By Han Eun-jung
and Choi Ji-woo
and their television drama "Kyoul Yonga (Winter Sonata
)" are now synonymous with the "Hallyu (Korean Wave)" phenomenon, becoming by far the most talked-about names on Asia's pop culture front. However, whether or not the two actors should be awarded an order of merit from the government for their success is becoming a point of contention in the media and online.
The debate began in late December in Seoul, when Culture and Tourism Minister Chung Dong-chea said during an annual year-end press luncheon that his ministry was actively considering awarding Bae an Order of Culture Merit, the highest honor the country bestows upon those who have made contributions in the field of culture and the arts. The ministry announces the recipient roster every fall.
Though the issue is yet to see further discussion at an official level, with the ministry declining to make further comment, the matter has increasingly become the subject of popular debate, being picked up by local sports tabloids, Internet sites and message boards.
The Web site Pollever (www.pollever.com) is conducting an ongoing online survey asking users whether they think Bae and Choi should receive the Order of Culture Merit. As of yesterday afternoon, 70 percent of the 624 respondents replied that giving Bae and Choi plaques as a gesture of appreciation would be sufficient rather than the highest award. Nineteen percent, or 117 people, voiced that they felt the actors were worthy of the prestigious honor, whereas 12 percent thought the two deserved no recognition from the government.
On one side of the debate stands those who say that Bae, known as "Yonsama" throughout Japan, deserved to receive the award for his part in increasing understanding between South Korea and Japan, achieving more than political and diplomatic efforts have over the years.
On the other hand, some have said awarding pop icons like Bae and Choi with the nation's highest cultural honor is going overboard and brought up the possibility that the country would look as if it were committing an act of self-praise, which in the long run would have a negative effect on the nation's image.
Last year the Order of Culture Merit was given to 37 people from various fields, including literature, dance and the fine arts. Film director Kim Ki-duk
, who won the best director prize at the Venice and Berlin Film Festivals, was one of the recipients. No one from television received the award.
The Hyundai Research Institute, a research organization of the Hyundai group, reported in December that the economic effect from "Winter Sonata
" was estimated at 1 trillion won in Korea and more than 2 trillion won in Japan. Half of the Japanese respondents to a December survey conducted by the NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute admitted that "Winter Sonata
" was the reason behind the heightened interest in Korean language and culture.