Lee Jung-jae took home Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series at the Emmys Monday Night for his role in Netflix’s Global Smash squid gamebest of choice better call SaulBob Odenkirk and successionK Jeremy Strong and Brian Cox. In the process, he made history as the first Asian man to win a lead actor Emmy.
For his role as Seong Gi-hun, a divorced father and indebted gambler who is caught in the deadly game of survival with a huge cash prize, Lee has emerged as the breakout star. squid game, which still ranks as Netflix’s most-watched series of all time (even though he’s had a stellar career spanning decades in Korea, including the Grand Bells and the Baeksang Awards). Lee is arguably the most recognizable Korean actor in the world right now—and his star will rise even higher after playing a leading role. retaineran upcoming star wars performance.
But if we’re going to use Lee to celebrate everything that’s great and different about Korean TV, we also have to acknowledge everything he represents—including, similar to the West, male Korean stars. Enjoy the benefits of an industry that leans backward to protect and preserve its image.
In 1999, Lee was detained by Gangnam Police for driving under the influence and causing a collision with another driver, a 23-year-old woman. Their blood alcohol content was 0.22 percent (in South Korea the limit is 0.05 percent). Lee denied the allegation, claiming that his manager was driving. Three years later, he was charged with the same crime.
Most Terrifying Scene in ‘Blonde’: JFK’s Rape of Marilyn Monroe
That same year, in 1999, he and a friend attacked another man while intoxicated and were charged with assault. He was charged with assault again the following year when he allegedly dragged and kicked a 22-year-old woman from a nightclub in Busan, requiring a two-week recovery in hospital.
Fast-forward to 2013 where, in an interview with Vogue Korea, Lee appeared to oust his friend and chief stylist, Wu Jong-wan, shortly after his suicide. Before dying, Lee claimed, “I said [him]’You should stop being gay. Aren’t you kind enough?'” He described Wu’s homosexuality as “an inconvenience.” Quotes were later pulled from online versions of the interview.
Fans would argue that it was too early that it didn’t matter. In fact, we must accept and encourage development If We see it. But we didn’t. Lee has not wrestled with the allegations in interviews or shared any information about the steps he has taken to rehabilitate himself; Instead, they have all been swept under the rug. Nor do we know whether it is a sum of Lee’s past. We can only judge by what we see and, as you can probably tell from the disappearance of quotes, what we see about Korean stars is heavily curated by the film and TV industry, the media, and fans. is done.
What we see from many Korean artists is a heavily curated image that smoothes out imperfections to create a perfect avatar. This is most evident in K-pop. Groups like BTS and Oh My Girl are carefully managed by the label. Band members live in dorms, sometimes sharing rooms. His performance is strictly controlled both on and off stage. no improvisation; Nothing is unwritten. They become the brand—an eternal reality show fan can’t tear themselves away from.
This is not entirely unique to Korea. This is in many ways universal to modern-day celebrities. But while in the West this kind of iconic smoothness often focuses on humanizing celebs, in Korea it’s about setting an unrealistic, aspirational ideal that can’t be compromised.
After all, when we recognize public figures as human beings, it becomes easy to attribute their crimes to them. In Korea, red flags are carefully hidden under layers of branding that may be impossible to remove – at least if you’re a man.
The discount that Lee has made on these reports has been compared to that of Johnny Depp. It’s the same convoluted, constructed image that allows Depp’s fans to completely dismiss—or even approve—the overwhelming evidence of his abuses.
So, do Lee fans casually ignore reports of his attacks and homosexuality. Who cares? They ask, far more interested with the image they have helped to create over the years. Driven by the spread of malpractices protecting men in the film and TV industry around the world, this kind of violence doesn’t match what Lee Jung-jae has convinced himself he knows.
The same misconception that separates Lee from these reports means that in Korea, men can escape allegations of sexual assault and assault, while rumors of bullying could derail Seo Ye-ji’s career, or Song G-One wearing fake designer clothes branded them dishonest and followed social media.
This same misunderstanding allows Depp to continue collecting advertising and acting gigs, while Amber Heard may never work in the industry again — and the other men see her as a way to discredit their own accusers. use in.
It’s easy for Western audiences to forget all this while watching Korean television, losing ourselves in a culture that very few of us know about. But if we’re going to hook up with Korean TV (and we should, it’s unbelievable) we need to understand that what we’re watching must look like Korea, where whatever could The show has been censored from what was perceived as a flaw. And its stars are equally untouched by ideas that run contrary to Korean ideals – for example, one of Korea’s biggest stars may not be as neat as managers, assistants and thinkers want it to appear.
I want people to love Korean TV—it’s a rewarding love affair—and welcome the success of its stars in the global market. But we must also recognize that beneath the apparently good stories of men like Lee Jung-jae achieving global stardom, places like Hollywood can be just as dark.
Read more in The Daily Beast.
Get the Daily Beast’s biggest scoop and scandals straight to your inbox. Sign up now.
Stay informed and get unlimited access to the Daily Beast’s unmatched reporting. Become a customer now.