Teen actresses: Where's the line?

Is it appropriate for a 17-year-old actor to be doing scenes of an adult nature? Viewers are divided

A scene had Kim binding her breasts. Seventeen- year-old actress Kim Yoo Jung had steamy scenes with her co-actor Park Bo Gum in South Korean drama Love In The Moonlight.
Seventeen- year-old actress Kim Yoo Jung had steamy scenes with her co-actor Park Bo Gum in South Korean drama Love In The Moonlight. PHOTO: VIU
A scene had Kim binding her breasts. Seventeen- year-old actress Kim Yoo Jung had steamy scenes with her co-actor Park Bo Gum in South Korean drama Love In The Moonlight.
A scene had Kim binding her breasts. PHOTO: VIU

South Korean actress Kim Yoo Jung, who is currently seen in popular ongoing period drama Love In The Moonlight, has had a number of steamy scenes in the show. The thing is, she is only 17.

And this has caused some South Korean viewers to be outraged at what they saw as exploitation of a young star.

Although Kim has been acting for more than a decade, this is her first romantic lead role. She plays an 18-year-old who cross-dresses as a eunuch to serve the crown prince, only to fall in love with him.

In the show, she romances and kisses her older co-star Park Bo Gum, 23. She is also seen binding her chest with cloth.

Despite what South Korean audiences feel, viewers in Singapore whom The Straits Times spoke to do not have issues with Kim's scenes. The show airs in Singapore on streaming site Viu and KBS World (StarHub TV Channel 815).

Secondary school student Chan Yan Yu, 16, says: "Her age does not matter if she does not have a problem with the scenes and she fits the role and plays it well."

Ms Lydia Lee, 26, a quality assurance specialist, says: "Perhaps some people are uncomfortable because it is not common for young actors to play the romantic lead in Korea. Kim Yoo Jung definitely looks older than her age. If you do not know her age, you will not be uncomfortable."

She points out that K-pop idols about Kim's age show even more skin while teen actresses in the West also act out explicit sex scenes.

American actress Brooke Shields, now 51, caused an uproar when, at the age of 12, she played a child prostitute in the American historical drama Pretty Baby (1978). At 14, she continued her nude streak as a shipwrecked teen in the coming-of-age flick The Blue Lagoon (1980).

Hongik University assistant professor Lee Soo Jin says only a small section of South Korean TV viewers objected to Love In The Moonlight.

The Seoul-based liberal arts professor tells The Straits Times in an e-mail: "This is kind of similar to K-pop girl group members - teenage girls who enter the adult business world and begin training at a very early age and perform suggestive choreography while wearing sexy clothes.

"Nowadays, people do not criticise that as much as they used to 10 years ago. Perhaps people have become comfortable with teenage girls doing adult things. Or people have come to acknowledge teenage performers' professionalism."

Young actors, too, think that it is okay to do whatever the script requires - such as intimate scenes - as long as it is in the name of work.

Home-grown actress Carrie Wong was 20 when she was asked to act a rape scene in Mediacorp Channel 8's period drama The Journey: Tumultuous Times (2014).

Her character, feisty dessert hawker Tang Shui Mei, was caught in a feud between rival gangsters and was sacrificed. Tang agreed to do the scene because she felt it was vital to the plot.

"My parents didn't say anything about the scene. It's just acting. I love acting and I would love to try new things and challenge myself. I do not have any no-go areas and I do think that I am quite bold," says Wong, now 22.

Her convincing act as the ill-fated Tang earned her a Best Supporting Actress nomination at last year's Star Awards.

Mediacorp says it takes extra precaution when working with teen actors. Its young Channel 5 and 8 stars will not find vulgarities in their scripts, for example, and intimate scenes are kept to a minimum.

Producers and directors, too, ensure actors are comfortable with a scene before going ahead with filming and, if required, a body double may stand in for the young actor.

Home-grown film director Jack Neo, who often uses teen actors in his movies, says the key is to keep the young talents and their parents informed of exactly what is required of a role.

For his movie We Not Naughty (2012), a scene required an actress, then 16, to shave off her hair.

Neo, 56, says: "Besides discussing issues with her parents, I made it a point to talk to the actress. If she had the slightest doubt, we would not have gone ahead."

• Love In The Moonlight airs on streaming site Viu (www.viu.com). It also airs on KBS World (StarHub TV Channel 815) on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, at 8.50pm.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2016, with the headline Teen actresses: Where's the line?. Subscribe