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Why Are We Ignoring the Disturbing Allegations In opposition to ‘Squid Recreation’ Star Lee Jung-jae?

Photo Illustration by Kelly Caminero/The Daily Beast/Getty

Photograph Illustration by Kelly Caminero/The Day by day Beast/Getty

Lee Jung-jae took dwelling Excellent Lead Actor in a Drama Sequence at Monday night time’s Emmys for his function in Netflix’s international smash Squid Recreationbesting the likes of Higher Name Saul‘s Bob Odenkirk and Succession‘s Jeremy Robust and Brian Cox. Within the course of, he made historical past as the primary Asian man to win the Lead Actor Emmy.

For his function as Seong Gi-hun, a divorced father and deep-in-debt gambler who’s lured right into a lethal recreation of survival with an enormous money prize, Lee has emerged because the breakout star of Squid Recreation, which nonetheless ranks as Netflix’s most-watched sequence ever (although he is had a storied profession in Korea for many years, together with Grand Bell and Baeksang awards). Lee is arguably essentially the most recognizable Korean actor on the earth proper now—and his star will rise even increased after touchdown a number one function in The Acolytean upcoming starwars Present.

But when we’ll use Lee to have fun all the pieces that is nice and totally different about Korean TV, we additionally have to acknowledge all the pieces else he represents—together with how, just like the West, male Korean stars get pleasure from the advantages of an trade that bends over backward to guard and protect their picture.

In 1999, Lee was arrested by Gangnam Police for driving below the affect and inflicting a collision with one other driver, a 23-year-old girl. His blood alcohol content material was 0.22 p.c (in South Korea, the restrict is 0.05 p.c). Lee refuted the cost, claiming his supervisor was driving. Three years later, he was charged with the identical offense.

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That very same 12 months, in 1999, he and a buddy drunkenly attacked one other man and have been charged with assault. He was charged with assault once more the next 12 months after he allegedly dragged a 22-year-old girl from a nightclub in Busan and kicked her, inflicting accidents that required two weeks of restoration within the hospital.

Quick-forward to 2013 the place, in an interview with Korean Vogue, Lee appeared to out his buddy and outstanding stylist, Woo Jong-wan, quickly after his suicide. Earlier than he died, Lee claimed, “I stated to [him], ‘You need to cease being homosexual. Have not you been that approach sufficient?’” He went on to explain Woo’s homosexuality as an “inconvenience.” The quotes have been subsequently pulled from on-line variations of the interview.

Followers argue that it was so way back that it does not matter. Certainly, we should always acknowledge and encourage progress if we see it. However we’ve not. Lee hasn’t wrestled with the allegations in interviews or shared any details about steps he is taken to rehabilitate himself; as a substitute, they have been all however swept below the rug. Nor do we all know if that is the sum of Lee’s previous of him. We are able to solely choose what we see and, as you may in all probability inform from these quotes disappearing, what we see of Korean stars is closely curated—by the movie and TV trade, by the media, and by followers.

This is not solely distinctive to Korea. It’s, in some ways, common to modern-day celebrities. However whereas this sort of reputational smoothing within the West usually facilities on humanizing celebs, in Korea it is about shoring up an unrealistic, aspirational supreme that can not be compromised.

In spite of everything, after we acknowledge public figures as human beings, it is simpler to connect their transgressions onto them. In Korea, crimson flags are fastidiously hidden below layers of branding that may be inconceivable to dislodge—not less than for those who’re a person.

The leeway Lee has loved over these stories has been in comparison with Johnny Depp. It is the identical sort of entrenched, manufactured picture that enables Depp’s followers to utterly dismiss overwhelming proof of his abuses of him —and even sanction it.

So, too, do Lee’s followers casually ignore stories of his assaults and homophobia. Who cares? they ask, much more with the picture they’ve helped assemble over time. This sort of violence merely does not gel with the Lee Jung-jae they’ve satisfied themselves they know, pushed by the sprawling tendrils of misogyny that shield males within the movie and TV trade throughout the globe.

The identical misogyny that insulates Lee from these stories implies that, in Korea, males can survive accusations of sexual harassment and assault whereas rumors of bullying can derail Search engine marketing Ye-ji’s profession, or Track Ji-a carrying pretend designer garments causes her to be branded dishonest and chase off social media.

This similar misogyny permits Depp to proceed to collect endorsements and appearing gigs whereas Amber Heard could by no means work within the trade once more—and different males use her as a option to vilify their very own accusers.

It is simple for Western audiences to overlook all of this whereas watching Korean tv, dropping oneself in a tradition about which so many people know treasured little. But when we’ll interact with Korean TV (and we should always, it is unbelievable) we have to perceive that what we’re seeing is a fastidiously constructed fabrication of what Korea ought to appear like, the place something that may be considered a blemish is censored out of exhibits. And its stars are equally insulated from concepts that run opposite to Korean beliefs—as an example, that one in all Korea’s greatest stars won’t be as clean-cut as managers, assistants, and minders need him to look.

I would like individuals to fall in love with Korean TV—it is a rewarding love affair—and welcome the success of its stars in a worldwide market. However we additionally should perceive that beneath ostensibly feel-good tales of males like Lee Jung-jae attaining international stardom, there might be simply as a lot darkness as there may be in locations like Hollywood.

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