Entertainment stars and documentaries have been thought to be an odd combination, but that perception is now changing. Recently, stars have not only been lending their voices to, appearing in and producing documentaries, but are also becoming the subjects themselves.
◇ Celebrities taking active part in making documentaries
It is no longer unusual for a star to narrate a documentary, as the genre is trying to appeal to more viewers regardless of the topic dealt with.
Actor Kim Sang-kyung
recently narrated a "MBC Special" program investigating an arson incident in a crammed residence in Nonhyeon-dong, Seoul in February. Comedienne Kim Mi-hwa
, TV show host Kim Sung-joo
, and actor Lee Beom-soo
lent their voices to the MBC medical documentary "Doctors", and actor Ahn Sung-ki
lent his to "Tears of the Arctic", an eye-opening documentary about arctic inhabitants which was aired on MBC late last year and received a positive response. Famous actresses Kim Hye-soo
, Kim Jung-eun
, Kim Tae-hee
and Ha Hee-ra
and actor Kim Rae-won
have also joined in on the trend.
Some have gone even farther and starred in a documentary. Actress Moon Jung-hee
appeared as an interviewer in the March 22 "SBS Special" episode about the lives of Korean actresses, and actress Myung Se-bin
will play the role of a gisaeng, or female entertainer, during the Chosun era.
◇ Celebrities starring in documentaries
More and more documentaries are covering popular stars themselves as subjects. "MBC Special" is apparently aiming to pioneer celebrity biographies in Korean, as it aired two episodes about singer Rain and actress Lee Young-ae
last year and plans to show two more episodes this year: the life stories of actor Kim Myung-min
and soccer player Park Ji-sung.
The program's producer said, "We try to take a closer look at how [the celebrities] have gotten to where they are, what significance their achievements have, and what make fans crazy about them. We hope to provide chances to understand celebrities better".
But some critics say that such documentaries only serve to praise or promote stars, and that they are no different from entertainment reporting programs.
Lee Mo-hyun, a director of "MBC Special", said, "Celebrities could not be more suitable to be the subject of a documentary, since they are the very people the public shows great interest in. It doesn't seem right to criticize our program just because it deals with celebrities. And we are trying to put the focus on unexpected sides of them and the significance they attach to their careers".
◇ Can celebrity documentaries help revive the genre?
Expectations are growing for Korean-made documentaries as they have received a positive response overseas. "The Dinosaurs of the Korean Peninsula" produced by EBS was sold at the highest-ever price for a Korean documentary at the MIPTV, which ended in Cannes, France on April 3.
But the recent financial crisis has put Korean documentary production at risk as broadcasters have to tighten their budgets. KBS has virtually suspended the production of its "Insight Asia" series, among which were the highly-regarded "Asian Corridor in Heaven" and "Noodle Road". MBC and SBS are facing similar difficulties.
Under these circumstances, people documentaries are emerging as an alternative as they cost less money to produce and attract more interest from viewers. But there are concerns that depending too much on celebrities can lose the original purpose of documentary films.
An industry source said, "Celebrities documentaries can produce more benefits than what is invested, and secure rather high viewer ratings, but they cannot be considered truly fit for the genre. We should continue to make high-quality documentaries that can compete overseas, and it's pitiful we cannot do that due to the dire situation".