Squid Game actor Oh Young-soo, 78, goes on sex crime trial this week

Squid Game actor Oh Young-soo has denied any wrongdoing, but he has already faced fallout since being charged. PHOTO: NETFLIX

SEOUL – He has long been regarded as one of the best stage actors in South Korea, appearing in more than 200 productions since 1968 and winning a number of awards.

In 2021, he rocketed to international fame after portraying Oh Il-nam, a wily, older contestant in the Netflix smash hit Squid Game.

On Friday, he will go on trial on charges of indecent assault. If convicted, he will be the latest example of how South Korea has tried to crack down on sex crimes as the country continues to grapple with the reverberations of the #MeToo movement.

Prosecutors charged Oh Young-soo, 78, in November 2022, after a woman filed a complaint accusing him of inappropriately touching her in 2017.

If a district judge in Suwon, about 32km south of Seoul, convicts Oh, he will face up to 10 years in prison or a fine of up to about US$12,000 (S$15,800).

Few other facts are known about the case and the incident. Court documents are unavailable by law, and the authorities have declined to offer more details about the accuser, citing their policy not to disclose any information about victims of sex crimes.

Oh has denied any wrongdoing, but has already faced fallout since being charged.

He has been excluded from the cast of a South Korean play called Love Letter, in which he had been scheduled to perform on Jan 14. The country’s Culture Ministry has also stopped airing a government commercial that had featured him.

“I rushed to request replacements as soon as I heard the news,” said Mr Lim Dong-sik, head of advertising at the broadcasting network sponsoring the play in which Oh had been cast. Mr Lim added that the allegations have tarnished Oh’s reputation.

In 2022, Oh became the first South Korean to win a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. He was also nominated for an Emmy for his performance in Squid Game, a dystopian drama that chronicles down-on-their-luck South Koreans who join a secretive, deadly contest in the hopes of winning a life-changing fortune.

The show – which struck a pop-culture nerve worldwide, becoming Netflix’s most-watched new series – featured Oh portraying a competitor known as Player 001 in the game. Netflix did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Prosecutors in Suwon pressed charges on Nov 25 after initially dropping the case.

A police station in Seongnam, a nearby city, had received the complaint from the woman in December 2021 and had immediately begun investigating the case, said Ms Jang Shin-mo, a division leader at the station. That station sent the case to the prosecutors in February 2022, but the authorities decided two months later not to press charges, she said.

The woman appealed and asked police to reopen the case in May 2022, Ms Jang said. After gathering more evidence, prosecutors pressed charges in November 2022.

People convicted of indecent assault in South Korea become registered sex offenders who are monitored by police even after completing their prison terms. First-time offenders can receive reduced sentences, such as five years, or simply a fine.

In the wake of the charges, Oh had become a particularly poor fit to appear in the play Love Letter, said Mr Lim.

The play is a romance featuring a pair of actors who take turns reading love letters to each other. Each character is married to someone else, but they exchange intimate letters throughout the span of their lives.

Mr Lim said his company decided to drop Oh from the play the day the charges were announced. Oh and the other actor who had been scheduled to appear as a pair were replaced by two other performers.

After the Culture Ministry cancelled the government advertisements featuring Oh, it said in a statement that it had done so to avoid “unnecessary controversy”. The e-mailed statement did not explicitly mention the accusations against Oh.

The ads, which had promoted regulatory reform, disappeared from government websites, official social media channels and subway stations only 11 days after they went up.

Throughout his career, Oh played supporting roles in film and television, including a part as an ageing Buddhist monk in the 2003 romance film Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... And Spring. That portrayal earned him the moniker “monk actor”, a role he would reprise in other films, television shows and commercials. NYTIMES

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