'Men appear twice as often as women in Korean films,' data shows

'Men appear twice as often as women in Korean films,' data shows

The poster for “Bechdel Day 2021” / Courtesy of the Directors Guild of Korea

By Kwak Yeon-soo

Female actors had a big year in Korea’s top films last year. In the comedy and drama genres, Uhm Jung-hwa, Kim Hye-soo and Ko A-sung headlined films.

Yet, it is difficult to conclude that female-led films are increasing as many major big-budget films have delayed their releases due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Men were still seen and heard about twice as much as women in the 20 highest-grossing films that were released between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021.

These 20 films are: “Deliver Us From Evil,” “Peninsula,” “Steel Rain 2: Summit,” “Samjin Company English Class,” “Collectors,” “OK! Madam,” “Hard Hit,” “The Golden Holiday,” “Mission Possible,” “Best Friend,” “Voice of Silence,” “Waiting For Rain,” “Oh! My Gran,” “Book of Fish,” “Recalled,” “The Day I Died,” “Josee” and “The Swordsman.”

The figures come via AI technology developed by Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST). Producer Jang Ji-yoon and KIST researcher Kim Hyun-joo analyzed gender representation in 20 commercial films based on seven quantitative indices: emotional diversity, temporal occupancy (screen time), spatial occupancy (the frequency of close-up shots), age, glasses, makeup and types of surrounding objects.

The “Bechdel Day 2021” event was named after the Bechdel test, which measures the representation in fiction works by there being at least two named women characters talking to each other about something other than a man.

The data, which was revealed during the Bechdel Day 2021 event on Saturday, showed that, in this year’s films that passed the Bechtel test, the women characters demonstrated more diverse emotions. However, in these films, in contrast to male characters that were more likely to show extreme, “assertive” emotions such as anger, hatred and disgust, female characters exhibited a range of more “defensive” emotions such as fear, sadness and surprise.

When a film had a male lead, the male character appeared on screen and spoke about two times more often than the female characters.

In films with both male and female co-leads, men still had far more screen time. And even in films with female leads, men had roughly the same amount of screen and speaking time as the main women characters.

The research results showed that media propagated beauty-related standards for females in films. The median age for leading female film roles in the last year was 25.2 years old, while that of leading male film roles was 34.4 years old. Female characters over the age of 40 were given significantly less representation, particularly as leads.

Females were far more likely than their male counterparts to be shown wearing makeup. Men were seen with glasses far more often than women in films, in what may be an attempt to represent an image of intelligence. As for the type of objects seen in the vicinity of characters, male characters were frequently seen wearing neckties, in the presence of chairs, driving cars and using cell phones, whereas female characters appeared around in chairs, reading books, watching TVs, holding cups and in the presence of men wearing neckties.

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