Tag Archives: south korea


South Korea Bans Leftist Political Party

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

South Korea chose to disband a pro-North Korean party on Friday, marking the first time the country has outlawed a political party since it adopted its constitution in 1948.

The 8-1 ruling in the South Korean Constitutional Court effectively ordered the Unified Progressive Party (UPP), established in 2011, to dissolve. According to the National Election Commission (NEC), the UPP has been forced to forfeit all of its state subsidies, and its assets have also been frozen. Furthermore, an alternative party with similar policies as the UPP will be prohibited from being founded.

“The genuine goal and the activities of the UPP are to achieve progressive democracy and to finally adopt North Korea-style socialism,” Chief Justice Park Han-cheol said in a nationally televised broadcast of the landmark ruling. “The UPP, with a hidden agenda to adopt North Korea’s socialism, organized meetings to discuss a rebellion. The act goes against the basic democratic order of the Constitution.”

Several members of the UPP, including Rep. Lee Seok-ki, were convicted of plotting to overthrow the South Korean government in the event of a war and were found guilty of conspiring with North Korea’s communist regime.

Before the landmark ruling, no other political party has been banned in South Korea’s modern history.

Eight justices who ruled in favor of the UPP’s dissolution agreed that the ruling was made to protect democracy in South Korea. Kim Yi-su, the only justice who opposed the ruling, maintained that only a few UPP members were involved in the recent scandal.

The ruling also dismissed five UPP legislators from their seats regardless of whether they were elected through popular vote or the proportional representation system.

Photo courtesy of YTN


Q&A with the Director of ‘The Attorney’

This story was originally published in the February 2014 issue of KoreAm Journal. 

Already a hit in South Korea, The Attorney, based on a controversial former president’s moral coming of age in the 1980s, makes its U.S. debut this month.

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

The late South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun was a highly polarizing figure during his administration, from 2003 to 2008. But the film inspired by his earlier years, The Attorney, has managed to bring out the Korean masses. It’s a smash hit in Korea, eclipsing 10 million in ticket sales just 33 days after its release. The film hits U.S. theaters on Feb. 7.

The Attorney’s story centers on Song Woo-seok, played by Song Kang-ho, who’s widely known for his leading roles in Joint Security AreaSympathy for Mr. Vengeance and the recent Snowpiercer, depicting a young Roh-like tax attorney in Busan in the early 1980s. Song, the character, who grew up in a poor family, became a lawyer for one reason: he wanted to become rich. Quite possibly the most successful tax attorney in Busan, Song seemed to have achieved that goal.

But Song’s life takes a 180-degree turn when he learns that Jin-woo, the son of a small restaurant owner who fed Song when he was young and poor, is arrested unjustly. Jin-woo’s arrest in the film is also based on a true incident in South Korea in 1981, called the “Burim Case,” in which military dictator Chun Doo-hwan ordered the arrest of 22 college students with no warrant and charged them for practicing communism-inspired activities.

The Attorney’s director, Yang Woo-seok, a 45-year-old debuting filmmaker, took time to speak to KoreAm about his film, which he said is more about his country’s growing pains during the 1980s than it is about the life of the controversial President Roh, who jumped to his death from a cliff in 2009, amid allegations of bribery.

Cul-Film-0214-ATTORNEY-DirYANGYang Woo-seok, director of The Attorney.

How would you describe South Korea in the 1980s?

Yang Woo-seok: It was a period of growth for the country. In fact, the growth rate of Korea’s economy was the highest during the 1980s than any other time. But in a way, I think the ’80s for South Korea was similar to an average person’s teenage years. When you’re a teenager, you get taller, physically stronger, and your head gets bigger, both literally and figuratively. There are growing pains and mistakes. Korea went through something similar as a country.

Why did you feel that former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun was the best person to tell South Korea’s story in the 1980s?

When you study the history of other countries, most of these countries had two separate periods in which they democratized and industrialized. But Korea did both simultaneously in the 1980s. I wanted to create a film that centers on a life of an individual to interpret that particular time in Korean history. There were many human rights activists and attorneys who participated in Korea’s pro-democracy movement. Roh Moo-hyun is someone who helped complete that mission.

Cul-Film-0214-ATTORNEY4Kwak Do-wan, in his role as Cha Dong-young.

Even though you attended college in Korea during the 1980s, you never participated in student protests or other pro-democracy movements, which were prevalent among young people. You also mentioned in previous interviews that you believe democracy is something that should be earned naturally. So I’m curious to learn why you were so intrigued by someone like Roh, who was at the forefront of public protests.

Curiosity. I wanted to fulfill my personal curiosity. I like to believe that I have a tendency to look at things around the world with an objective point of view. And as a filmmaker, I wanted to tell a story of a person in a historical period. Having been a college student in Korea in the 1980s, I’m certain that South Korea is headed towards a healthier democracy and logical social consciousness now than ever before. I have no doubt about that. My belief is that it’s inevitable for Korea to take a healthier route to righteousness. But during my years in college, Roh piqued my interest because that’s when these things weren’t very certain.

Cul-Film-0214-ATTORNEY5Yim Si-wan plays student activist Jin-woo.

You said you’ve never met Roh in person. When you saw him for the first time on TV, what were some of your first impressions?

Back in the ’80s, there was something called The Fifth Republic Hearing in Korea. It was a televised public hearing. An attorney would question government officials or other public figures involved in corruption. Roh almost became a national star because no other attorneys in these hearings were as meticulously prepared during their interrogations. He was someone who started his professional career as a tax attorney, who lived a fairly comfortable life while making good money. But he volunteered to become a human rights attorney and later became a congressman. I was attracted by that.

The Attorney is earning so much praise for having great dialogue.

For me, most of the lines in the film are really cliché and obvious. It’s common sense. In fact, the line, “The nation is the people,” which seems to be getting a lot of attention, was taken straight out of the Korean constitution. You know what I think it is, though? I think people relate to lines that are so cliché and obvious because oftentimes, in society, what should be taken as common sense is actually not so common.

One of the most memorable lines in the film is when Song Wooseok yells, “I don’t want my children to live in a world like this.”

A lot like what happened in Korea during the 1980s, illogical things happen anywhere in the world. I dream of a world that can recognize what’s logical and illogical. I wanted to help our audience reach an understanding. Personally, I don’t like it when we turn a blind eye to what’s wrong in society, just because what’s working now seems right. It’s important to realize that something is illogical when it really is.

Cul-Film-0214-ATTORNEY2Song Kang-ho, who portrays attorney Song Woo-seok, chats with costars Yim Si-wan and Kim Young-ae.

You’ve stated that you’re concerned about saying this film is based on a true story. Why?

I don’t want the film to be politicized. I also worry that people may think I have a political motive. When you watch the film, there’s nothing political about it. It’s simply a story of a human rights attorney’s life. I didn’t want that to be misinterpreted. In Korea, when you say that a film is based on a true story, people tend to associate every single character in the movie to someone who existed in real life. But from a perspective of a filmmaker, you have to come up with a protagonist and an antagonist to make the film structurally sound. I wanted to avoid the controversy of antagonizing real people, so I focused the story on the life of Roh Moo-hyun and depicted the rest fictitiously. In America, this film would’ve gotten away as a true story, but the Korean film culture is a bit different.

The Attorney will be in American theaters in February. It’s true that the film could be hard to relate to for many people in the U.S., especially those who aren’t familiar with South Korean history in the 1980s.

There’s no doubt that The Attorney is very Korean. But still, its theme is about a person fighting against military dictatorship. Military dictatorship has taken place in so many different areas of the world, especially in Asia and South America. This is a film about a person who fought directly against military dictatorship. For people who understand the significance of such an effort, the film shouldn’t be difficult to relate to.

Cul-Film-0214-ATTORNEY3Oh Dal-su (as Park Dong-ho), with Song.

If there is one message you want your Korean American audience to take from watching the film, what would it be?

Two things. First, I’d like for them to learn that democracy in Korea was earned during an intense, agonizing period that required a ton of soul searching. Second, I noticed that a lot of people simply remember Roh Moohyun as a former president. But to me, his time as someone who made a lifechanging decision in 1981 to fight against military dictatorship was just as significant as him becoming president in 2003. If Korean American immigrants and their children can think about these things a little bit more, that would be wonderful.

You serve as a mentor for college graduates in Korea. What do you often talk about with young people?

Many of them are on the cusp of entering the workforce. In other words, they’re at their infancy in becoming members of South Korean society. One thing I realized when I was talking to these folks was that they’re already so burnt-out. They operate within a framework that pressures them to fit themselves into what the world requires of them. In a way, I felt like they’ve become senile at such a young age because it looks to me like finding a job is everything there is to life for them. Watching them, I felt more compelled to make The Attorney, because I wanted to make a film that tells a story about how the previous generation has overcome a major obstacle, as an example for today’s younger generation.


Featured photo courtesy of Finecut. 

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

google trends

Google Reveals South Korea’s Top Searches of 2014

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

It’s that time of year again. As 2014 draws to a close, Google has compiled a list of this year’s most searched topics in the world as well as individual countries. Here are some of South Korea’s most popular searches made in 2014.


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Topping the list of most searched names is former Olympic skater Kim Yuna. Many K-pop and Hallyu stars made their appearances on the list as well, including HyunA (No. 2), Hyosung of the girl group Secret (No. 4), IU (No. 6), rock icon Shin Hae Chul (No. 8), EXO (No. 9) and model and actress Clara (No. 10). Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher Ryu Hyun Jin and the late owner of the sunken Sewol Ferry, Yoo Byung Eun, were also featured, ranking in third and fifth places, respectively.


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In 2014, Snowpiercer was the most googled movie in South Korea, followed by The Attorney and the epic blockbuster The Admiral Roaring Currents. This is no surprise as all three films broke box office records and quickly became some of the country’s highest-grossing films of all time.

Other Korean films that made the cut include Kundo: Age of the Rampant (No. 5), revenge noir The Divine Move (No. 6), spy-action film The Suspect (No. 7) and the scandalous romantic thriller Scarlet Innocence (No. 10). Hollywood films About Time (No. 4), Begin Again (No. 8) and Lucy (No. 9) were also featured on the list.

You can view all of South Korea’s top trending searches of 2014 here

Dear Korea....   YouTube

[VIDEO] Korean Middle Schooler Bashes Education System

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

South Korean students are ranked among the brightest in the world, but they are definitely not among the happiest. A young student, who identifies himself as Jason, took to YouTube a few days ago to voice his dissent, and his video has drawn thousands of views in just a few days.

The middle school freshman (7th grade), who, according to his videos, lived in Texas for a few years before moving back to South Korea, holds nothing back in his biting criticism.

“Dear Korea, you’re pretty impressive,” he says. “You’ve come a long way in such a short time, but you suck, to be honest. The kids here are having a competitive, harsh childhood. You pretend it isn’t a problem, or you’re just too dense to figure out that it is.”

Korean students are expected to study up to 12-16 hours a day until they attend college, but even then, if the college isn’t prestigious, Jason warns, “do not expect your parents to love you.”

Although he rambles at some parts of the vlog, Jason offers an interesting and refreshing Korean American perspective on the country’s high-pressure educational system. Make sure to watch the last minute of the video to catch his final biting comment.

You can also watch Jason’s follow-up video below, in which he talks about what he loves and hates about Korea (apart from its education system).


South Korea’s First Female UFC Fighter Loses via Decision

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

South Korea’s first ever female UFC fighter Ham Seo-hee withstood three gruesome rounds in her debut, but her gritty efforts against Joanne Calderwood on Friday weren’t quite enough for a win.

The 5-foot-2-inch Ham was evidently overmatched against Calderwood, whose 5-foot-6 frame gave her an edge in the women’s strawweight fight at The Ultimate Fighter 20 Finale event at The Pearl at Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. Despite the disadvantage in size, Ham clawed her way into the fight by spinning away from Calderwood’s punches and countered with lethal hits of her own. The 27-year-old even bloodied Calderwood’s nose in the second round even while she took more hits during the bout’s fiercest exchanges.

Calderwood dominated the third round with a front kick to Ham’s face, followed by a takedown. The Scottish Muy Thai champion then delivered several punches, which left an exhausted Ham helplessly vulnerable in the dying seconds of the fight.

Ham, whose loss to Calderwood (9-0 overall, 1-0 UFC) gives her a 0-1 UFC record, still maintains an overall 15-6 record. However, her recent loss has snapped her six-fight winning streak, which began in April of last year.

Born in Busan, South Korea, Ham joined UFC last month after fighting in Deep Jewels and Road FC events since 2007. She is South Korea’s first female UFC fighter and only the ninth overall.


Super Junior’s Sungmin Marries Kim Sa-eun

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Sungmin of Super Junior tied the knot with musical actress Kim Sa Eun on Dec. 13 at The Raum in Yeoksamdong, Seoul.

About a thousand guests, including family, friends and celebrities, attended the wedding. Musical actor Yoo Jun-sang and comedian Hong Rok-gi officiated the ceremony, and congratulatory songs were sung by Sungmin’s fellow band mate Ryeowook as well as Kim Ah-sun, Seo Ji-young and Lee Gun-young. According to Allkpop, one of the highlights of the event was when the married couple sang a duet during the reception.

KBS2’s Entertainment Relay documented the wedding in an exclusive report that revealed photos taken during the ceremonies. Here are some of the photos below:





Sungmin and Kim first met as co-stars in the musical The Three Musketeers in late 2013 and went public with the relationship in October this year.

After the wedding, the couple flew to Maldives for their honeymoon.

All photos via Daily Kpop News and KBS2.

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‘My Love, Don’t Cross That River’ Tops Korean Box Office

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

A documentary about the lifelong love of an elderly couple topped South Korea’s box office on Friday, knocking down epic blockbusters Exodus: Gods and Kings and Interstellar to second and third place, respectively.

Directed by Jin Mo-young, My Love, Don’t Cross that River follows a couple, known as the “100-year-old lovebirds,” living in a sleepy mountain village in the Gangwon province. Similar to characters in a fairy tale, the elderly couple loves each other dearly, wears traditional Korean clothes every day and falls asleep while holding hands. For 15 months, the camera documents the peaceful life of the 98-year-old husband and 89-year-old wife until the husband passes away.

According to the Korean Film Council (KOFIC), the documentary has sold more than 420,000 tickets in 465 theaters across South Korea as of Thursday. It also became the first indie film to draw 100,000 viewers during its first week run and went on to exceed the 300,000 mark on its 13th day of opening.

My Love, Don’t Cross the River originated as part of KBS’s television documentary program in 2011 and was later expanded into a feature, which premiered at the the DMZ International Documentary Film Festival.

Despite having a meager production budget of 120 million won (USD $108,600), the film has already collected 488 million won in ticket sales, according to the Wall Street Journal. Industry officials now expect the tear-jerker to surpass Old Partner, a 2009 documentary about an old farmer and his 40-year-old ox, which set the box office record for Korean indie films.

You can watch the My Love, Don’t Cross That River trailer with English subtitles below:

Photo courtesy of the KOFIC


South Korea Refuses to Share 2018 Winter Olympics with Japan

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

South Korea announced Friday that it will not share its right to host the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang with Japan after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suggested the idea of co-hosting to reduce cost.

IOC officials proposed the option of hosting bobsled and luge events of the 2018 Games in Japan to Pyeongchang’s organizing committee and recommended utilizing existing facilities rather than pouring resources into building new ones. This proposal sparked an angry response from South Koreans, many of whom still resent Japan over conflicting views on politics and history.

“There was no possibility of moving some events overseas, as the IOC suggested to Pyeongchang,” Cho Yang-ho, chairman of the Pyeongchang organizing commitee, said in a statement, according to the New York Times. “It was difficult for Pyeongchang to adopt [the IOC’s ideas] because the construction for all game venues has already started.”

The IOC’s proposal to South Korea came on Monday after its landmark decision to allow host cities of the Olympic Games to move competitions to towns in nearby countries in order to prevent potential bidders for future events from going into further debt. The Russian city of Sochi’s total budget of $51 billion for the 2014 Games has reportedly scared off potential bidders.

Although the South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism’s estimated cost of the Pyeongchang Games is at $10 billion, the IOC suggested that utilizing the facilities in Nagano, Japan, which hosted the 1998 Games could save billions for Pyeongchang.

In 2002, FIFA made the unprecedented decision to allow South Korea and Japan to co-host the World Cup. The rivalry between the two countries was so fierce that it caused serious organizational and logistical problems. As a result, FIFA officially banned co-hosting bids in 2004. It’s safe to say that co-hosting the Winter Games with Japan will create similar conflicts as the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

Photo courtesy of Snowalps.com