The Pollen of Flowers is an intensely sexualized and violent movie. It is mentioned quite often in academic circles as one of the first Korean films to put a gay relationship on display. However, as others have noted, there is so much sexualized violence in this film coming from all characters and in all directions, that it is difficult to characterize it as a queer film (Lee 2008, Kim and Singer 2011, Pak 2009, Yi 2009).
The Korean Film Archive recently added The Pollen of Flowers to its online collection on YouTube, and having remembered it from previous research I was eager to watch.
The film purportedly centers around Dan-joo (Ha Myeong-joong), a young man of poor upbringing who is the new love/sex interest of Hyeon-ma, a wealthy businessman (Nam Koong-won). Hyeon-ma brings Dan-joo home with him where he meets Hyeon-ma's second wife, Ae-ran (Choi Ji-hui), and her younger sister Mi-ran (Yoon So-ra). At this point, and very quickly, everyone's lives appear to take a turn for the worse.
In this film Dan-joo has sexual relations (or something symbolic thereof) with Hyeon-ma, Mi-ran, the house servant, and even Hyeon-ma's wife, Ae-ran. There seems to be a deliberate attempt to center the tension around Dan-joo and his unwelcome appearance in their home. The people surrounding Dan-joo can not keep their hands off of him. Even when it appears that they do not want to pursue a sexual relationship, they quickly succumb to his desires (Ae-ran heartily protests the appearance of Dan-joo's naked body in her bedroom for exactly 32 seconds before voluntarily grabbing him and throwing herself between his legs).
However, Dan-joo is a man of limited subjectivity. He is poor and appears to have gotten where he is with the support of Hyeon-ma. It is Hyeon-ma that simultaneously keeps a second wife and a male lover. Additionally, Hyeon-ma is responsible for bringing Dan-joo to their home and for asking Dan-joo to retrieve Mi-ran after she runs out of the house -- whereupon the two begin their sexual relationship. Lastly, it is Hyeon-ma's business dealings that create the financial ruin that instigates his investors to storm his home and take his belongings so that the might sell them in order to get back some of their investment.
Despite all of the violence and sex that is on display in this film, the scene in which the investors enter Hyeon-ma's house is most disturbing. In an effort to take all that they can, the mob of investors also attack Ae-ran and Mi-ran, even cutting off Ae-ran's finger so that they can have her ring. After the women cut off her finger, two men find her lying on the ground, and seemingly without much thought, decide to gang rape her.
Hyeon-ma funds and controls the lives off all those around him and in the course of this film, all of their lives are destroyed. It seems as if Ha Gil-jong intends to portray Dan-joo as the antagonist, and in that respect, I think he fails. Despite Dan-joo's seemingly irrepressible desirableness to those around him, he has no more power than I do sitting in the audience.
This film is not easy to watch. There are no characters for whom one can support. We feel sympathy for those around Hyeon-ma, but they have chosen to follow his path.
Lee, Jooran. "Remembered branches: towards a future of Korean homosexual film." Journal of homosexuality 39, no. 3-4 (2000): 273-281.
Myeong-jin Pak. "A Study on the Sexuality and Politics of Space in the Films of Kil-jong Ha -- focusing on Pollen." Uri munhak yeon-gu 42:219--245.
Pil-ho Kim and C. Colin Singer. "Three Periods of Korean Queer Cinema: Invisible, Camouflage, and Blockbuster." Acta Koreana 14, no. 1 (2011): 117-136.
Seon-ju Yi. "Translating 'New Cinema': Self-relexivity and Cultural Politics in Ha Kil-jong's The Pollen of Flowers." Yeonghwa yeon-gu 42:487-512.