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A Woman Being In Asia (Asiaeseonyeojaro-sandaneunggot) (1993)

Director : Byun Young-joo
Year of Production : 1993
Genre : Documentary
Format : Video/Color
Running Time : 59 minutes

Crew :
Producer : Kim Dong-won
Cinematography : Park Hyun-seong, Oh Chung-ok, Byun Young-joo
Organization : Shin Hye-young
Editor : Byun Young-joo
Music : Kim Han-kyun
VTR Editor : Lee Sung-ho, Park Chan-tae
Sound : Choi Song-hak
Title : Kim Kyung-hee
Arrangements : Yoon Mi-young, Oh Ok-man
Assistant Director : Park Hyun-sun
Production Chief : Sin Hye-eun
Japanese Translation : Nemo Torie
Production : Independent Documentary Production Company Pureun-yeongsang


This is a report about international prostitution in Asia. It centers on the sex tourism of Jeju Island. It also deals with Thailand and Japan, showing the relationship of international prostitution to foreign diplomacy. The film shows that the flow of capital from one country to another is one-sided and the industry is based on the deeply rooted sexual culture of Asia. The latter part of the film shows the misconception that prostitution is divorced from the lives of ordinary people and only goes on only in the ghettos. The film searches for a solution to this problem and also poses the question about whether the line between prostitution and non-prostitution is as well defined as most think.

Notes on the Production

Our goal of producing the film at first was to look into the realities and problems of sex tourism. But as we went on location gathering information and interviewing the necessary people, we began to realize that our once definite goal was inevitably changing. How many people were unaware of sex tourism? Does a topic, which was already dealt with by a television program, need to be explored further? Although our goal was to denounce prostitution as an inhumane and unethical act, we realized that it had already penetrated into the ordinary lives of people. We were also unsure of whether such a denunciation made valid motive for a documentary. We realized that although the main purpose of a documentary is as the word itself indicates, to document events, we were affected by the endless commercial documentaries on television with misguided purposes such as In-Depth 60 minutes, PD Notebook.
These concerns were present until the very end of the production and in the end, our decision was to have 3 women in their 20s record the lives of people who are related to international prostitution in one way or another (female and male prostitutes, women against prostitution and ordinary citizens). But our endless indecisiveness over the purpose of the film resulted in it being a mixture of two things, the denunciation and documentation of prostitution. This is the first weakness of this film.
In March of ‘92, we went to Jeju Island in order to film and interview a prostitute working at a sex tourism brothel and we finished the filming there within a day because we were worried that she would change her mind and refuse to be interviewed. But the aftereffects of interviewing the prostitutes were long-lived.
Why were we so tense with them? Why were we so worried about what they thought of us? On screen, (We could not show their faces for safety reasons and we decided that distorting their faces would be a distortion of reality, so we settled on filming our production staff as they listened to the interviews instead. This caused much controversy regarding the composition of scenes as well as other formal aspects.), we were drenched in sweat and seemed tense and this made us embarrassed of ourselves. Our staff became closer to the prostitutes during the scorching summer months but during every shoot, we wondered “when will this be over?” We still felt uncomfortable in front of the prostitutes and we were in disarray because of the ever-increasing length of the shoot, insufficient manpower and our indecisiveness concerning what story we were attempting to tell.
In ‘93, we decided on a completely new type of interview. We decided to end the relationship of listener (us) and interviewee (the prostitutes), and decided to reveal all of our relations as prostitute, non-prostitute, women in their 20s and women in their 30s, people being filmed and people who are doing the filming. And instead of using a tripod, we decided to use a handheld camera in order to freely roam the space where the interviews were taking place. But would the prostitutes allow us to interview them again?
The prostitutes scolded us for many hours on a night in March of 1993. They said that there should be no hesitation in filming the interviews again if they were done wrong and that they had agreed to help us finish our film to the end, and scolded us for being so timid as we asked them to repeat their interviews. It turned out that we had been the ones suspicious of the relationship we had developed until now.
During the interviews, which we filmed over the course of 2 and a half years, the prostitutes changed many of their thoughts. This was the result of the change in the prostitutes’ relationship with us during our 2 year stay there, the change in the thoughts of the prostitutes as they worked in sex tourism brothels for 2 years, and the transformation in both ours and the prostitute’s thoughts through the melding of our respective worlds.
But because of our staff’s close relationship with the prostitutes, we lost something that is essential for filming a documentary. We lost our objectivity. We wanted to make our relationship with the prostitutes as secure as possible and in the process, we failed to realize that the one of the most important elements in a documentary is the transformation and development of relationships.
Now, the fruit of two years of labor will be made public. Aside from the weaknesses that I’ve mentioned, there are other weaknesses that our staff discussed during the filming process and after the completion of the documentary and we’d like to share a few resolutions we made through those discussions.
Also, we will look to the future. What people and whose lives will we record in this yet unknown medium of the independent documentary? This film will become a starting point in our work and the themes of women, Asia, and capital will become subjects that will recur endlessly in our oeuvre in the future.

Purpose of Production

Although the situation of the Korean film industry at that time was positive, it was no doubt full of confusion and perversion. This movie was made to find a breakthrough in that situation.

Awards and Showings at Film Festivals

Awarded the Ogawa Shinsuke Award in the New Asian Currents Program at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival - The Murmuring?A Woman Being in Asia 2 (Nateunmoksori:Asiaeseonyeojaro-sandaneunggot)
Awarded the 1996 Film Critics Special Award by the Korean Film Critics Association

Director Bio : Byun Young-joo (1966)

She graduated from the Law Department at Ehwa Womans University and did her graduate studies at the Department of Theater and Film at Chung-ang University. Currently, she is the most well-known of all women documentary film makers in Korea. She is a founding member of the women’s film collective, Bariteo, shooting many films and directing A Woman Being In Asia (1993), a film about the sex tourism of Jeju Island. Afterward, she founded a film group called Boim, and made Murmuring, A Woman Being In Asia (1995), a film about former “comfort women.” Murmuring, A Woman Being In Asia was the first documentary in the history of Korean cinema to open in theaters and was the first of a trilogy that includes Murmuring 2 and Respiration (Sum kyeol). Afterward, she made two commercial films, Ardor (Milae) (2000) and Flying Boys (Ballegyoseupso) (2004).