S. Korean actress confronts taboos with abuse allegations

By AFP/Jung Ha-Won   December 15, 2017 | 02:30 am PT
S. Korean actress confronts taboos with abuse allegations
South Korean activists and lawyers holding a press conference accusing director Kim Ki-Duk of abusing an anonymous South Korean actress in Seoul. Hidden behind a white screen, a South Korean actress sobbed as she accused prize-winning director Kim Ki-Duk of abusing her on set -- a rare denunciation in a conservative country where victims fear public shame. Photo by AFP/Jung Yeon-Je
The actress accused Kim Ki-Duk of sexual misconducts. 

Hidden behind a white screen, a South Korean actress sobbed as she accused prize-winning director Kim Ki-Duk of abusing her on set -- a rare denunciation in a conservative country where victims fear public shame.

Kim is one of South Korea's most prominent film directors whose awards include a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for "Pieta" and Berlin's Silver Bear for "Samaritan Girl".

But the actress said shooting his 2013 film "Moebius" -- a thriller themed around incest -- left her "deeply traumatized".

She has accused Kim of physical and sexual abuse, saying he beat her on set and forced her into unscripted, unwanted sex and nude scenes, before replacing her with another actress.

"I was scared to death every day... I was so afraid he'd beat me again if I spoke out against him," she told reporters in Seoul this week.

The actress refused to be named or show her face for fear of shaming in a country where patriarchal values remain deeply ingrained despite technological advances, and where women are still expected to be chaste and obedient.

Her allegations -- a rarity in the South's lucrative entertainment business -- come as the "MeToo" movement continues to expose sexual harassment and assaults in various industries around the world, with Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey the most prominent cinematic cases.

But South Korean victims face particular challenges coming forward, campaigners say, with women often confronted with vicious online bullying and personal scrutiny if they speak out.

Sex scenes 

Kim is known for casting little-known actresses in his movies, and her role in "Moebius" -- a major part as the antagonist's mother -- felt like the "opportunity of a lifetime", she said, but turned into a "nightmare".

"One day, Kim said 'I'll set your emotion' and suddenly slapped my face really hard three times in a row in front of everybody, before turning the camera towards me and filming," she said. 

"I was so shocked... but had to start acting right away," she went on, adding that none of the crew said "a single word to stop him".

In the end she was cut from the film, which was screened out of competition at Venice in 2013, and abandoned her 20-year acting career.

Her replacement Lee Eun-Woo was nominated for several acting awards for the "Moebius" role and has since appeared in many films and television dramas.

For years, the original actress said, she had sought help from lawyers and industry figures, only to be told to "just forget about it and move on".

"They all said there is no chance that an obscure actress like me could raise a legal case against such a globally renowned director," she said, sobbing.

Even so she filed a complaint with prosecutors in August and last week they charged Kim with physical assault, fining him 5 million won ($4,600) under a procedure where minor cases can be handled without going to court.

But they dismissed other accusations including sexual harassment, citing a lack of evidence.

Kim, 56, has admitted slapping her for the purposes of an "acting lesson", but denies any other wrongdoing.

'Career suicide' 

Film contracts with details on nudity or sex are a rarity in the South, where such scenes are often "improvised" and many female performers pressured to comply to avoid being labeled selfish or difficult.

Fears of "career suicide" drive many actresses into silence after being abused, said Youn Jeong-Joo, an activist at rights group Korea Womenlink, which has collected reports of abuse in the entertainment industry.

"The case against Kim is the tip of an iceberg in the movie industry where so many women have been forced to suffer in silence," said Yoon.

Seo Hye-Jin, a lawyer who helped the actress file her complaint, added: "It would be difficult for those in the industry to testify against such a powerful, influential director."

The actress said she had been bullied relentlessly online, with some in the movie industry attacking her for "defaming" the world-renowned director.

"But I do not regret my decision," she declared. 

"I hope the small step I took will give courage to more women to come forward... and that South Korea will have its own 'MeToo' campaign one day."

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