Grevin's Seoul museum waxes lyrical about K-pop

A boy poses for photographs next to the wax figure of South Korean singer Psy at Grevin Wax Museum in central Seoul, South Korea, on July 30, 2015.
A boy poses for photographs next to the wax figure of South Korean singer Psy at Grevin Wax Museum in central Seoul, South Korea, on July 30, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - Psy, Paris Hilton and Queen Elizabeth II all made it, but South Korean President Park Geun Hye turned down her chance of immortality in the first Asian outpost of France's famous waxwork museum, Musee Grevin, that opened in Seoul on Thursday.

The new museum's focus is firmly on the world of entertainment and, in particular, stars of the Korean Wave of pop songs and television melodramas that have become the country's most potent cultural export.

As a result, waxworks of global icons like Michael Jackson and Madonna rub shoulders with the likes of actress Choi Ji Woo, the star of one of the original Korean Wave dramas, Winter Sonata, who enjoys a major fan following in Japan.

The overseas popularity of Korean celebrities like Ms Choi and Psy was a major factor in the choice of Seoul for Grevin's first Asian museum.

"South Korea has become a major regional trend-setter and Seoul is increasingly a flagship Asian destination," said Mr Dominique Marcel, chief executive of Grevin's parent company, Compagnie des Alpes.

"Being here, we can attract not only Koreans, but also Chinese, Japanese and Taiwanese visitors," he said.

And there is the added bonus that Grevin's main competitor, Madam Tussauds, which has wax museums in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and Tokyo, has no presence in Seoul.

The timing of the Seoul opening is slightly unfortunate given the dramatic plunge in tourist arrivals to South Korea because of a recent outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) that claimed 36 lives.

But there is a promotional silver lining with Seoul tourism officials desperate to push any new project or venue that might help bring the foreign visitors back.

The Seoul museum is being run with a South Korean partner, Mast Entertainment, which was largely responsible for choosing which celebrities and historical figures to include in the initial waxwork lineup.

"Our real goal was to get those people who represent the Korean popular culture that is so dominant in Asia," said Mast chief executive Kim Yong Kwan.

According to him, some of the chosen Korean celebrities - backed by their agents - took a "very pro-active" role in how their wax likenesses were presented.

"One actress brought about four or five dresses and wanted to change them over and over and over again," he said.

While American and Chinese presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping are both represented, there is a noticeable absence of any South Korean political figures - with the exception of United States Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

"That was quite a tricky issue," Mr Kim acknowledged.

"We wanted to stay away from local politics, because it's sensitive and we wanted personalities everybody would be happy with," he added.

Nevertheless, Ms Park's office was approached about the possibility of a spot for the country's first female head of state.

"We never got a response," Mr Kim said.