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10 Hot Culture Issues in 2005

2005/12/28 Source

By Kim Tae-jong, Park Chung-a
Staff Reporters

How will you remember the year 2005? Perhaps more than other years, this year has been a roller coaster ride, full of many proud moments and shameful incidents.

As the year draws to a close, The Korea Times looks back on the 10 hottest culture issues of the year.

Korean Wave Strong in Asian Countries

"Hallyu", or the Korean wave, does not seem to be letting up as Korean pop culture continues to flow into neighboring countries.

Thousands of people from Asian countries screamed for Korean stars such as pop singers Rain and Boa and, of course, Bae Yong-joon, affectionately called Yonsama by his Japanese fans. Korean TV dramas such as "Jewel in the Palace" - "Dae Jang Geum" and "Winter Sonata" have had encore runs in Hong Kong, China and Japan.

South Korea's export of cultural contents is estimated to exceed $1 billion this year, according to Korea Culture and Contents Agency. The figure represents another hefty jump in the contents' exports for three years in a row.


The year 2005 would be remembered the worst one ever for MBC television network, as the broadcaster found itself at the center of cultural scandals and accidents. The company has made an official apology seven times and four programs had to be cancelled.

The worst year for the company started with its employees becoming involved in a bribery scandal in the middle of January this year, resulting in the cancellation of current affairs program "Shin Kang-kyun's News Service: The Truth Is".

Other accidents soon followed. In July, members of a rock band dropped their pants during a live television music program "Music Camp". In October, eleven people were trampled to death while entering a stadium for a concert hosted by the company in Sangju, North Kyongsang Province.

But the most harsh criticism came after its program "PD Notebook" raised questions about the fabrication of results in the work of stem cell pioneer Hwang Woo-suk, who was then a national hero.

`Entertainers' X-File'

The distribution of the so-called "Entertainers' X-File" on the Internet in early January created a major scandal. "X-file", is a 113-page document that contained personal information and unconfirmed rumors about the private lives of 99 major Korean celebrities.

The file created last November by Dongseo Research at the request of Cheil Communications, the biggest advertising company in Korea, was originally made to determine the value of advertising models and minimize the risk to advertisers.

However, the material included incredibly private information on top celebrities, such as the people they might have dated or slept with, if they're prone to violence and if they might be gay. Celebrities and entertainment agencies filed massive lawsuits against the top advertising company and held news conferences denying the contents of the report.

About 350 TV entertainers announced that they would boycott advertisements planned by Cheil Communications. Cheil, a subsidiary of Samsung Group, swiftly made a public apology and settled the case by making cash compensation to the victims. The entertainers subsequently called off their boycott.

`Dongmakgol' Welcomed

"Welcome to Dongmakgol", a film about Korean War soldiers from opposing sides finding refuge in a mountain village, has become the most successful film this year, drawing over 8 million moviegoers.

Thanks to the film's unexpected success, the market share of the local movies have maintained slightly over 50 percent despite a series of failures of several big-budget films such as "Rikidozan" and "Antarctic Journal" in the first half of this year.

In addition to "Welcome to Dongmakgol", films with limited production budget and no big stars, such as "Running Boy" - "Marathon", "Marrying the Mafia II" and "Mapado", were also unexpectedly successful, each drawing over 3 million moviegoers.

New Home for National Museum of Korea

The National Museum of Korea finally moved to its new home in Yongsan, Seoul, on Oct. 28. Since then, it has already drawn over 1 million visitors.

The construction of the new museum began in October 1997 in a move to relocate it from its previous building that was built by the Japanese colonial government at Kyongbok Palace.

The venue is the largest in Asia and the world's sixth largest in size, and displays some 11,000 artifacts of its 150,000 piece collection, including "Pukkwan Taechop-bi", a 300-year-old stone monument that was returned by Japan this year.

To help visitors appreciate historical relics at the museum, a digital navigation system guides them through the museum, and mobile gadgets like MP3 players and PDPs help visitors explore their preferred courses and get information about the artifacts.

Frankfurt Book Fair

South Korea took a part in the annual Frankfurt Book Fair as the guest of honor for the first time since the nation started participating in 1961.

Prior to the fair, which took place from Oct. 19 to 23, concerns were raised over the short time available to prepare for the showcasing of the country's literary history and the promoting of the local publishing industry at the international gathering. However, South Korea received positive responses as it offered the world a chance to taste the unique characteristics of Korean literature and culture.

Also, the event reminded Koreans of the importance of quality translations for Korean literature. When Korean poet Ko Un failed to win a Nobel Prize in literature, many spoke of the lack of good translations of Korean literature as the major obstacle for it to go global.

Kim Sam-soon syndrome

This summer was heated up by the "Kim Sam-soon syndrome", sparked by the popularity of the MBC television drama "My Lovely Sam-soon" - "My Name is Kim Sam-soon" Its main character Sam-soon, played by actress Kim Sun-ah, was a 30-year-old single woman who had no university education, was slightly overweight and came from a fatherless family _ all regarded as negative traits in Korea. But she was always confident and outspoken, and for that, was touted by her fans as helping break down stereotypes about women. The show surpassed 50 percent of the total viewer ratings in its final week, a feat achieved by only five other drama series since 2000. It also gave rise to multiethnic actor-model Daniel Henney, who starred in the drama as a kindhearted Korean-American doctor.

The main characters' lines have dominated online bulletin boards. Inquiries about pastry chef courses have doubled, and bread sales have risen. The heroine, Sam-soon, was a pasty chef.

In bookstores, the original novel of the same title and the German children's novel, "Momo", shown in the drama, have become bestsellers.

`Dog-poop Girl'

In June, a dog defecated on the floor of the subway train and the dog's owner refused to clean it up, despite the requests of other passengers. A bystander took a photograph of the dog owner and posted it on the Internet, in an attempt to publicly shame her.

The ploy was successful. Anonymous Internet users harshly attacked her, and named her "Dog-poop girl". Unconfirmed rumors and private information about the woman quickly spread throughout the Internet. Considering that the story will live in cyberspace for a long time, it was a devastating attack on the dog owner.

The incident sparked a debate on the danger of anonymous postings by Internet users how the Internet is being used for enforcing social norms.

Top Actress Commits Suicide

The suicide of popular television and film actress Lee Eun-ju in February sent shockwaves throughout the nation. The fact that this 24-year-old beautiful actress at the peak of her career suddenly killed herself left many Koreans at a total loss. With the reason for her suicide still unclear, rumors about her death continues to circulate. While her family claimed that she suffered from hypochondria and was depressed over her sexually explicit role in her last movie "The Scarlet Letter", others claimed that she could not bear the heavy burden of paying off her family debt.

The most controversial incident regarding her death occurred when Cheon In-kwon, a 50-year-old rock singer and a divorcee, claimed that he had had a previously unpublicized romantic relationship with the late actress, shaking up the entertainment industry and sparking an uproar from her fans. He said they were romantically involved for four years, right up until the actress committed suicide.

Lee starred in such hit films as "Taegukgi" (2004) and "Bungee jumping of their own" (2000) as well as the MBC television drama "Phoenix" - "Firebird (Pulsae)".

Forged Masterpieces

The biggest shock of Korean art community this year was the controversy over forged paintings of Korea's leading artists Lee Joong-sup (1916-1956) and Park Soo-keun (1914-1965). The incident became one of the largest forgery cases in Korean art history and it clearly showed the domestic art market's lack of ability to judge authentic artworks as well as problems regarding circulation of artworks.

Controversy over the authenticity of the paintings began when Lee's family put eight of his paintings, including the famous "Fish and Child", up for sale at a leading auction house in Seoul. After four pieces were sold, the Korean Art Appraisal Association (KAAA) claimed that the paintings sold were forged.

The controversy worsened as head of the Korean Ancient History Research Association Kim Yong-soo unveiled hundreds of paintings of Lee and Park and joined hands with Lee's family in a legal fight against the KAAA.

After conducting investigation following suits and counter suits, the prosecution announced in October that 58 works _ 30 pieces by Lee and 19 by Park _ were all counterfeits.

After the announcement, questions over an organization that produces and circulates fake paintings have been raised but no clear evidence has been found yet. As a result of the controversy, Seoul Auction President Lee Ho-jae resigned and K Auction emerged as a new competitor in the art auction industry.

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