Boundary: Flaming Feminist Action
Release Date: 2021
Duration: 107 mins.
Director: Yun Ga-hyun
Starring: Lee Ga-hyun, Kim Se-jeong, Kim Mi-hyun,
While misogyny is far from something exclusive to South Korea¹, the recent news of the success of Yoon Suk-yeol will concentrate minds on the country as he ran on some explicitly misogynist and anti-feminist messaging. With his statements that sexism is dead and he will shut down the Ministry of Equality, it seems that the hopes of a more equitable society for women in a nation ranked 102 on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report have been pushed further away for now. However, nothing in life is guaranteed and a blueprint of resistance to patriarchy, conservatism, and misogyny can be found in Yun Ga-hyun’s documentary Boundary: Flaming Feminist Action which records the testimonies of three friends who the director was involved with in the titular Flaming Feminist Action group.
The group had its foundations in the collaboration between female university students who had initially started out in labour organising but became interested in feminism. Soon, they combined networking and learning with sport by forming the Flaming Basketball team. However, they evolved into a vocal vanguard for many women seeking solace and justice after the stabbing of a young woman in 2016 in what became known as the Gangnam Station Toilet Murder Case.
The details of the case are grisly but, suffice it to say, in response, spontaneous vigils, protests, and marches sprang up demanding justice be done. As is typical with femicides around the world, the Korean police were quick to claim that the perpetrator was mentally unbalanced and the media quick to report it as such but the man’s motive behind the killing of a random young woman, “I was ignored by women,” speaks to the sense of ownership that men feel they have over women. We are talking about a period of time when women were being terrorised by spycam/revenge porn and the gangnam clubland scandals. It was in challenging this ownership that the Flaming Feminist basketball team became Flaming Feminist Action, a group dedicated to uniting women and cultivating feminist thought and women’s rights in the face of cultural misogyny.
The film is not an in-depth analysis about the issue of the misogyny but a personal documentary from that fractious period of time formed from a series of testimonies from the people were a part of Flaming Feminist Action, namely the director and her friends who were some of the founders of the movement. Their number includes tattooed and dyed-hair politician Lee Ga-hyun, public labour attorney Kim Se-jeong, and academic Kim Mi-hyun.
Their early introduction to the film, as they joke about ageing and beauty standards during prep for sit-down solo interviews, sets the tenor for their interviews which is casual and friendly but also focussed on the subject matter. Yun Ga-hyun then intercuts each individual’s narration of their memories, all taken from the three women talking direct to camera (and director Yun Ga-hyun occasionally commenting from off screen), and using clips/montages of footage and photos of their activities shot by Kim Mi-hyun and other members of the group over a period of four years.
From this collage of verité-style footage we see how early protests and night walks to reclaim the streets turned into various strategies in terms of public outreach: concerts, gatherings, and daytrips soon become the norm. Music, art and sport play a big role at making the subject of feminism easy to approach for women and children.
While all of the events are based on women’s bodies and society’s attitudes to them, strategies vary and publicity stunts like “Free the Nipple,” which targets the sexualisation of women’s breasts, are followed by open art exhibitions dedicated to menstruation and more academic talks of sexuality and history of male control over sex.
While this varied approach to the topic is nothing new, the techniques and the inclusive attitudes on display are unique to the netfemi (netfeminists) generation that Yun Ga-hyun and her friends belong to. Thus the value of the film lies in showing their moment of collectivism in action, their openness and dedication to recording everything for transmission over social media aiding in collecting a wealth of material for people to examine as to how to broach these topics in Korean society.
As with all progressive movements, we see backlash from the more reactionary and also the hypocrisy of society as and the film features pushback from authorities and men who feel threatened by the women speaking out. Threats of sexual violence are chillingly used and there are clear examples of how interpretations of obscenity laws and social mores, as dictated by Facebook mods, create avenues for hypocritical treatment of women. These reactions end up proving the need for this social movement.
Behind all of this are the personal stories of the women who are open about their thoughts and the impact the events had on them, how it is to live in a society that is controlling and how they see a way out.
Their openness leads to deeply personal revelations such as suffering physical abuse at the hands of a partner and the quest to overcome that situation. This is a reminder that women of all kinds suffer abuse and it happens in everyday settings. It also leads to a hopeful story of learning to take back control through harnessing intimidating but crucial aspects of society such as the law and politics and the that push into politics shows the way to fight back against misogyny. Most importantly, it shows the profound positive impact that working in solidarity with others can have. In an age of conservative backlash against minorities of all sorts, Boundary: Flaming Feminist Action can be learned from.
Boundary: Flaming Feminist Action took the Best Korean Documentary Award at the 2021 DMZ International Documentary Film Festival.
¹ The ongoing assault on women’s reproductive rights in America and high rates of femicide in France and elsewhere are examples.