Extra! Korea

May 29, 2011

Documentary film The True Taste Show may be banned

Filed under: censorship, food, legal issues, movies — extrakorea @ 1:48 pm

Remember the upcoming documentary, The True Taste Show, in which the filmmaker alleges that restaurants pay for positive reviews on food review shows that are scripted?

On Wednesday, MBC filed an injunction with Seoul Nambu District Court to request a ban on screening the film. The network is among those identified in the film as introducing “top restaurants” that paid to be on the respective programs rather than being actual favorite restaurants.

The maker of the documentary is taking it in stride.

Director Kim Jae-hwan said he was not greatly concerned, adding, “MBC’s injunction will be a lot of help at the box office.”

[ … snip … ]

“When the court hearing begins, I will provide evidence, including recordings of promotional agency officials commissioned by the production company to handle liaison efforts between entertainers and restaurants,” Kim added.

Where and when can you watch it (provided that it doesn’t get banned by the douche-nozzles at MBC)?

It will be opening on June 2 at ten theaters nationwide, including the CGV in Seoul’s Daehangno neighborhood and the Lotte Cinema outside Konkuk University.

May 24, 2011

Will the fur fly? Lee Hyo-ri vs. fashion house Fendi

Filed under: celebrities, rapid cultural change — extrakorea @ 10:50 am

On June 2nd, on the new “floating island” in Seoul’s Han River, fashion house Fendi will hold a major fashion show. The Seoul government is hoping that it will be a successful debut for the man-made islands, and herald Seoul in as a “design city.” (Hey, let’s all be thankful that they didn’t use the word “hub” (“a hub of fashion”) or “mecca” (“a mecca of fashion”)!) The show was to showcase 60 pieces from its fall/winter collection, including 20 limited-edition fur items, be broadcast live on the Internet, and to feature high-profile guests, including foreign celebrities and fashion leaders.

However, animal rights activists are protesting against the show because of the fur pieces. After initially telling Fendi to remove all fur from the show, the Seoul government reached a compromise in which the show will scale back the number of fur pieces featured.

This isn’t enough for the animal rights activists, including singer and animal lover Lee Hyo-ri, who wrote about her disapproval on her Twitter account. Activists plan to protest outside the venue.

May 19, 2011

Prostitutes protest for their right to a livelihood

Filed under: prostitution — extrakorea @ 12:52 pm

On Sunday, May 15th, dozens of prostitutes wearing white surgical masks and red caps held a three-hour protest in front of Times Square, a shopping mall in front of Yeongdeungpo, Seoul.

The opening of Times Square forced the closing of 30 brothels, so that only about 50 remain. The prostitutes criticized the looming possible closure of the remaining brothels.

“What can we do if the government drives us out of our job? This job is the last option for us, and there is no alternative,” 29-year-old Kim Eun-jung (alias) working in a brothel in Yeongdeungpo told The Korea Times.

“It’s a matter of survival for us.”

They also claimed that crackdowns only force the business underground, whereby exploitation becomes a more serious problem, and criticized efforts at rehabilitation by the government as half-hearted and inadequate.

Last Wednesday [May 11th], they also held a press conference at the Korea Press Center in central Seoul, asking for the abolishment or revision of the 2004 Act on the Prevention of the Sex Trade and Protection of its Victims, which reinforced penalties for prostitution.

[ … snip … ]

Prostitutes argue that the law fails to reflect the reality and will only worsen the situation.

“The special law fails to reflect the reality. It can’t root out prostitution, but rather pushes the sex trade further underground,” Kim said.

“As such, sex workers can be exploited. A lot of Korean prostitutes choose to go abroad to work, where their human rights can be easily violated and they have to work without proper protection.”

[ … snip … ]

She also criticized the government’s efforts to help sex workers change their jobs.

“We also want to change our jobs. But the subsidy of 400,000 won a month and the rehabilitation programs proposed by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family are too unrealistic to reflect our situation,” Kim said.

They also acknowledged that the present red-light districts are unsightly and that it’s understandable to want to remove them, but that their business should be regulated, not outlawed.

Sex workers believe proper regulation is necessary instead of “meaningless” efforts to outlaw prostitution.

“We also know the big brothel districts in Seoul are an eyesore, which need to be removed, but we also need to survive,” said Kang Hyun-jin, director of the Hanteoh Women Workers Federation (HWWF), a nationwide group of prostitutes.

“The special law can’t root out prostitution, which I personally think is impossible,” Kang said, citing a survey result.

[ … snip … ]

“Our demand is that the special law should be amended to reflect the reality and the government should properly regulate prostitution so that it can take place in designated areas, which aren’t necessarily central areas of the city, and we think it can minimize the negative aspects of prostitution,” Kang said.

On Tuesday afternoon, another protest was held, and this time the demonstrators (numbering about 450 this time) wore white funeral clothes, garish red paint, or makeup that made them look like Heath Ledger’s version of the Joker.

Yeongdeungpo isn’t the only district experiencing persecution.

Pimps in Cheongnyangni in the northeastern part of Seoul have clashed with police as they try to pick up customers in front of a major department store nearby.

Those pimps aren’t guys dressed in purple jackets and feathered hats. They’re ajummas, and as you know, you don’t get between an ajumma and her livelihood if you want your nads intact.

As I’ve written about before, the reason for these closures isn’t “moral outrage,” but the fact that these areas now sit on very valuable land.

A decade ago, the price of real estate for 3.3 sq. m of land around the red light district in Yongsan was W30-50 million (US$1=W1,090). Now, it has soared to more than W150 million. A 54-story skyscraper and a sprawling apartment complex are scheduled to be built in the red light district area in Cheongnyangni, while 35 and 40-story buildings will be built in Yongsan.

[ … snip … ]

The red light district in front of Yongsan Station near central Seoul used to house around 120 brothels, but only six or seven remain and even they will be shut down next month.

Cheongnyangni is also sitting on valuable land, which is right next to large shopping malls and an E-Mart (Korea’s version of Wall-Mart).

I think the determination being shown in these protests might have to do with the way that Yongsan was closed down with nary a whimper. I guess the sex workers figure that they had better draw a line in the sand, or else Yeongdeungpo will be next, followed by Cheongnyangni.

These red-light districts have been around since at least the early 1970s. The following is from page 137 of Michael Breen’s The Koreans:

“It was during the first ever North-South talks in Seoul in the early 1970s.

[ … snip … ]

Obviously the cars carrying the North Korean officials did not swing through the red-light areas, nor the poor districts, nor past the huge American military base near the center of the city.”

I think that they were amongst the first areas built up during the post-war reconstruction. The buildings are old-style (e.g. arched tiles on the roofs). They are/were located near major train stations, which would have been the most important transportation infrastructure after the Korean War. Cheongnyangni and Yongsan are major train stations. There was a brothel area near Seoul station. Other cities like Daejeon have brothel districts near their train stations.

Here is a quote from Kang Hyun-jin that I found interesting.

“In the past, officials from ward offices used to visit us to teach us English so that we could serve U.S. soldiers when there were big military drills taking place. They boosted the business to earn dollars, and now they try to abolish it all of sudden because they believe we are a rich country.”

I think that Park Chung-hee once referred to such sex workers as “patriots” because of the way they earned American dollars for Korea. I think I read that in Micheal Breen’s writings, but I can’t find it.

Interestingly, the first article that I linked to was written by Kim Tae-jong, who wrote a previous article that I discussed before.

May 12, 2011

Restaurants, companies pay for positive reviews & repress negative ones

I’ve explained the concept of “reviews” to my students. I would always add that in foreign countries, reviews are useful because people write both good and bad reviews. In Korea, however, they are not, because every restaurant that is reviewed on TV gets a thumbs up and an enthusiastic “Wahhh! Mashisseoyo!” (“Wow! It’s delicious!”).

I’ve always figured that it was either because the TV station didn’t want to make anyone lose face, or because of Korea’s ridiculous libel laws. (In Korea, you can sue someone for libel even if they tell the verifiable truth. For example, let’s say that Mr. X is a thief who robbed you blind, and you write in your blog, “Watch out for Mr. X. He’s a thief.” Mr. X can successfully sue you for libel, even if you present documents showing that he was convicted for theft and served prison time.)

It turns out that restaurants pay TV companies for positive reviews.

In order to make the documentary [“The True-Taste Show”], Kim [Jae-hwan, a former MBC producer] opened a small restaurant of his own in Ilsan, Gyeonggi, and recorded his attempt to get featured on television shows.

Kim’s restaurant was featured on ‘‘Live Show Today” on SBS earlier this year. In return for that, he had to give 10 million won ($9,090) to a broker and the broadcasting station. It took 9 million won for the restaurant to be featured on another show “Find! Delicious TV” on MBC, and all true-life incidents are described in the film. Kim shut down his restaurant after it was introduced by a couple of shows.

According to the documentary, food shows are no more real than television dramas or comedies. People are hired to sit down and show two thumbs up when asked how the food is.

Remember those ridiculous libel laws that I described above?

Broadcasting stations are considering suing Kim.

Fortunately, Kim is not backing down.

“I’m ready to be sued because I think it’s better to bring this issue to court,” Kim said.

“The True-Taste Show” will be released sometime this month.

Now that is a documentary that I would love to see.


What do you get when you cross a multinational conglomerate with the mafia? Samsung. Just ask Michael Breen if you don’t believe me.

A Mr. Ham bought a Samsung Galaxy 2 smartphone with his own money and, after using it for two weeks, he posted a negative review, “Nine Nasty Flaws of the Galaxy 2,” on his blog, which is hosted by Naver (which itself seems to be a bit of a bully). Samsung demanded that Naver remove the blog post, along with the over 1,400 comments it had received, which it did.

The same fate befell another blogger, Mr. Kim, after he wrote a post entitled “Three reasons why the Motorola Atrix is better than the Galaxy 2.” Ironically, Mr. Kim had been planning to write another post called “Three reasons why the Galaxy 2 is better than the Motorola Atrix.” According to Samsung, looking at two sides of an issue or having balance is unacceptable.

How dare they write negative reviews of Samsung products! Don’t they know that Samsung is Korea’s royal family? Bloody peasants!

An official from one portal site said, “Of the thousands of temporary deletion requests we receive per month claiming defamation, many are from corporations and politicians.”

This indicates a system adopted on the justification of blocking invasions of personal privacy are also used more insidiously as a means for powerful groups to control online opinion.

So what does Samsung have to say for itself?

Regarding this, Samsung Electronics’ public relations office said, “The matter was in many ways a communication failure that arose due to insufficient understanding of the particularities of the Internet at the Galaxy 2’s marketing sector.”

“It’s a misunderstanding. You must understand our special situation.”

There is also debate about the fairness of review marketing. Most review marketing takes place with compensation exchanging hands. The problem is that this is rarely revealed, so the objectiveness of the review is easily lost. Some firms even filter out critical posts from the very beginning by getting prior confirmations. Recently, one mobile phone community was conducting a user review event for the Galaxy 2, with the phone being provided for free or at a discount based on the favorableness of the review.

[ … ]

The Federal Trade Commission of the United States has since December 2009 required bloggers to reveal if they received corporate support or payment when they write product reviews.

May 10, 2011

(Updated) Short schoolgirl skirts to cost 820 million won of new desks

Filed under: education, rapid cultural change, youth — extrakorea @ 2:34 pm

While students at Korean middle schools and high schools are still required to wear uniforms, dress codes have been relaxed in recent years. Students are now allowed to wear running shoes, and regulations regarding hairstyles are not as strict as before.

Another effect has been that schoolgirls have been shortening their skirts, a subject that I and other bloggers have written about before.

The Gangwon Province Office of Education has cooked up a brilliant scheme to deal with this problem. They will spend 820 million won on new desks that will be specially-constructed so as to hide the schoolgirls’ legs.


First of all, this ignores the fact that if these schoolgirls are going to dress like this in class, then they are going to dress at least this provocatively off school grounds. Hasn’t anyone thought about what potential problems this might cause?

Secondly, the teachers are ignoring the fact that these schoolgirls seem to think that dressing in revealing clothes is “cool,” “empowering,” “stylish,” or something else that’s equally wrongheaded.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who’s thinking, “We are authority figures, and for the sake of our students, we should act like it.”

But the Korean Federation of Teachers Association (KFTA) denounced the move, arguing it is a waste of money and a proper guideline is rather required to promote longer skirt lengths.

“What we need is to promote longer skirt lengths by adopting stricter dress codes,” said Kim Dong-seok, a spokesman for the KFTA. “The education office is now neglecting its duty to properly educate students.”


The BBC has picked up the story (Hat Tip to Gusts of Popular Feeling).

I think that the BBC might have been slightly mistaken when they ran the caption with the photo below.

The trend for short school skirts is well established in Japan

As far as I know, when Japanese schoolgirls are in class, they have to wear their skirts long. However, once they leave school grounds, they hike them up. They’ve honed it to a science, with folding techniques and even velcro.

Regarding the situation in Korea, Chris in South Korea correctly pointed out that 820 million won (about $700,000 or £427,000) could be put to many good educational uses.

Seven bar “hostesses” have committed suicide since July

Filed under: celebrities, drinking, gender equality, music, prostitution, suicide — extrakorea @ 12:56 pm

On March 24th, a young woman committed suicide, the seventh bar “hostess” (known as “jeopdaebu,”) to do so since last July.

In a suicide note, the 27-year-old said she was forced to have sex against her will and was no longer able to stand the abuse from customers and the bar owner.

Apparently, she was not able to quit because of a “slave contract.” In such bars, the owners are, or are connected to, loan sharks who lend out money at excessively high interest rates.

In the article, it is subtly hinted that the recent crackdowns on prostitution may have actually exacerbated the situation by forcing prostitution underground, leading to the exploitation of women who, unlike those in red-light districts such as Chongyangni and the now-defunct Yongsan, never had any intention of becoming prostitutes.

As shown in the crackdown by the Pohang Police, the sex industry has developed into a well-organized business run by bar owners, gangsters and loan sharks who exploit the women, they say.

Many of them first start working at a bar or club to earn “easy money” without knowing it will put them in a trap from which they can’t get out, they say.

“Most of these hostesses regret starting the job,” Lee Jung-mi, the head of the Korean Shelter for Women, said. “They first thought they would make a lot of money by simply talking to male customers at bars or karaoke, serving drinks and singing for them. But the reality is they are forced to sell sex and they can’t say no due to money they have been loaned in advance.”

Here is a statistic that, if true, is interesting:

According to Statistics Korea, one out of 60 economically-active women work in bars, clubs and karaoke rooms, or in red light districts.

Also, in case you were wondering, the Korean music industry, despite all the rhetoric since the suicide of Jang Ja-yeon, still harbors sexual exploitation. Here is a report from this past February, in which journalists went under cover to find out what happens to young trainees.

The trainee was also asked to call the director of her agency without alerting him that he was being recorded. When asked about the contract fee she was forced to pay, he replied, “There are no agencies these days that support you financially 100%. Since we do support you 100%, don’t leave us. Even if you say that we forced you to provide sexual favors, you really have nothing to say in the end.”

Upon hearing his shocking statement, reporters visited the agency themselves while hiding their cameras. They found that the agency, on the outside, looked no different from any other agencies, and when asked to name the celebrities they housed, they had no trouble listing the names.

[ … ]

Another trainee hoping to become an actress later gave her own account, revealing, “The agency said they were looking for a small role and wanted to meet me in person. They instead dragged me to their home and force fed me various drinks, claiming that they needed to check my limit. After a while, they taped my mouth shut so that I couldn’t scream, and further claimed that in order to become a celebrity, I needed to have sex with him.”

What was even more shocking for viewers was that this all happened before she entered her third year of junior high school.

May 8, 2011

Daum must feel threatened by Kakao Talk

Filed under: advertising, celebrities — extrakorea @ 12:35 pm

Kakao Talk is a popular app (computer program) that can be used on iPhones and smart phones that use the android operating system. (You can read a description here.) It’s very popular in Korea.

Daum is a big South Korean Internet company. It’s released an app called My People. (You can read a description here and watch a semi-informative video below.)

Daum must feel threatened by Kakao Talk since it has singled them out by name for abuse in their commercials. They’ve also brought out the big guns by hiring the the most popular girl group in Korea, Girls’ Generation, to administer the beat down. Notice how the girls have departed from their usual aegyo (cutesy-wootsy way of talking) when heaping scorn on the poor cocoa bean.

This is par for the course for South Korea, where big companies crush and/or take over smaller companies. Interestingly, Kakao Talk is available to everybody, while My People is useful only to people who know the Korean language. I wonder if popularity abroad could help Kakao survive.

(Hat Tip to the Marmot’s Hole)

Wouldn’t breath mints be easier?

Filed under: food — extrakorea @ 11:49 am

Are young South Koreans worried about bad breath ruining a kiss? Apparently so, and South Korea’s Rural Development Administration feels that the need for fresh breath merits the development of a “ping-pong ball-sized apple” for young wooers to eat just before some ooh-la-la.

Wouldn’t breath mints be easier? They’re smaller, they don’t spoil, and you can eat them more quickly. Also, if a good Korean girl sees her boyfriend eating one of these specialty apples, she knows that he’s got intentions.

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