March 8, 2009

Like a Virgin: He Made It Through the Wilderness

For gay men, Madonna has long one-upped her Biblical namesake in terms of relevance. That's because the pop star and patron saint for homos provides salvation not by promising heaven later but by rescuing from hell today. In the enchanting dramedy Like a Virgin, the singer serves as a secular icon for a transgendered youth (Ryu Deok-hwan) who's struggling to maintain his dignity as he pursues a sex change operation despite the hazing of his peers, the abandonment by his mother (Lee Sang-a), and the physical abuse from his alcoholic dad (Kim Yun-seok). Whenever his situation gets a little too hairy, he retreats to his makeup kit and a poster of the Material Girl as if they could make the world go away until he raised the funds needed to make him a woman. How he decides to earn the money strays far from the cliche, though: He joins the high school wrestling team with the hope of winning the grand prize at the championships. Ridiculous? No more so than real life, really. Writer-directors Lee Hae-jun and Lee Hae-yeong balance the serious with the silly; anguished expressions of alienation are relieved by bathroom humor and messages of acceptance and tolerance are countered by homoerotic gags and dance routines. All this one needs is more Madonna on the soundtrack.

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