Sex, lies and it’s all on videotapeCameras flashed from every direction as photographers and reporters clogged the entrance of the conference room of Seoul’s Amiga Hotel. In front of the media barrage, the actress Ham So-won appeared grim-faced, accompanied by her manager and attorney.
The actress’s usual glowing smile was gone, replaced by a look of fatigue.
Pausing at a lectern, she sipped a glass of water and then began speaking, her voice shaking,
“I am not the woman in the ‘Ms. H’ sex video,” Ms. Ham said, fighting tears.
“As a woman whose human rights have been violated, I plead my innocence,” she went on.
Suddenly, the actress broke down and her manager had to take over.
The video that so troubled Ms. Ham was publicized in an article published earlier this month by a sports newspaper. In the paper’s entertainment section, the publication claimed that a video showing a famous celebrity engaged in a sexual act was appearing on the Internet.
The newspaper did not disclose who the celebrity was, only giving its curious readers the initial “H.”
According to Korea21 Entertainment, Ms. Ham’s agency, the newspaper included identifiable head-and-shoulder pictures of the actress in its article. Rumor quickly spread that the ‘H’ referred to Ms. Ham.
Immediately people sought the video online and found it. The video is seven minutes long and was shot with a hidden camera, reportedly in a motel room. The picture is blurry, so the woman and man caught on tape are hard to identify. The only clear facts are that the woman in the video is wearing fluffy earmuffs and she and a male engage in an obscene conversation as well as a sexual act.
“I was shocked when I heard the rumors about the video,” Ms. Ham said at the news conference, which she had called.
The 25-year-old actress told the reporters that she had to move out of her parents’ apartment because of the trauma the case is causing her family. She said she was later admitted to a hospital because of stress. As the conference continued, her stress was evident: The inconsolable actress could not stand up to speak and at one point fell back on a conference table.
Ms. Ham’s manager insisted that the controversy has damaged the actress’s career.
“We have lost several motion picture offers because of the video,” Ms. Ham’s manager said.
The actress and her advisers have filed a libel suit against two sports dailies that reported of Ms. Ham’s involvement in the video. They are requesting compensation totaling 600 million won ($483,000).
This is not the first time that controversy over alleged celebrity sex videos has been stirred up.
The first celebrity sex video circulated in 1999 and involved the actress Oh Hyun-kyung. In that case, Ms. Oh was harshly criticized because she did not deny it was her on tape. She eventually fled to the United States and did not return for almost two years.
Another controversial video featured the pop singer Baek Ji-young. Although Ms. Baek admitted it was her on the video, she received a more sympathetic response from the public. However, some Korean journalists criticized Ms. Baek for negatively influencing the youth of the country, even if she wasn’t aware that she was being filmed.
Ms. Oh and Ms. Baek tried to return to their former jobs in the entertainment business, but each failed. After returning from the United States, Ms. Oh held a news conference where she announced she would be in a film about the Korean Navy. A month later, the film’s production company fired her and signed another Korean actress, stating that Ms. Oh was not physically fit for the role. Rumor has it that the navy wanted Ms. Oh out, worried that her appearance in such a film would tarnish the service’s image.
Ms. Oh has never appeared on national television or in movies since.
Ms. Baek’s story is similar. Six months after the controversy, the pop singer tried to make a comeback with her third album, but the networks were leery of putting her on the air because of lingering discomfort from the public. Ms. Baek’s only national appearances were limited to radio shows. During the taping of some of these shows, youngsters made obscene gestures in her direction.
Ms. Baek now sings primarily in nightclubs.
Ms. Oh taped the video with a Korean male model and in Ms. Baek’s case her manager allegedly distributed the films. Ms. Oh supposedly agreed to the filming, while Ms. Baek did not.
"Such acts are an infringement of human rights,” said an official at the Cyber Defamation and Sexual Violence Counseling Center, which monitors illegal sex videos on the Internet, regarding the circulation of such videos. The official said that the large number of online servers make it impossible to regulate such videos on the Internet.
The official at the center also pointed out that the popularity of these videos stems from public demand. “Although a lot of people criticize the acts caught on tape, they are still curious about seeing their favorite celebrities being in those tapes.”
Han Jung-ho, a professor of media studies at Yonsei University, agreed, saying that these videos keep surfacing because there is always renewed demand for more. “The current generation loses interest quickly if you aren’t constantly bringing something new.”
A week ago, another sports newspaper announced that a pornography star by the name of Haneul confessed that it is her body on the video and not Ms. Ham’s. The video was apparently shot by a professional pornography company.
Still, Ms. Ham plans put her career on hold until a lawsuit she has filed against two sports newspapers is settled. Like the women who came before her, Ms Ham’s future is in limbo.
by Lee Ho-jeong