S. Korea couch casting comes to light

SEOUL • The road to stardom took a detour through the bedroom, as detailed in The New York Times' expose on the alleged sexual misbehaviour of film producer Harvey Weinstein over several decades.

In South Korea, the so-called couch casting - where actresses are forced to trade sexual favours for career advancement - has long been a heated topic in the country's film industry, though few cases have become public.

But the suicide of rookie actress Jang Ja Yeon in 2009 shocked the nation when the police began investigations. Documents emerged containing allegations of her being compelled into providing sexual favours.

She was also said to be abused and even locked up by the chief executive of her management agency, who was found guilty of assault.

In 2011, local media reported the discovery of letters that spanned more than 230 pages - allegedly handwritten by her.

The letters spoke about being pressured to offer sex to various people such as broadcasting company presidents, finance and IT company executives as well as television show producers.

The National Forensic Service deemed the letters as having been forged.

That year, local media also reported the results of a survey conducted by a union of artistes in the South Korean film and television industries.

Among the 183 who responded, 35 said they had been commanded to provide bedroom services. Another 63 people - or 34 per cent of the respondents - said they were told to "entertain" during drinking sessions with industry executives.

More recently, in August, director Kim Ki Duk was sued for assault and coercion by an actress - whose identity was not revealed by the authorities.

She said the award-winning director had slapped her and forced her to shoot an unscripted sex scene while she was working on Kim's 2013 film Moebius.

He subsequently said in a statement that he had only been coaching her in the scene.

Scandal erupted last year in the art and literature circles as well.

Last October, Ilmin Museum Of Art chief curator Ham Young Jun was accused by a number of people on social media of sexually harassing female artists. He subsequently apologised for making "physical contact" and resigned.

Writer Park Bum Shin, whose novel Eun-gyo - about a 70-year-old poet falling in love with a high school student - was made into the 2012 movie A Muse, was accused of sexually harassing co-workers and fans that same month. He later posted an apology on social media.

THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2017, with the headline 'S. Korea couch casting comes to light'. Print Edition | Subscribe