Top 10 entertainment news: Unwed celebrity becomes mom – Korea Times

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A screen capture of Sayuri from Instagram
A screen capture of Sayuri from Instagram


Gripped by pandemic, 2020 sees peaks and valleys in entertainment

By Park Ji-won

The year 2020 has been tough for everyone due to the spread of COVID-19. In the entertainment scene, TV shows were canceled or delayed and stars lost their chances to shine.

Comedian Park Ji-sun and her mother were found dead at their home, breaking hearts of her fans. She made others laugh but in her private life, she had been grappling with an unspeakable pain caused by a medical condition, which was severe enough for her to cut her life short.

Award-winning filmmaker Kim Ki-duk died of medical complications while being treated after he tested positive for the coronavirus.

Celebrity Buddhist monk Haemin was back in the spotlight. He quit his TV show as a controversy erupted over his materialistic lifestyle. Haemin’s frequent media exposure and his way of life which seemed to have gone against his preaching on the virtue of living free of material possessions sparked a debate as some are cynically asking if a Buddhist monk who didn’t properly finish all the required training still deserves to be called a monk.

Below are the top 10 news stories that stirred the entertainment industry this year.


1 Unwed celebrity mom
Japanese-born TV personality Sayuri, also known as Sayuri Fujita, surprised many in November as she revealed that she gave birth recently after becoming pregnant via donor insemination in Japan.

Shamefully, in Korea there is still severe social stigma associated with having a child out of wedlock and it has been technically impossible since 2005 for an unmarried woman to access in vitro fertilization procedures as relevant regulations only support couples.

Against the backdrop of a record low annual birthrate of 0.92 in 2019 and 0.84 in the third quarter this year, the Japanese personality becoming a mother stirred debates over various topics surrounding single parenthood, reproductive rights, abortion issues, laws oppressive to women and matters of social welfare.

Many, including legislators, supported her decision. The ruling Democratic Party of Korea pledged to start a discussion on improving laws to support families and to expand the very narrow Korean definition of family. But still many including Christian groups criticized her move saying that a child cannot be raised without a father.

A screen capture of Sayuri from Instagram
Leenalchi, an alternative pop band consisting of seven musicians, rehearses at the band’s studio in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, July 2. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk


2 Traditional music fascinates global fans

BTS’ Suga, known as Agust D, released the song «Daechwita» in May. The song sampled an audio clip of «Daechwita,» a Korean style of traditional military band music. The traditional music, which was not well-known even among Koreans, garnered international attention thanks to the star’s use of the sample, with 171.6 million views on YouTube as of Dec. 16.

Korean traditional music was brought to the fore in other popular songs as well. A series of Korean tourism promotion videos featuring alternative pop band Leenalchi and the Ambiguous Dance Company had an unexpected success. As of Nov. 16, one of its videos promoting Seoul attracted 44.3 million views on YouTube. Not only are the videos featuring both traditional tourism spots and urban destinations of Korea, but the band’s addictive songs based on traditional pansori narratives and dancers’ costumes inspired by traditional hanbok also enthralled viewers.

Coreyah, a Korean gugak (traditional Korean music) crossover band, also performed on NPR’s Tiny Desk, one of the most famous international platforms for music lovers, the second Korean group to do so after SsingSsing and before BTS, showing how traditional rhythms and instruments can be relevant in the modern age as well.

3 Filmmaker caught in #MeToo dies

The COVID-19 pandemic took the life of controversial Korean filmmaker Kim Ki-duk. He died from medical complications in Latvia on Dec. 11 while being treated after he tested positive for the coronavirus. Few openly paid tribute to the award-winning filmmaker after his death.

Kim rose to international prominence for grabbing awards in several world-class film festivals, including Cannes. But at home, his reputation was far from positive.

He was accused of having sexually abused several actresses and female workers working on his film projects, allegations he denied. He filed a lawsuit against the actress, an alleged victim and MBC which aired an investigative report about Kim’s sexual misconduct in 2018 but it was rejected. He left Korea to undertake film projects in Kazakhstan and then Latvia and his life came to an end as he was struck by the pandemic.

A screen capture of Sayuri from Instagram
A program for the funeral service for comedian Park Ji-sun and her mother held at Ewha Womans University Medical Center, Seoul, is shown in this Nov. 2. Joint Press Corps screen capture.

4 Comedian found dead

On Nov. 2, a short news story shocked the nation with reports that comedian Park Ji-sun and her mother were found dead at her home. As there was no evidence of a break-in and a note was found, authorities decided not to conduct an autopsy on her.

The exact cause of her death was not revealed upon her family’s request. She had been?suffering from severe skin allergies and could not even wear makeup, according to her past interviews.

It came as a surprise, as the 35-year-old star was one of the most famous comedians in the country for her versatile talents, winning several comedy awards. She had been considered a positive role model for teenagers. In recent years, she had been actively emceeing a variety of K-pop showcases and appearing in entertainment shows and radio programs.

Her colleagues and the public were saddened by the news for days. Some of her colleagues broke down during a radio show after hearing the news and had to stop broadcasting. Park and her mother’s funeral, which was held at the same time, was crowded with celebrities and fans. Netizens continued to offer their condolences in various online communities.

Meanwhile, actress Oh In-hye, who was found unconscious at her home in Incheon in July, died in hospital in September. She had been suffering from depression, according to police.

5 Old-fashioned TV show survives digital era

KBS’ «National Singing Contest,» the country’s longest-running singing competition, marked its 40th anniversary in November.

Hosted by Song Hae, a 93-year-old veteran emcee and singer, the show has been loved by many for showing the talents of ordinary people on stage throughout the nation. Some participants became famous singers and celebrities after appearing on the program such as trot singer Jang Yoon-jeong, actor and CEO Hong Seok-cheon, comedian Kim Shin-young and K-pop singer Seung-hee of OH MY GIRL.

The show was also filmed in Pyongyang in Aug. 11, 2003, in commemoration of the 58th anniversary of Korea’s liberation. The show was co-organized and directed by the North’s Korean Central TV and released on the same day in both Koreas.

Song has had a long-standing career as the show’s emcee since 1980.

6 Freedom of expression at stake?

A webcomic creator and TV show co-host sparked debate about freedom of expression.

As Korean webcomics boom in popularity, the boundaries of freedom of expression have been questioned as more authors were criticized for misogynistic, violent and abusive content in their work.

In an episode of «Bokhak Wang,» or «King of the Returnees,» by Kian 84, who is also a TV personality appearing on multiple TV shows, depicted a female character exploiting her sex appeal to gain favor from a male senior. Recent episodes of «Hellper 2 ― Killberos,» by SSAK showed too many details of torturing a kidnapped elderly woman while including conversations between male characters discussing ways to rape minors and a scene where a female middle school student is sexually harassed.

Many readers filed complaints with Naver, its publisher, for failing to edit such violent details, prompting censorship and apologies from the company. Activists also started boycotting the company for profiting from the abusive content and many readers also joined the boycott. However, it also drew a backlash from writers who claim that freedom of expression should be respected.

A screen capture of Sayuri from Instagram
Ven. Haemin gives a lecture at the Shilla Hotel in Jung District, Seoul, Jan. 14, 2015. Korea Times photo by Shin Sang-s00n


7 Celebrity Buddhist monk quits TV show

Popular Buddhist and lecturer Ven. Haemin’s «materialistic life» has been making headlines since November.

Harvard-educated Ven. Haemin’s house with a Seoul view that was seen on TV earlier in November triggered public criticism about the legitimacy of his adherence to Buddhist moral precepts and using his position for making money. Many pointed out that it is inappropriate for a monk to own property, which is not allowed for members of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, the largest order of Buddhism here.

As the controversy continued, some reports also revealed that he owns a studio apartment in New York and makes money for his lectures which he uses for his personal interests.

8 New hallyu

Prompted by the popularity of K-pop sensation BTS and TWICE, the fandom of hallyu, or the Korean wave, was expended to almost all age groups.

BTS’ fourth Japanese album «Map of the Soul: 7 ― The Journey» topped Japan’s Oricon chart for weeks while many of the top videos on the top 10 lists with Netflix Japan were Korean dramas until recently, including «Crash Landing on You,» «It’s Okay to Not Be Okay» and «Itaewon Class.»

Japanese media are calling the resurgence of Korean music and dramas in Japan «the third wave of hallyu.»

The first wave began in the late 1990s with the unprecedented popularity of the KBS TV series «Winter Sonata.» The second wave began in the mid-2010s with the strong showing of K-pop bands on Japan’s music charts. Boy band TVXQ and girl groups Girls’ Generation and KARA were the most popular groups, broadening the hallyu fan base.

9 Stars caught for gambling, drugs, sex crimes

As is 2019, a number of celebrities came under scrutiny for criminal activity. Last year, Seungri, former member of K-pop boy band BIGBANG, shocked the country in a scandal that read like a movie script as it involved multiple cases of rape and other forms of sexual violence against women, illegal drugs and drugging of club patrons, police corruption and brutality and local government corruption ― all centered on his now infamous night club, Burning Sun. Park Yoo-chun, an actor and former member of TVXQ and JYJ, was sentenced last July to a 10-month prison term, suspended for two years, on drug charges, which prompted him to retire.

This year, comedians Kim Hyung-in and Choi Jae-wook were accused of running illegal gambling centers and making money out of them as brokers. K-pop singers Jung Yoon-hak and Kim Sung-je of Supernova were also charged with illegal gambling in the Philippines between 2016 and 2018.

Rapper Owen has been thrown out of the latest season of the popular hip-hop audition show «Show Me The Money» in October after a drug offense last year was revealed. He is suspected of having smoked marijuana in his recording studio in August and September last year with four other rappers from his agency MKIT RAIN ― Nafla, Loopy, BLOO and Young West.

Whee-sung, a singer, was investigated over allegations he bought and used an illegal drug, according to Gyeongbuk Provincial Police Agency in March however he was cleared of the charges.

10 Girl group member accused of bullying

In 2012, T-ara, then one of the leading girl groups, was caught in a rumor that members of the group bullied rookie member Ryu Hwa-young. After the rumor spread, the popularity of the group fell, and the band ended up being shunned by TV shows.

Another bullying allegation emerged in the K-pop industry. Mina, who quit K-pop girl group AOA in May 2019, accused leader Jimin in July of bullying her over the past 10 years. Due to the bullying, Mina had even considered suicide. After the revelation, Jimin went to see Mina and apologized.

After the release of a statement admitting that the leader bullied the former member, Jimin left the group in July.

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