South Korea has only recently taken homosexuality off its list of “unacceptable social acts,” but now the conservative country has picked a gay themed production as its Foreign Language Film submission for next year’s Oscars.

The film, King and Clown, has been a surprise hit in South Korea selling over 12 million tickets, and now it hopes to follow the success of gay themed cowboy movie Brokeback Mountain which proved a hit at the Academy Awards this year.

The Korean Film Council made the announcement today, citing its “overall aesthetic and commercial quality, its potential to be selected for the final five nominations, the director’s reputation, and the film’s overseas potential.”

Directed by Lee Joon-ik, King and the Clown is set in the court of a mad king and centres around a love triangle involving an attractive young jester. The film sold over 12 million tickets in early 2006 and set a new box office record.

The success of King and the Clown comes as a huge surprise to the film’s director, Lee Jun-ik. He said he feels it comes from the audience’s enjoyment at seeing a window into palace life and the class differences between the aristocracy and lowly clowns, not because of the gay theme.

Actor Lee Jun-gi, who plays the clown Kong-gil, said he has enjoyed the growing popularity because of the film. “I feel proud of creating a unique character,” he told the Associated Press. Hahn Chae-yun, director of the Korean Sexual Minority Culture and Rights Centre, noted the touching story and film’s direction were the real reason for its success – but he said he hopes this film will open minds.

“I hope people’s views toward homosexual love could be more broad-minded, and treated the same as love between others, through this success of the movie,” Mr Hahn said.

Homosexuality has only gained acceptance in recent years in South Korean society, with its strict Confucian traditions and strong Roman Catholic Church, It was still on a list of “socially unacceptable sexual acts” until April 2004.