In the latest episode of its 100 Years of Beauty web series, YouTube channel Cut highlights the evolving beauty trends of North and South Korea.
The video begins with Korea’s beauty standard of the 1910s, when Korea was under Japanese colonial rule. According to the video, Korean women of that era preferred to have ornamented hairstyles and natural makeup, with pale skin, natural brows and no contouring.
Once the video hits the 1950s, beauty standards become divided not only by decade but also by region. After the Korean War, North and South Korea had extremely polarized standards of beauty because the two countries adopted different economic systems.
Robin Park, the researcher for the video, said that the North’s standards of beauty were based on a woman’s ability to work and contribute to society. As a result, North Korean women used minimal products, and makeup trends in North Korea remained almost unchanged from 1959 to the early 90s. Meanwhile, South Korea mirrored Western or Japanese beauty trends and experimented with various makeup products.
When a South Korean pastor first asked brothers Eddie and Jason Y. Lee to produce a documentary about prostitution and sex trafficking in Seoul, they were taken aback.
The co-founders of the nonprofit Jubilee Project, known for its socially conscious short films and public service announcements, had previously filmed in the infamous red-light district in Thailand, but for some reason, they couldn’t fathom the idea that there was anything near comparable occurring in their motherland, a country the second-generation Korean Americans had visited many times in the past.
But, after being invited by Onurri Church Pastor Eddie Byun to travel to Korea last February and explore the country with eyes wide open, they ventured into parts of Seoul that took their breath away.
“We came out of a subway [station] and just across the street from a grocery store, we saw these glass windows, similar to the kind you see in Amsterdam,” recounts Jason, during an interview at Jubilee Project’s office in Los Angeles. “There was this moment when I was like, ‘Where am I? This is not Korea. This is not the Korea I know.’ And the most perplexing thing is that right next to these windows, where all these women were behind, there was a police station. I was baffled by not only how [prostitution] could exist so blatantly, but also how authorities could allow it.”
Armed with hidden cameras, the brothers spent about a month during their first trip to Korea going undercover in the three main red-light districts in Seoul, speaking with pimps, johns and sex workers. They returned to the States with some 150 hours of footage.
Save My Seoul, a documentary feature, is the result of over a year’s worth of labor. Slated for a spring 2015 release, the film allows viewers to see a far different side of South Korea—beneath its shiny veneer of catchy K-pop and innovative skin care products and smartphones—as they follow Jason and Eddie in their exploration of Korea’s disturbingly rampant sex trade.
It is Jubilee Project’s first feature-length documentary and most ambitious, in-depth effort to date. Since its founding in 2010, in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, the nonprofit Jubilee Project has been dedicated to telling stories that inspire change and empower others to take action. The group has partnered with several non-profit organizations in order to create over 100 short films, PSAs and documentaries that call attention to such important issues as bullying, autism and poverty. Their videos, usually between three and 10 minutes long, have garnered a total of about 16 million views on YouTube.
Pastor Byun, who had seen Jubilee Project’s previous shorts, reached out to the Lee brothers because for years he had wanted to make a film about the sex trade industry in Korea. It’s an issue close to his heart: Byun runs the Seoul-based HOPE Be Restored, which provides safe houses for victims of modern day slavery and helps them readjust to society. Last year, he published a book, Justice Awakening, a handbook for Christians who want to help end human trafficking.
“It’s hidden, but once you know what to look for, you’ll realize it’s everywhere,” Byun says in Save My Seoul.
Indeed, what the filmmakers found was that paid sex seems to be available in cafes, barber shops, DVD rooms, karaoke rooms and “juicy bars.” In recent years, Internet chat rooms have made it disturbingly easy for underage girls to sell sex to patrons online.
“There’s a saying in Korea that goes, ‘If you’re a rich man in Korea, then it’s your paradise,’ because you can literally go anywhere and pay for sex if you wanted to,” Jason says. “Even if you’re not looking for red-light district brothels, there are so many businesses that are actually doing sex work behind the scenes.”
According to a 2010 survey conducted by the Korean Women’s Development Institute, 5 out of 10 Korean men have admitted to purchasing sex at least once in their lifetime. More alarmingly, the Korean Institute of Criminology estimates that 20 percent of Korean men in their 20s pay for sex at least four times a month.
“Someone described it as an open secret in Korea, where everyone knows, but no one wants to acknowledge it,” Jason says. “It’s almost as though the culture accepts it and turns a blind eye to it.”
Aside from activists, academics and a few government officials, not many were willing to talk on the record to the filmmakers about this so-called open secret, afraid of painting Korea in a negative light. A surprising exception, however, was a head pimp of one of the city’s red-light districts, who casually consented to an interview on camera.
“When you think about the fact that you’re sitting with this man who is running a red-light district that is a series of illegal brothels that enslave hundreds of girls—if not thousands of girls—every night to just have sex and not make any money, it’s a pretty crazy moment,” Jason recalls. “It was really interesting because he said that he believes that he’s helping these girls.”
But what the Lee brothers found after meeting with many of the young women and girls working in the sex industry was that prostitution is often not a choice. “It’s a matter of survival,” he says.
He adds that it’s fairly common for Korean sex workers to enter the industry as teenagers between the ages of 13 and 19. Most of these girls are runaways from broken homes, where they have suffered from physical, sexual or emotional abuse. They fall into the sex trade because of a lack of options for them, Jason says.
The filmmakers also came to the conclusion that Korea’s sex trade is in many ways tied to what they called a “broken Korean culture,” fed by a long, complicated history of females being treated as sexual commodities.
Prostitution in Korea can be traced as far back as the Goryeo Dynasty when kisaeng, or trained artists, were sanctioned by the state to entertain men of the elite landholding classes. While kisaengs were stigmatized by the Confucian idea that a woman’s self-worth is measured by her chastity and adherence to men, their services were in high demand and considered customary.
Then, during the Japanese occupation, thousands of “comfort women,” as they were euphemistically called, were forced into sexual slavery—a grave crime that continues to haunt Korea, as Japanese leaders deny culpability and refuse reparations for the survivors.
Though there were laws banning prostitution from the 1950s through the ’80s, it only grew during the military rule of South Korean President Park Chung-hee. South Korea, at the time, desperately needed foreign currency to rebuild its war-torn economy, and so in 1962, the government designated “camptowns” around U.S. military bases as “special tourism districts,” where prostitution was legal. Camptown prostitutes were even required to register with the government and carry medical certificates to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
It was not until 2004 that a South Korean law banned prostitution entirely. However, despite government crackdowns and arrests, the red-light districts expanded underground and to other businesses. According to the Ministry for Gender Equality, about 500,000 women participate in the Korean sex trade industry, while women’s rights groups, such as the Korean Feminist Association, believe that number could be as high as 1.2 million. If the latter figure is right, then that means that one out of 25 women in the country is selling her body.
“To be honest, there is nowhere that you can access prostitution as easily as in Korea,” says Dr. Sun Young Park, a former criminologist at the Korean Institute of Criminology, in the film’s trailer.
In Save My Seoul, after the filmmakers went undercover to meet some of the girls and women working in the sex industry, they were eventually able to gain their trust and get them to share their stories.
“When we first introduced ourselves, they were making fun of our bad Korean,” recalls Jean Rheem, Save My Seoul’s producer and editor. “They had these really bubbly and bright personalities. I don’t think that’s particularly common for people who came out of that situation, but for these girls, I think it was because they were together with their friends.”
Rheem, who conducted half of the film’s interviews, says that the filmmakers coming from America seemed to help break the ice, as it piqued the girls’ curiosity. The Jubilee team bonded with the girls after sharing some of their Jubilee Project videos on YouTube and promising the girls anonymity.
“In terms of opening up to talk about the actual issue, it took [the girls] some time to really, really trust us,” Rheem says. “But ultimately, we just spent as much time as we could with them. And I think they could see that we came from a genuine place of wanting to really learn and do something about the cause.”
Rheem recalls one girl in particular, identified as “Esther” in the film, who was so brave in sharing her story. At the tender age of 13, she left her abusive home only to find herself in the hands of pimps, who exploited her for two years.
“For victims like her, it’s extremely difficult to reacclimatize to the society due to trauma, and this is especially true in Korea where the stigmatization against sex workers is high,” Rheem explains. “So many survivors choose to guard their past and move on with their lives. However, for Esther, she risked her safety by choosing to trust us with her story, if it meant that she could aid in [preventing] other troubled girls like her from ever experiencing what she had to endure. She believed in the effort, as long as it can help even just one person.”
Jason emphasizes that the goal of the film is not to make Korea look like a terrible country. Instead, he hopes that the film will help people re-evaluate the problematic culture in Korea that condones sex trafficking, and the larger, universal issue of just how we treat other human beings.
“Our purpose of the film is to grow awareness. If we’re able to grow awareness and begin a dialogue about [sex trafficking], then we can at least change some of the perspectives of people not only in the U.S. but also in Korea,” says Jason. “For every girl that we help prevent going into the sex industry, we’re changing their lives and their world.”
As a female activist at the end of the Save My Seoul trailer, says, “If people really knew what’s going on, there’s no way they can ignore it.”
This is just a small sample of all the Asian food that I grew up with and deeply love. However, as a child, despite how often I ate Asian food (everyday) and how much I enjoyed Asian food (I wanted it everyday), you’d be hard-pressed to ever find rice and tocino in my lunch pail. Instead, my Hello Kitty lunch pail was home to PB&J sandwiches, go-gurts and of course, lunchables.
Early on, I learned to associate my beloved Asian food with home and (as 11-year-old Eddie Huang says in Fresh off the Boatafter making the mistake of bringing noodles for lunch) I associated“white people food” with school.
This is probably why I laughed out loud to the Domics short animation “Asian Food.” The animator of Domics very humorously (and accurately) describes the struggle of bringing Asian food to school for lunch around non-Asian classmates.
With our grade school lunch days long behind us, it’s easy to laugh this situation off as children being children. But who am I kidding? We’ve seen adults overreact to Asian food too. Admittedly, many of our delicious dishes (like blood sausages and century eggs) look absolutely horrifying to people who are unfamiliar. But like the other kids in this animation, they just don’t know what they’re missing.
Now excuse me while I go get my hands on some sweet corn.
Korean YouTuber Goteng recently posted a video that explores the differences between introverts and extroverts. The comparisons are made through lighthearted and slightly exaggerated scenarios, such as ordering at a restaurant, making a romantic confession and tripping in public. Currently, the video has over 350,000 views.
As an introvert myself, I can attest to how painfully awkward and difficult it is whenever I have to flag down a waiter and ask for extra banchan, or side dish. The struggle is real.
Koreans love ramen, and they love spice. But can they handle the taste of fire?
There’s been a recent surge of people trying to eat Samyang’s Bool Dak Bokkeum Myun (translation: Flaming Chicken Fried Noodles), one of South Korea’s spiciest ramens, as quickly as possible on YouTube. Why are so many people doing this sadistic challenge? I have no idea, but watching strangers cry and writhe in food pain is surprisingly entertaining.
Here are some brave souls who accepted the “Fire Noodle Challenge.” Some dominated while others lost their tongues to the fires of ramen hell.
Americans take on the Fire Noodle Challenge
London’s Fire Noodle Challenge
Korean teens devour Fire Noodles in under 15 seconds
The spit-take near the end of the challenge is the highlight of the video.
Two Americans do the Fire Noodle Race
Korean YouTubers attempt to eat 12 Fire Noodles in 10 minutes
Mokbang star eats five packets of Fire Noodles
Fire Noodles get spicier with chili peppers and chili powder
Fire is catching, and it doesn’t look like the trend will die down anytime soon.
We have seen kids, teens and YouTubers react to K-pop music videos, thanks to the good work of the Fine Brothers, but we haven’t really seen Koreans reacting to American pop music—that is until now.
YouTuber sw yoon recently launched a new series called “Korean Girls React,” and the first episode features several Korean girls reacting to Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” music video. Although the English translation in this episode is a bit vulgar and exaggerated, the girls give a pretty interesting commentary about the differences between American and Korean pop cultures.
The episode begins with interviewer asking each of the girls what they think the video is about solely based on the title “Anaconda.” Oblivious to the raunchy content awaiting them, most of the girls assumed the video was some kind of documentary on reptiles.
Needless to say, the girls were very surprised when they saw Minaj twerking on a jungle set. Their reactions varied from shock to confusion to amusement throughout the song.
The girls later expressed their surprise that the so many shots focused on Minaj’s butt instead of her bosom–a physical attribute that Korean men find the most attractive, according to the girls.
Surprisingly, many of them believed that K-pop girl groups were more provocative than Minaj.
“This video has way more skin exposure, but I think that makes it less sexy,” one girl explained. “Korea is more about hinting at things and leaving it to the audience’s imagination.”
When asked how they felt about provocative music videos being released in South Korea, some expressed nonchalance or gave positive comments.
“I don’t think it’s bad. Since Korea is still very conservative, if you wear something too revealing in the summer, people judge you,” one girl said. “I think these videos can help change people’s perspectives.”
However, others said they were afraid that such sexy music videos would objectify women and make viewers see them only as sex symbols.
Korean American singer-songwriter David Choi will be tackling this question in his upcoming dramedy web series, DAVID.
Considered a pioneer in the YouTube music scene, Choi has helped pave a way for independent artists to be seen, heard and compensated through the digital platform. As of January 2015, he has nearly a million subscribers and over 96 million views total on his YouTube videos.
Produced by Eric Wang and written by Shane Yoon, DAVID will reveal glimpses into Choi’s life as a YouTuber and musician. The web series will premiere tomorrow, Jan. 8 on Choi’s YouTube channel with a new episode airing every week. Fellow YouTube creators, such as Wong Fu Productions, will also make guest appearances in the series.
Following the premiere of his web series, Choi will also release his new album Stories of Yous and Me on Feb. 17 and will participate in a 70-city world tour.
You can watch the trailer for DAVID below. You’ll notice a few candid backstage shots of Choi at last month’s Unforgettable Gala in the first couple seconds of the video.
To learn more about David Choi, read KoreAm’s cover story on the musician here.
Sony Pictures’ The Interview is now available for rent and purchase online, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The controversial comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco became available to rent in HD at 10 a.m. PST on several streaming platforms, including YouTube Movies, Google Play, Microsoft’s Xbox Video and Sony’s own dedicated website at the price of $5.99. The film can also be bought for $14.99.
“It has always been Sony’s intention to have a national platform on which to release the film,” said Michael Lynton, chairman and CEO of Sony Entertainment. “With that in mind, we reached out to Google, Microsoft and other partners last Wednesday, December 17th, when it became clear our initial release plans were not possible. We are please we can now join with our partners to offer the film nationwide today.”
Lynton also noted that Sony Pictures opted to release the film digitally first in order to reach the widest possible audience on opening day.
“It was essential for our studio to release this movie, especially given the assault upon our business and our employees by those who wanted to stop free speech,” he said.
Google officials also released a statement on their blog regarding the digital release.
David Drummund, the company’s senior vp and corporate development and legal chief officer, wrote, “Sony and Google agreed that we could not sit on the sideline and allow a handful of people to determine the limits of free speech in another country (however silly the content might be).”
On Tuesday, Sony reversed its decision to shelve the movie and announced a limited theatrical release. The comedy is now scheduled to screen at approximately 300 independent theaters across the country, premiering on Christmas Day.
Of course, the lead actors were ecstatic about the news and shared celebratory tweets with fans.
You wanna watch The Interview?? You can RIGHT FUCKING NOW!! Go to http://t.co/IRhW7juZWn. Thanks Sony for making it happen. Booyah.