When taking it off is a career takeoffLocal celebrities cannot be too careful about anything related to sex. Koreans don’t want their stars to be saints; they just have little mercy when those stars turn out to be human.
Sex videos aren’t the only problem. Nude photographs can do plenty of damage. In Japan, a nude photo book is considered a hip business move to cement fame. In Korea, it’s a virtual admission that a star is over the hill. The actress Kim Hee-sun filed suit in 2000 against her publishers for trying to turn a photography session into a nude pictorial. “It was supposed to be just a fashion shoot,” said Ms. Kim. “I was cheated.”
Yu Yeon-sil, a singer, came out with a pioneering nude photo book in 1991. Jeong Yang, who made name for herself with her formidably enhanced breasts, and Ha Ri-su, a transsexual celebrity, have followed in the au naturel path to controversy and heated debate.
But times have changed. Seong Hyeon-a, 27, pulled her clothes off on her own accord. Ms. Seong’s career was on the skids after a drug scandal a year ago. A former Miss Korea, she had been an established actress. “This kind of scandal just kills a celebrity in Korea,” said Oh Jae-hyun, who runs EMG Network, Ms. Seong’s talent agency. “We needed a breakthrough, something strong enough to erase the drug scandal.”
Mr. Oh’s solution was to rock the world with a nude spread. Mr. Oh says it took a budget of more than 1 billion won ($800,000) to shoot the pictures in exotic places in Southeast Asia. Last December, EMG Network opened a fee-based Internet site displaying Ms. Seong’s naked body, followed by another display earlier this month. Mr. Oh’s scheme to make money out of the nude site did not work as planned: voyeuristic hackers cracked the Web site and managed to distribute Ms. Seong’s pictures all over the Internet for free.
It might not have raised much cash, but at least Ms. Seong got her stardom back; she’s more famous now than she was before the scandal. “I have no regrets,” she said. Supposedly she told Ham So-won, the latest sex video victim, “Hey, there’s no need to cry.”
Mr. Oh says that Ms. Seong’s playing against taboo worked. Ms. Seong, who once couldn’t get junk mail, is now reportedly getting offers to star in movies.
Since Ms. Seong’s nude expose, Mr. Oh says that it’s now almost trendy for celebrities to publish show-all photos. “I’ve received offers from other big-name stars to work on their nude photo projects,” he say. “What used to be bad is now in vogue.”
A voguish trend perhaps, but that’s not the same as respectability. Although Mr. Oh insists that nude photography is an art form, and not pornography, many who like to ogle such pictures in Korea don’t make the distinction. Said one 24-year-old Seoul man: “I saw her photos, but not as an appreciator of art. As a voyeur.”
by Chun Su-jin
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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