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[YEAR-END REVIEW]Shocks, embarrassments, disappointments

2005/12/26 Source

This is the fifth part of a series of articles reviewing Korea's culture scene this year. - Ed.

By culture staff

Suicide of top actress

One of the most negative events that hit the country's movie industry this year was the death of Lee Eun-joo, a top actress known for her supporting role in the 2004 Korean blockbuster film "Taegukgi".

Her suicide sent shock waves through the film industry and a number of people including her friends, fans and other actors expressed deep sadness.

But a bigger problem came shortly after the local news media spotlighted her last role. She starred in "The Scarlet Letter", a provocative thriller, in 2004, and rumors swirled that she suffered from stresses involving the explicit scenes of the film.

In the movie, Lee plays Ka-hee, a secret lover for a ranking detective who seems to have everything he desires. But the story moves toward a tragic end at a precipitous pace, with the cop's complicated relationships touching off unforeseen events.

Although Lee had to get involved with some grisly scenes including a bloody one inside a car trunk, critics hailed her versatility as a top-tier actress who knew when to express strong emotions for making a better film.

Lee, in particular, left a lasting impression by playing the role of a woman who was multi-faceted and passionate enough to risk her life and move forward even though she sensed ominous signs in her secret relationships.

Her ardent fans were extremely upset as a handful of newspapers and magazines focused entirely on the last message she left, suggesting that she might have felt depressed over the role in "The Scarlet Letter", but there was no definitive evidence that the film indeed pushed the 25-year-old actress to commit suicide.

Critics said such rumors undermined Lee's reputation and some reports exaggerating the message were irresponsible.

Yet fans and critics didn't expect what would happen next. Jeon In-kwon, a 51-year-old singer, claimed that he was in love with Lee, shaking up the entertainment industry and sparking an uproar from her fans.

Lee, a divorcee, came under severe attack from the media and fans since his claim was not substantiated, and Lee's close friends argued Jeon was just a stalker.

The rate of suicide temporarily shot up in the wake of Lee's death, police reported, suggesting that some people might be tempted to imitate the death of such a famous actress.

Actors caught drunk driving

But bewildering cases indicating the frailty of human nature were never in short supply in the film industry. Veteran actor Heo Joon-ho, who played the role of a cop in "Never to Lose", a police thriller, in September, was caught for drunk driving just when the movie was released nationwide. Fully intoxicated, he drove his Cadillac SUV into two cars on the street, injuring a driver and setting one of the cars on fire.

In the film, Heo was a really good cop, who was willing to risk his life to catch criminals and enforce justice for society. In the real world, Heo's arrest turned out to be more than a simple embarrassment and disappointment for the police department which didn't spare its support for the film. He was even designated as an "honorary policeman" ahead of the release of the film.

But Heo was not alone in the drunk driving scandal. Song Kang-ho, one of the top actors, was also caught for driving under the influence of alcohol in Suwon in early November. Other drunk-driving actors include Kwon Hae-hyo and Jo Han-sun.

Insiders in the entertainment industry argued that actors are likely to slip into the temptation of drunk driving because they are reluctant to reveal their private life and want to drive home themselves without calling paid designated drivers when they are drunk.

Punk band's TV flashing

In July, two members of the independent band Couch shocked TV viewers by dropping their pants and dancing with their genitals exposed during their performance on major broadcaster MBC's live show "Music Camp". The flashing scene, the first of its kind on a live Korean broadcast, was aired for about five seconds, sparking outrage from viewers who bombarded the internet website of the program with complaints.

The two Couch members, identified by their family names Shin and Oh, admitted they planned the exposure before the broadcast in order to "have fun", and were sentenced to 10 and eight months of imprisonment, respectively.

MBC made a public apology immediately after the broadcast and abolished the show, which had been one of its most popular music shows especially among teens.

The incident snowballed into a bigger controversy as police expanded its investigation to the clubbing district in the Hongdae area, as the two musicians stated that such performances were common at clubs there. Underground bands in Hongdae opposed the investigation, asserting that it was an unfair blacklisting for other musicians in the area.

Show biz 'X-files'

The world of show business rattled in January as a 112-page in-depth report concerning 99 celebrities - so-called the "x-file" - was disclosed to the public through the internet.

The controversy over the report continued to rock the entertainment circle for quite a while as the documents lifted the veil on the celebrities, including sex scandal rumors.

Celebrities and entertainment agencies filed massive lawsuits seeking damages for the unauthorized release of the report, commissioned by the nation's top advertising company Cheil Communications and drawn up by Deongseo Research.

Several TV celebrities held news conferences denying the content of the report, and about 350 TV entertainers later announced to boycott advertisements planned by Cheil Communications. It was the first time that a throng of entertainers had boycotted a certain advertising agency.

Cheil, a subsidiary of Samsung Group, which has a 17 percent share of the local ad market, apologized for the disclosure of the report and hurriedly settled the case by making cash compensation to the entertainers damaged by the leak of the file.

Cancellations of concerts

From early this year, the country's performing arts fans had anticipated a rare pleasure from the concert of legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone and 90 musicians of the Rome Symphony Orchestra, which was scheduled for Sept. 24.

The concert that would have been the first and last chance for many Korean fans of the composer and his music to see him face to face was, however, canceled only two days before the scheduled date as a local agency failed to pay due commission to Morricone's agent.

The happening humiliated the entire local performing arts industry, but that was only the beginning.

In October, one of the world's leading dramatic sopranos, Gwyneth Jones, canceled her concert on the very day of her concert due to what organizers said was her health condition. Most recently, a year-ending joint concert of Korean boy bands - Super Junior, V.O.S. and Dongbangshingi and more - which was scheduled for Dec. 11, was suddenly canceled amid the tug of war between one of the bands' agents and the host of the concert over the hegemony of the event.

R&B girl band Big Mama canceled their first U.S. concert scheduled on Dec. 7 and 9 in Washington D.C. and New York, respectively, as the concert's American agent failed to pay the promised commission.

The reasons seem to vary in each case, but one thing is common: The biggest victims are none other than the fans.

Tragedy at concert venue

Thousands of concertgoers trying to get into a stadium On Oct. 3 started fell on each other, leaving 11 dead and 72 injured. The tragic accident happened in Sangju, North Gyeongsang Province, located about 265 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

The city's lack of experience in organizing such large events, which allowed seating on a first-come, first-served basis, played a part in the tragedy, but more than that, the accident was the result of the public's lack of safety awareness, a profit-obsessed regional government and broadcasters caring too much about ratings.

The concert organizers expected about 20,000 people to attend the free concert at the public outdoor stadium, but there were only eight safety staffs at the stadium to keep order then.

Although there were 15 police officers and about 100 employees of the organizing company at the stadium, all were placed near the stage to safeguard VIPs coming to watch the concert. The organizing company was reportedly managed by a brother-in-law of Sangju Mayor Kim Keun-soo and had no experience of organizing such a big event.

Forged masterpieces

"Fish and Child", one of the artworks engulfed by a forgery scandal
The biggest controversy gripping the Korean art circles in 2005 was over forged paintings of Korean art masters Lee Joong-sub (1916-1956) and Park Soo-keun (1914-1965). Experts say one of the largest-ever forgery cases in Korean art history showed that the domestic art market was not mature enough to have a right system to judge authentic artworks.

Lee Joong-sup, the short-lived artist, is one of Korea's most famous modernist painters. His artworks are rare and forgeries abundant.

The dispute over the authenticity of the paintings started when the family of Lee Joong-sup put up Lee's eight paintings including the famous "Fish and Child" for sale at a leading auction house in Seoul. When four pieces were sold, the Korean Art Appraisal Association claimed that the four paintings sold were forged.

The controversy over the authenticity escalated when the 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 countersuits, the prosecution announced in October that 58 works - 30 pieces by Lee and 19 by Park - were all counterfeits.

After the announcement, questions over a possible existence of a ring producing fake paintings have been raised but no clear conclusion is made yet. The prosecution is still continuing the investigation, confiscating a total of 2,704 paintings.

Amid the controversy, Seoul Auction President Lee Ho-jae resigned and K Auction emerged as a new competitor in the art auction industry.

Meanwhile, Park Soo-keun's oil painting "Woman in the Market" was sold at the highest-ever bidding price, 900 million won, at a local auction on Dec. 14.

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