generate the utmost poignancy.
Going South is a vibrant, attractive queer film examining homosexuality within the Korean military, and deserves praise merely for broaching the subject. Director Leesong Hee-il employs the colours of the countryside effectively, however the film is a rather flat offering due to the sparse information and lack of powerful performances. Yet Going South offers an interesting perspective in role of the military in defining contemporary Korean masculinity, and as such provides a fresh approach in the exploration of gay relationships.