All posts by Audrey Ryu

(Above photo: The Kim Sisters (left to right: Mia, Sue and Aija) pose for a photo shoot at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago, 1961.)

Before K-pop Hit U.S. Shores, The Kim Sisters Were An American Musical Sensation

A visit with a member of the Kim Sisters, the singing trio who rose to fame in the U.S. long before K-pop hit these shores, leaves an indelible impression.

(Above photo: The Kim Sisters (left to right: Mia, Sue and Aija) pose for a photo shoot at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago, 1961.)

by BENJAMIN M. HAN

November 2009. Las Vegas, Nevada. I claim my baggage and wait eagerly outside the airport for Sue Kim to pick me up. I’ve never met this member of the Kim Sisters, the singing trio from South Korea who earned notoriety in America in the 1950s and ’60s; the only image I have of her is from the YouTube videos I’d watched over the years. As I look at my watch, I grow anxious and wonder, “How will I recognize her?” Then, I notice a silver Mercedes SUV slowly drive by, with a license plate that reads: SOOK-JA, Sue’s Korean name. Phew. One problem solved. We make eye contact, and she seemingly knows to pull over for me. I get in the car quickly. Seated next to her is her husband, John Bonifazio. We stop at a cozy Korean restaurant, and as I browse the menu, I wonder if Sue still speaks Korean fluently. As soon as she orders bibimbap in perfect Korean, I have my answer.

Over the next two days, I would visit Sue’ s home and conduct extensive interviews with her. As a scholar working on my doctoral dissertation, I was seeking to unearth the history of Korean Americans in early American television. The Kim Sisters were pioneers in this regard, appearing on such popular TV variety shows hosted by the likes of American legends Ed Sullivan and Dean Martin—long before “Gangnam Style” made its way to these shores.

But my time in Las Vegas talking with Sue would turn out to be more than just a research trip; it would be a revelation for me.

As a Korean American myself who grew up in four different countries—the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Indonesia and the United States—I always struggled with identity. When someone would ask me, “Where are you from?” I would hesitate to answer. While I can speak English, Korean and Spanish fluently, I am not a native speaker in any of these languages. In the three days I would spend with Sue, I would feel a deep bond with her. Despite us seemingly having very little in common, and being decades and generations apart, she would become the role model that I had been searching for since I left South Korea at the age of 7. As someone who challenged the racial status when it came to representations on American television at that time, she would become a source of inspiration for me, someone who tries to challenge the black-white paradigm in academia.

I first heard about the Kim Sisters while a graduate student at the University of Southern California studying media. I was already familiar with Asian American actors like Sessue Hayakawa and Philip Ahn. But then, someone mentioned the Kim Sisters to me one day. I asked my parents about the group, and my dad explained that they were really popular in Korea back in the day.

F-Kim-0614-MOTHERThe Kim Sisters with their mother, Lee Nan-young, at the Palmer House in Chicago in 1963.

Later, as a doctoral student at NYU, I started seriously researching the Kim Sisters and managed to find a Las Vegas mailing address for Sue on the Internet. At that time, I had no clue whether she was still residing there, but I drafted a formal letter and mailed it. A few weeks later, I received an unexpected phone call from Sue, and I still remember vividly the first question she asked me: “Why are you interested in my story?” After I gave her a detailed response, she then asked my age. “Twenty-eight years old,” I answered. She was surprised that I was so young. I kindly asked her if I could fly to Vegas to interview her, and she eventually agreed.

Later at an event at the Korea Society in 2010, Sue shared with the audience how she was hesitant to reach out to me when she first received my letter, but it was her husband who convinced her to respond. She ultimately agreed to the interview, she says, because I had told her, “I want to tell your story.”

Sue was one of seven siblings born in Korea to a very musical couple. Their mother, Lee Nan-young, rose to stardom prior to the Korean War with her sentimental ballad “Mokpo Tears.” Their father, Kim Hai-song, was a well-respected composer and orchestra conductor who produced a number of popular musical shows. Thanks to this parentage, the Kim children naturally would become quite musical themselves—but it was also, in part, out of necessity.

After the Korean War broke out in 1950, Kim Hai-song was captured and murdered by the North Korean army, and Lee had to find a way to take care of her family. So she sang for American troops as a way to earn money. Soon, her children would learn how to sing American tunes like “Candy and Cake.” Eldest daughters Young-ja (Jane), and Sook-Ja (Sue) would eventually join their mother performing in the nightclubs of Busan. But being an entertainer was not the life Jane wanted. That’s when their youngest sister Ai-ja and their cousin Min-ja (Mia) Kim joined Sue, and together they formed the Kim Sisters in 1954.

F-Kim-0614-brothers
The Kim Sisters performing with their brothers (the Kim Brothers) at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas in 1970.

Despite the negative perception of Asians as the Yellow Peril—an image often perpetuated by Hollywood movies with conniving “Orientals” as the antagonists—the Kim girls established a rapport with the Americans GIs stationed in Korea, and the latter, in turn, taught Sue, then 13, 12-year-old Ai-ja and 11-year-old Min-ja pop stan- dards and, later, rock ‘n’ roll.

“The GIs would go crazy when we sang rock ‘n’ roll songs, even though we didn’t pronounce the lyrics correctly for ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and ‘St. Louis Blues,” remembered Sue, now 73. “They were pounding their feet and say- ing, ‘More, more!’ … They would give us cases of whiskey and beer, and we would exchange them for rice.

“Without the GIs, we didn’t perform. I don’t know where we will be today. That’s how I feel, how grateful I am. Without them, we couldn’t have survived.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, there was a flourishing Chinese nightclub scene with the establishment of the Forbidden City and the Chinese Sky Room in San Francisco. A club owner by the name of Tom Ball was the force behind the production of “Oriental” shows, such as the “China Doll Revue” and the “Geisha Revue,” which were performed regularly at the Thunderbird Hotel and Desert Inn Hotel in Las Vegas, respectively. Ball told his friend Dan Sawyer, an owner of an entertainment production company in Japan, that he was searching for another Asian act to headline one of his shows. GIs in South Korea who had seen the Kim Sisters’ act told Sawyer to check out the talented trio. One soldier, Bob McMackin, who was also Sawyer’s friend, arranged an audition for the Kim Sisters in front of Ball in Yongsan, South Korea, in 1958.

“[Ball] liked the fact [we] could sing a lot better than the Happy Tokyo Coats,” recalled Sue, referring to the Japanese performers in one of Ball’s shows.

After the Kim Sisters’ successful tryout, McMackin became their personal manager. “We respect McMackin a lot,” Sue said. “He used to take us to all these clubs and give us fried chicken.”

F-Kim-0614-STAGE2The Kim Sisters playing the banjo in a concert in Hawaii in 1963.

F-Kim-0614-STAGE3The Kim Sisters performing at the Latin Quarter in New York in 1963.

F-Kim-0614-STAGE4The Kim Sisters playing the marimba at the Palmer House in Chicago in 1965.

F-Kim-0614-STAGE5The Kim Sisters playing the violin at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas in 1965.

When the young ladies, who had never before been anywhere outside of Korea, arrived in Los Angeles in 1959, the experience was a bit anti-climatic at first. “Someone told us when you go to L.A., you open the hotel room window, you look out, and there is a movie star walking around,” said Sue. “All day we waited, and nobody showed up. [So] our agent Tom Ball put us in his 1959 Cadillac and drove us to Las Vegas.”

While there, the Thunderbird Hotel signed the Kim Sisters for a four-week engagement with a four-week option as part of the “China Doll Revue.” After a successful eight-week run, the group was signed to perform at the Stardust Lounge, where the Sisters would remain entertainers for eight consecutive months.

It was at the Stardust where they captured the attention of legendary TV host Ed Sullivan. In 1959, he was in town to broadcast The Ed Sullivan Show live from Vegas, and after a successful audition, the Kim Sisters made their debut on the variety program on Sept. 20, 1959, performing a cover of the hit song “Sincerely.” They would go on to make 22 appearances on the country’s most watched program, known for bringing American families together every Sunday night. While the trio was able to sing renditions of American popular songs in perfect English, Sue said they had just memorized the lyrics phonetically. She said their struggle to master the English language hindered them somewhat because they could not interact easily with other guests on American shows when they made appearances.

Meanwhile, many newspapers at the time highlighted their assimilation into American society, yet the Kim Sisters always thought of themselves as proud Koreans, said Sue. She described the time when they wore traditional Korean clothing out on the streets, expecting Americans to recognize the hanboks as Korean. “Everybody says, ‘what a beautiful kimono.’ We get so angry—‘this is not a kimono!’” said Sue. “‘This is a Korean outfit!’ I told Ai-ja and Mia: ‘We have to become successful. That’s the only way they are gonna know we are from Korea.’

“As young as we were, we had strong patriotism in our heart,” added Sue. “If anybody said we are from China, we used to get angry. They couldn’ t tell the difference between Japan, China and Korea.”

F-Kim-0614-DeanMartin
The Kim Sisters with Dean Martin on the set of his show in 1967.

While different Asian ethnicities were not distinguishable on American television, what was anomalous about the Kim Sisters’ appearances was the fact that Sullivan often introduced them as performers from Korea. As Sue explained, “Absolutely, we are from the Republic of Korea. They couldn’ t tell South or North. So our manager told Ed Sullivan, ‘It’s gotta be the Republic of Korea.’ ”

My days spent with Sue were filled with unforgettable anecdotes. She recounted giddily the time a container filled with kimchi sent from their family in Korea exploded in the lobby of a New York hotel where they were staying. Then, there was the time the king of rock ‘n’ roll himself, Elvis Presley, came to the Stardust and told the Kim Sisters’ drummer that he would like to take them out. The sisters’ response: “We are not dating.”

The Kim Sisters perform on the variety show Hollywood Palace:

As Sue drove me around Las Vegas, each hotel on the Strip that we passed seemed to conjure vivid memories from her past. She played the Kim Sisters’ songs on the car stereo as she shared her thoughts about each recording. As I observed her face, she looked like a grandmother finding renewed vigor and enthusiasm in telling bedtime stories to her grandchild.

But I had a burning question, one I was initially hesitant to ask: Why would the Sisters often wear the traditional Chinese costume, cheongsam, if they were so self-conscious about their identity as Koreans? I couldn’t leave Las Vegas without getting an answer, and the opportunity came while discussing how Asians have been victims of Orientalism in America. “The act we were doing, there is no way we are going to move around the stage with a Korean costume. It is too much material,” Sue answered matter-of-factly. Also, their agent, Ball, wanted the performers to showcase their beautiful straight legs, she said. Sue, however, did note that the Sisters would also open their act wearing hanboks and singing “Arirang,” the beloved Korean folk song.

F-Kim-0614-FrankSinatra
The Kim Sisters with Frank Sinatra at the Harrah’s Club (Lake Tahoe) in 1976.

As for responding to critics who could read the Kim Sisters perfor ances as self-Orientalism, Sue said that the Kim Sisters knew what the industry wanted, and therefore that meant they had to sometimes perform songs like “China Nights” (or “Shina No Yoru,” a Japanese song), the most requested song by GIs in the U.S. Army clubs. But the Sisters also often switched into different costumes—including Western dresses, heels and sometimes top hats— and played a variety of musical instruments (clarinet, xylophone, drums, trumpet, etc.) and genres of music within the same act. As the women took command of the stage, showing off their considerable talent as entertainers, period, this was arguably an illustration of how they were subverting stereotypical representations of Asians in America. Who could forget their 1963 Ed Sullivan performance, in which they sang a song in English paying homage to their mother, singing lyrics like, “Mother taught us all we know in Korea”? In the same performance, their mother joined the Kim Sisters on stage and sang her lyrics in Korean. Again, this happened in the 1960s, on the most popular American TV show at the time.

Throughout the ’60s, the Kim Sisters would enjoy tremendous visibility and success, also appearing on the shows of entertainers Dinah Shore and Dean Martin. Ai-ja was even offered a role in the all-Asian cast for the musical Flower Drum Song. However, she turned down the offer because she thought her English was not fluent enough to play the role.

In 1970, the Kim Sisters returned to Korea for the first time since they left in 1959. They had been cultural ambassadors on behalf of Korea to the United States for years, but upon their arrival, they did not receive a warm welcome. An interpreter was waiting for them at the airport because the Korean government thought they had not only lost touch with their native country, but also lost the language. When the Kim Sisters showed they could speak Korean just fine and had their cultural pride still intact, Koreans embraced them. Their concert at Sejong Center sold out quickly. During their short stay in Korea, they recorded a song titled “Kimchi Kkakdugi,” (Cubed Radish Kimchi) that described their experience as diasporic Koreans:

Our home is far away Memories of yesterday
Now we found the other way We are in the U.S.A.
We will rock some songs today We must eat the American way

Just like there is an ending to every great film or novel, there is an ending to the extraordinary story of the Kim Sisters. As each member found her life partner and started her own family, the siblings’ career as entertainers slowly came to an end. Ai-ja passed away in 1987 due to lung cancer; Mia went to Hungary to relaunch her music career; and Sue settled in Las Vegas with John, her husband of 45 years, giving birth to a son and daughter and now with five grandchildren. Sue continued to perform with her brothers, the Kim Brothers, in different venues throughout the United States and Korea until 1994.

F-Kim-0614-suekim2Sue Kim, in a photo taken this past April.

March 2014. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Four years after my visit, I receive a phone call from Sue. She can’t hide her excitement as she shares the news that she will become the first Korean to be inducted into the Nevada Entertainer/ Artist Hall of Fame on March 27.

After the Hall of Fame event, I speak again with Sue. The Korean American Women’s Association attended the event to honor her, she says, but not a single Korean newspaper showed up to cover the story. Even former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung once promised that the country would host a celebration to commemorate the trio’s contribution to South Korean cultural diplomacy, but that promise was never fulfilled.

I hope articles like this one help make people more aware of the Kim Sisters’ incredible journey as some of the earliest Korean entertainers to be embraced by mainstream American audiences. I hope their story inspires younger generations, as it has me.

Sue tells me that, as a young child in Korea, she used to look at the stars in the sky, pray and hope that she would go to America someday. Her childhood dreams have been more than fulfilled. “Dream big, never give up,” said Sue. “Work at it, and your dream will come true.”

This article was published in the June 2014 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the June issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).


Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 12.45.31 PM

Kore Ionz Frontman Daniel Pak Talks About His Musical Roots And Identity

Come Together
Singer Daniel Pak of the Seattle-based reggae band Kore Ionz traces his musical roots and identity to his native Hawaii.

by RUTH KIM

When plans to play a wedding gig in Hawaii fell through for Seattle-based reggae band Kore Ionz, the band members saw an opportunity instead of a setback. Their flight already booked, its members decided to go ahead and make the trip and film a music video for one of the band’s new tracks during the weekend visit to the island. For lead singer Daniel Pak, a Korean and Japanese American and native of Hawaii, it all felt right. He was going home.

The track for the music video they planned to make, “Feels Good,” is part of Kore Ionz’s new work, an EP of the same name, that the group just released in April. It marks the third album for the band, which, though based in the grunge capital of Seattle, carries relaxing island sounds and vibes that are central to Pak’s identity.

“Feels Good,” in particular, captures the nostalgia Pak felt when returning to the sandy beaches and sunbathed warmth of the Hawaiian Islands. He moved to Seattle in 1998, and penned the song one cold and rainy night while feeling particularly homesick. “I just kept thinking about the island that I was born and raised on, and the song came to me in, like, five minutes,” said Pak.

The planning behind the song’s music video was almost as fast, and involved hopping into the back of a pickup truck with three different weather apps, and the crew literally chased the sun all over Oahu amid sporadic rain showers. Despite the chaotic process, the resulting video proved a perfect tribute to the island where Pak grew up. The Hawaiian native says he knows the mountain trail featured in the opening scene like the back of his hand; he used to walk up it from his childhood home built by his grandfather, along the bay.

“I spent so much time on that mountain,” he said. “And we finally got to kind of immortalize it.”

Born in Honolulu, Pak, who very much identifies as an “island boy,” grew up on the windward side of Oahu, in an area called Kaneohe. As a fourth-generation Korean American and a sixth-generation Japanese American, he comes from a family that has lived on the island for over 100 years, and throughout the generations, has adopted a “melting pot” of languages and cultures, including those of Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian, Samoan and Portuguese. Yet, in the midst of all of this, there were still deep roots of Korean culture instilled in his family.

“At all of my family’s parties, my grandma, every other week, she would make her own gochujang, she’d make her own kimchi. I learned how to make kimchi at a very young age, and every New Year’s, we’d make hundreds and hundreds of mandu,” recalled Pak. “We celebrated our Korean history very much through a more local style.”

What else did this “local style” entail? Aside from enjoying the paradise that is his home, it meant hours and hours of kanikapila. The Hawaiian term for an impromptu jam session, kanikapila is what paved Pak’s path toward a career in music. These casual sessions would take place at beaches or family gatherings—whenever friends were gathered and a guitar or ukulele was at hand. But one particular kanikapila dramatically altered the course of Pak’s career.

“We were just doing [kanikapila] at USC, during that spring break,” says Pak, recalling a trip he took as a college student to Los Angeles where he reunited with old high school friends. “These folks came up to us, and they said, ‘Hey, do you guys have a CD?’” When Pak and his friends revealed that they weren’t in a band and didn’t have a CD, the passersby replied, “Well, you guys should, you guys are so good.”

“It was that very moment, that in my mind, it made the shift, like, I could really do this. People really appreciate it,” said Pak.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 12.53.45 PM

The Kore Ionz band, with lead singer Daniel Pak’s sons, Asa and Jahyoo, after performing for their fans for the Lively Mobile App (www.getlive.ly).

And as soon as he returned to Seattle, that’s exactly what he did. He and his friends started a band and called themselves INIzeysion. Later, he was asked to be in another band called Mystic Rising. But as his bandmates’ paths began to diverge toward law schools or programs abroad, Pak was the only one who stuck with the music, and that’s when Kore Ionz was born.

Strangely enough, Pak originally pursued a degree in metallurgical engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle, and was even offered a job as a nuclear engineer upon graduation. Amid the objections of many of his family members, he turned it down. Coming from a family very much rooted in education, with an English professor dad, a sister with a master’s degree, and a brother pursuing his Ph.D., Pak felt somewhat destined to stay on the academic path. Even after he began pursuing a music career, doubt crept into his mind, and he considered earning a teaching certificate.

But his mother calmly advised: “Daniel, don’t be a teacher. Just stick to your music. Pursue your art.”

And as the saying goes, mother knows best. Now, several years later, Kore Ionz is a staple reggae band in Hawaii and Seattle, and is continuing to garner reggae fans all over the country. Their recent performance in April at The Crocodile, a legendary venue in Seattle famous for early performances of Nirvana, was a sold-out show. While the band underwent many personnel configurations over the years, the current members represent a widely talented and multicultural group of individuals, some of whom have shared the stage with Grammy Award winners. Members include: Thaddeus Turner on lead guitar, formerly of Digable Planets; keyboardist Greg Fields; trumpet player Owuor Arunga, who just so happens to be the trumpet player for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis; saxophonist Darian Asplund; bass player Masa Kobayashi; percussionist Ahkeenu Mysa; and drummer and co-producer Teo Shantz.

Before the most recent EP, the band released Half-Hour Revolution in 2008 and World War Free in 2011.

Although creating music is Pak’s passion, the singer-songwriter’s larger goal is to contribute to making the world—which he calls a “bipolar mess” with “the red party, the blue party, the left wing, the right wing, the haters, the lovers”—a better, less violent and more accepting place. That’s the meaning behind the name Kore Ionz. Well, second meaning. What actually started out as a joke name for a punk rock band later took on something more profound. The name draws inspiration from the very building blocks of the world: molecules, which are formed by atoms that have either neutral, positive or negative charges. (Remember, Pak has an engineering background.) These positively and negatively charged atoms, called ions, attract each other to form something stable.

“So you only got two kinds of energy: you got positivity, or you got negativity. And everywhere you go, it’s gonna be one or the other,” Pak explained. “And the only way we can reach something stable is when positive and negative come together and compromise, you know what I mean?

“So that’s just how I see Kore Ionz. Whenever we play in front of a crowd, I just want to connect. Whatever we can do to connect with as many people as we can, to pass on this love, to bring people together.”

 Photos courtesy of KORE IONZ

This article was published in the June 2014 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the June issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).




world-cup-2

World Cup 2014: Your Guide To Team Korea

Ready to Daehanminguk?

Here’s your guide to World Cup 2014’s Team Korea, which will head to Brazil this month with a team full of both youth and experience. 

by STEVE HAN

The countdown is on for World Cup soccer, the heavily anticipated quadrennial showdown of the world’s most popular sport. With the 2014 FIFA World Cup set to kick off in Brazil on June 12, expectations are at an all-time high for Team Korea. Drawn in Group H, South Korea begins its campaign on June 17 versus Russia, followed by Algeria and Belgium.

In Brazil, Korea will make its eighth consecutive World Cup appearance, a feat accomplished by only five other teams—Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Germany and Spain—all of which have previously won the World Cup. The odds are stacked against the Taegeuk Warriors, as the team is nicknamed by its fans back home. Ranked 55th in the FIFA World Rankings, Korea is only ahead of Australia as it enters this year’s competition. However, the last three tournaments have proved relative successes for Korea: it made a historic and magical run to the semifinals as co-hosts in 2002, won its first World Cup game away from home in 2006 and advanced to the round of 16 in 2010 on foreign soil for the first time. This summer, the team’s goal is to reach the quarterfinals.

This year, Korea will take its youngest World Cup team to Brazil. Its average age only at 25.9, Korea may even be the youngest team of all 32 teams at the tournament by the time every team finalizes its roster in early June. Despite its youth, Team Korea coach Hong Myung-bo said at a press conference at the National Football Centre in Paju last month, “Compared to any of the previous sides, the squad we’ve just announced has a lot of experience for their age, and they’ve also performed well.”

Korea has 17 of its 23 players on the roster who are currently playing professionally abroad, more than any of its previous World Cup rosters. Most of those players are playing in Europe, which is considered soccer’s equivalent of the NBA in the basketball world, where the best of the best play. That means, despite its youth, Korea will head to Brazil with players with more international experience than ever before.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 10.37.21 AM

AP PHOTO/EMILIO MORENATTI

Hong Myung-Bo: From Captain To Coach
While many of his teammates from the successful 2002 World Cup team started signing lucrative deals with European clubs after the tournament, team captain Hong Myung-bo took the road less traveled by joining the Los Angeles Galaxy that year and became the first Korean to play in Major League Soccer.

By then, “The Eternal Captain” had earned the respect to write his own future without anyone questioning him. When he arrived in Southern California, Hong had played in four World Cups, including the 2002 tournament in which Korea sent powerhouses from Portugal, Italy and Spain packing. He received the 2002 World Cup’s Bronze Ball and was later selected in the FIFA 100, a list of the game’s all-time greats, by global soccer icon Pele.

Still a California resident, Hong retired in 2004, but his post-playing career has been just as successful as his illustrious days playing the game. His first head coaching job was with Korea’s under-20 national team, a group that consisted of many who have developed under his wing and will represent Team Korea in Brazil this summer. He took that youth team, led by Koo Ja-cheol who will captain the Korean team in Brazil, to the quarterfinals of the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Then Hong was promoted to lead South Korea at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. He took the nucleus of his promising under-20 team, groomed those players and guided the team to win Korea’s first ever soccer medal, a bronze.

So when the Korean Soccer Association had to find a head coach last year, it was a no-brainer for them to choose Hong.

In recent months, however, Hong has taken a great deal of heat from Korean fans, who have accused him of favoritism.

Some of the players from the core group of his under-20 and Olympic team have either struggled to perform or have rarely played for their respective European teams, such as Yun Suk- young of England’s Queens Park Rangers and Park Chu-young, who only played twice in the last six months after joining Watford on loan from Arsenal. Yet, Hong controversially selected both of them at the expense of those whose recent performances were probably more deserving of a call to the national team, but have never played a role in Hong’s previous teams. Park Joo-ho garnered Team of the Week honors three times at his German club Mainz this past season, and the up-and-comer Lee Myung-joo is considered the best midfielder in the domestic K-League, but they were both dropped. Park eventually earned a late call to the team only after it was revealed that another leftback Kim Jin-su wouldn’t be able to recover in time from an ankle injury.

Despite the criticism, Hong insists that the results will show that he is taking Korea’s best team to Brazil, where the 45-year-old will seek a final coronation in his already legendary career.

7 Players to Watch From Team Korea

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 10.52.59 AM

SON HEUNG-MIN
Age: 21
Club: Bayer Leverkusen, Germany
Position: Forward
When South Korean soccer icon Park Ji-sung retired from the national team in 2011, no one doubted that Son would assume the role of Korean soccer’s next poster boy. Son is only the second Korean player in history to score more than 10 goals in a top-flight European league in two straight seasons since the legendary Cha Bum-kun became the first to achieve that feat in the 1980s. Currently playing at Bayer Leverkusen of Germany, Son will spearhead South Korea’s attack in Brazil with his dazzling runs and thunderous shots.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 10.58.51 AM

PARK CHU-YOUNG
Age: 28
Club: Watford (on loan from Arsenal), England
Position: Forward
The talented Park Chu-young is quite possibly one of the finest goal scorers the country has ever seen. But he can’t seem to escape controversy off the soccer field. Criticism began swirling in 2011 after Park took up residency in Monaco, where he was playing professionally at the time, freeing him of South Korea’s mandatory military service. Angry fans hurled jabs at Park for working around the system, calling him a “traitor.” A year later, though, he seemed to win over critics when he scored Korea’s winning goal against Japan at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London in the bronze medal game. But he’s now back in the center of controversy after he was selected to represent Korea on the world stage, despite his rare playing time at three different clubs in Europe over the last three years.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 11.03.27 AM

KI SUNG-YUENG
Age: 25
Club: Sunderland (on loan from Swansea), England
Position: Central midfielder
Precise, clever and stable in midfield, Ki Sung-yueng is the lynchpin of the Korean team; whether the team will achieve its goal in Brazil will hinge heavily on his distribution. After two years in the English Premier League, Ki finished in the top-10 in pass completion rate in both seasons in arguably the most competitive league in the world. The playmaker came under public scrutiny back home last year when it was revealed that he had been posting vitriolic comments about Korea’s ex-head coach, Choi Kang-hee, on his secret Facebook account, but Hong Myung-bo still decided to make him the centerpiece of the team. Ki, who spent his formative years in Australia and speaks English, also made gossip headlines last summer after marrying actress Han Hye-jin.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 11.05.11 AM

LEE CHUNG-YONG
Age: 26
Club: Bolton Wanderers, England
Position: Winger
Liverpool, one of the most storied teams in the world, was inching closer to signing Korea’ s high-flying winger Lee Chung-yong in 2011. That’ s when Lee, playing for Bolton Wanderers in an exhibition against a fifth division team in England, suffered a career-threatening double fracture in his leg after a vicious tackle by the opposing defender. The Liverpool deal was taken off the table immediately, and it took Lee almost a year to return to the field. Agonizingly, Korea’ s best dribbler is now playing in England’ s second division. The World Cup in Brazil could be Lee’s last opportunity to showcase his talent and earn a deserved move to a bigger club before it’s too late.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 11.07.28 AM

KIM YOUNG-GWON
Age: 24
Club: Guangzhou Evergrande, China
Position: Centerback
While Korea has produced its fair share of rough and rugged defenders, an elegant ball-playing defender has been a rarity since Hong Myung-bo’s retirement. So when Hong became head coach of Korea’s under-20 team, he handpicked Kim Young-gwon and Hong Jeong-ho to become his successors. While Hong Jeong-ho’ s dream of playing European soccer was granted last summer with a move to German club FC Augsburg, Kim, who’s playing for mega-rich Chinese club Guangzhou Evergrande at the moment, will look to impress in Brazil in the hope of following in the footsteps of his partner in central defense.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 11.09.16 AM

KOO JA-CHEOL
Age: 25
Club: Mainz, Germany
Position: Central Midfielder
A do-it-all midfielder and a leader, Koo Ja-cheol is the creative spark and the attacking thrust on head coach Hong Myung-bo’s tactically conservative team. Many who aren’t familiar with the inner workings of the Korean team may question his leadership because of his relatively young age, but the nucleus of the current Korean team is from the under-20 side from 2009, which Koo captained exceptionally well. Gifted with skills on the ball and tireless work rate off it, Koo plays an integral role in Hong’s 4-2-3-1 formation.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 11.14.38 AM

KIM SHIN-WOOK
Age: 26
Club: Ulsan Hyundai, Korea
Position: Forward
Kim Shin-wook, coming from Korea’ s domestic K-League, remains one of the last bastions of hope for the league, as its presence is diminishing at an alarming rate. At 6-foot-4, Kim is the tallest player who has ever represented Korea. Last year’ s K-League MVP will likely be used as a second half substitute in Brazil, but he will still play an important role in changing the complexion of the games with his physical presence when Korea’s attacking players become stagnant or tired during games.

Top image is the ESPN Fifa World Cup 2014 official team poster design for Team Korea

Player photos by Lee Jin-Man/AP

FOLLOW TEAM KOREA AT THE WORLD CUP
June 17: South Korea vs. Russia (6 P.M. ET)
June 22: South Korea vs. Algeria (3 P.M. ET)
June 26: South Korea vs. Belgium (4 P.M. ET)

This article was published in the June 2014 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the June issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).



Dartmouth logo

Dartmouth College

A Dartmouth education is unlike any other. Through person-to-person teaching and opportunities to create and apply knowledge on campus and across the globe, Dartmouth instills a love of learning among its students and empowers them for a lifetime of leadership.

CalTech logo

California Institute of Technology

Caltech is a world-renowned and pioneering research and education institution dedicated to advancing science and engineering.

Caltech was founded on the premise of learning through discovery, and cultivates an environment where scientists and engineers can pursue solutions to the world’s greatest challenges.

Caltech’s scientific, engineering, and technological achievements advance understanding, improve our quality of life, and transform the future.

Duke logo

Duke University

Younger than most other prestigious U.S. research universities, Duke University consistently ranks among the very best. Duke’s graduate and professional schools – in business, divinity, engineering, the environment, law, medicine, nursing and public policy – are among the leaders in their fields. Duke’s home campus is situated on nearly 9,000 acres in Durham, N.C, a city of more than 200,00 people. Duke also is active internationally through the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore, Duke Kunshan University in China and numerous research and education programs across the globe. More than 75 percent of Duke students pursue service-learning opportunities in Durham and around the world through DukeEngage and other programs that advance the university’s mission of “knowledge in service to society.”

uchicago logo

The University of Chicago

One of the world’s premier academic and research institutions, the University of Chicago has driven new ways of thinking since our 1890 founding. Today, UChicago is an intellectual destination that draws inspired scholars to our Hyde Park and international campuses, keeping UChicago at the nexus of ideas that challenge and change the world.

Our education empowers individuals to challenge conventional thinking in pursuit of original ideas. Students in the undergraduateCollege broaden their perspectives on world issues in the rigorousCore curriculumGraduate programs through our four divisions, six professional schools, and the Graham School of Continuing Liberal Arts and Professional Studies transform scholars into leaders and grant access to professors often lauded as some of the world’s greatest thinkers.

With a commitment to free and open inquiry, our scholars take an interdisciplinary approach to research that spans arts to engineering,medicine to education. Their work transforms the way we understand the world, advancing—and creating—fields of study. They lead the country in scientific and technological innovations, often in partnership with our affiliated laboratories: Argonne National Laboratory, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Generating new knowledge for the benefit of present and future generations, UChicago research has had an impact around the globe, leading to such breakthroughs as discovering the link between cancer and genetics, establishing revolutionary theories of economics, and developing tools to produce reliably excellent urban schooling.

Located in one of the world’s greatest cities, UChicago is enriched by and invested in the community we call home. As the second-largest private employer in Chicago, our talented faculty, physicians, and staff comprise a dedicated team committed to the mission of the University.

We partner with our South Side neighbors on innovative initiatives with local benefits and replicable outcomes for urban universities everywhere. Meanwhile, our research and ideas have broad impact, crossing borders to drive international conversations. The same is true of our diverse and creative students and alumni, who found businesses, create masterpieces, and win Nobel Prizes.

In all we do, we are driven to dig deeper, push further, and ask bigger questions—and to leverage our knowledge to enrich all human life.

MIT logo

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The mission of MIT is to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century — whether the focus is cancer, energy, economics or literature (learn more about MIT’s current initiatives).