Review: Home Ground (Queer East Film Festival)

Directed by Kwon Aram, in the mid-1990s, the first openly lesbian bar in South Korea, LesBos, opened its doors in Sinchon, Seoul. This documentary follows one of the bar’s proprietors, Myong-woo, whose witty commentary prompts a broader reflection on Seoul’s lesbian scene, and the evolution of the city’s queer spaces over the past five decades.

In recent years, documentaries are opening up windows into the queer experience from across the world and across generations, Home Ground is another great addition. It gives viewers a look into the past, present and future of lesbian life in Seoul. It starts out on such strong footing by centring the story around the charming, slightly stoic and self-assured character that is Myong-woo. Providing the film with a powerful voice of experience but one that never becomes overly sombre or heavy, despite dealing with some poignant territory. Arguably, the film’s only weakness is when it strays away from Myong-woo.

As the film progresses it ventures out into exploring the younger queer generation and how obstacles like Covid have impacted the community. It’s extremely worth diving into and it gives us another group of interesting subjects to follow but it doesn’t always feel connected. Having such a strong guide to this story in Myong-woo unfortunately has the knock on effect of feeling like it’s going off on a tangent when it moves away. The content is there but the progression and structure needed to be a bit stronger to pull everything together.

Outside of that, it’s strong both visually and thematically. The atmosphere is sweet and energetic, the direction captures a candid feel, as if you were to sit down in a bar and chat to the subjects rather than simply observing them. It has both the air of wisdom and youth, of the happiness of finding a likeminded community but of also the hardships they face. It’s interesting to discuss how Covid impacted the queer community, restricting spaces for people that were the only ones where they could feel like themselves. It’s topping isolation with more isolation, taking away places of refuge, and Home Ground acknowledges the heavy potential consequences to that.

Home Ground is a fantastic reminder to respect the experience and wisdom that older generations have to offer, as well as keeping in mind how to create more open, kind spaces for queer people going forward. It does occasionally feel like it gets off track but each road has something to offer, it’s just a shame not to see it come together more succinctly, to truly fulfil its potential. It has sweetness, kindness, emotion and a sense of humour, it’s a lively and relatable way to explore the lesbian community in Seoul.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

Screening as part of Queer East Film Festival 2023

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