Virtuous Male "Heroes"
Winning more than 5.8 million and 8 million tickets, respectively, Joint Security Area (2000) and Friend (2001) became the two highest grossing movies sold at their time in South Korea. On the surface, the two seem distant and have unrelated plots; JSA takes place near the Korean De-militarized Zone (DMZ) and centers on an investigation about North and South Korean soldiers while Friend spans four childhood friends' lives in Busan where two of them become gangster lords. Despite the differences in story plots the box-office success experienced by both JSA and Friend can be attributed to a formulaic character recipe that is highly receptive to the national audience in Korea: a male hero, Sergeant Oh (JSA) and gangster Jung-suk (Friend), who has a deep friendship with his other male companions within his homo socio-cultural environment.
Their exemplary show of brotherly loyalty, friendship and personal sacrifice for male friends despite background differences uncovers why the record-setting Korean movie-goers geared towards these two particular movies: Due to Korea's Neo-Confucian culture on men as the economic pillar and military protector for the family and nation, the desire to see a more nurturing, mature, and stable patriarch out of an authoritarian and fragmented environment becomes crystalized in male characters Sergeant Oh and Jung-suk.[1: John Finch, "JSA," and "Friend" (PPT presentation, KORA398C lecture, College Park, MD, April 15, 2014]
The male heroes, Sergeant Oh and Jung-suk, are a crucial element in their "buddy" movie. These so-called "masculine heroes" lead and support a circle of friends in a male-dominated, oppressive environment where they successfully rise above the rest as the noblest and stable-minded figurehead. In JSA, Sergeant Oh and his male friends meet and befriend each other at the...