Marco Berger has made his name with gay-themed fare such as Plan B, Absent and Hawaii, all of which have been interested in growing sexual tension between men. Martin Farina meanwhile brought us the documentary Fulboy, about a group of straight footballers, where the gayness came through the voyeuristic eye of the camera. Here the two Argentinian directors come together for Taekwondo, which is both voyeuristic and about sexual tension at the same time.
It’s summer, and Fer (Lucas Papa) has invited his new friend German (Gabriel Epstein), to come for a vacation at his house, where there’s a pool, sauna and a bit of luxury. There’s also a group of other young men, all of whom have known each other for years, and who have an easy camaraderie. Casual nudity is common, as is talk about sex. When together, they are partway between grown men and boys.
However, German is gay, something he hasn’t told Fer or indeed the other guys. He’s interested in Fer, but doesn’t know whether his friend is gay/bisexual or not. Rather than telling anyone, he decides to keep his sexuality to himself, while he tries to work out whether Fer might be gay or bi. That proves to be surprisingly difficult, due to mixed signals, German being afraid to make a move and the other guys displaying a casual homophobia. German may also have competition from Leo, who seems to realise what’s going on and could be keen to spoil it, whether he wants Fer for himself or not.
Although it becomes a little contrived at times, Taekwondo is a fun, entertaining film with a good sense of humour. In The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway becomes an outsider looking into a world of money and opulence. Here, German becomes a rather different kind of outsider, a gay man brought into a close-knit group of straight (or at least presumed straight) friends – he is like a spy in their midst, given a privileged yet somewhat confusing look at a world of men different from the one he’s used to.
As Martin Farina explored in Fulboy, the movie looks at a world that, through gay eyes, appears very homoerotic, but the men themselves don’t see anything sexual about it. Admittedly it is a particular type of straight group the movie is looking at, but it doesn’t take things so far that it’s a total fantasy of what gay men would like to believe straight boys are like (well, it is a little bit, but not too bad).
Throughout its running time, it builds the tension between Fer and German, where it seems the former is interested in the latter, but neither seems able to find the time, place or bravery to actually make a move, in case they get rejected. It’s something many of us will be able to empathise with, as there are few of us who haven’t spent some time trying to figure out whether someone we like is gay, without wanting to scare them off. Some may find it a little contrived that it takes so long for them both to figure things out, but it’s not actually that far-fetched.
It also uses its time to take a slightly deeper view into the world of these men. This sort of tight male bonding between young straight men isn’t actually looked at properly on screen as much as you’d think. Here you have men who are silly and often shallow, but who are close enough that they can talk about serious things too, and the film has a fun time looking at that, as they enjoy a time where they can act like kids again, but where grown up issues are starting to become more real.
To be honest though, most viewers will be more interested in the air of sexual tension, and that this is a group of good-looking young men, wearing few clothes. Shirts are the exception rather than the rule, and pretty much every character has at least one full-frontal nude scene. One of the characters, known as Fatso, has his cock flopping about on screen on numerous occasions. It’s quite telling that the movie has been given an 18 rating in the UK. The BBFC says the rating is at least partially for ‘sexualised nudity’, but that’s not because there’s a lot of actual sex going on, it’s because of how the camera views the men and their bodies. It really is a gay’s eye view, and a rather voyeuristic one.
That said, it certainly doesn’t feel like softcore porn, just that it creates a sexual atmosphere, although it’s not sexual for most of the people on the screen. It’s a largely light, sometimes funny and often charming movie. It was certainly well received at the BFI Flare London LGBT Film Festival, and it will probably be enjoyed by those who see it when it’s released on DVD in the UK on March 27th.
Overall Verdict: Entertaining and shot through with a growing sense of sexual tension – as well as a decent smattering of full frontal nudity – Taekwondo is a fun little film.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac