South Korean Film Industry Faces Sexual Assault Crisis

TOPSHOT - South Korean demonstrators hold banners during a rally to mark International Women's Day as part of the country's #MeToo movement in Seoul on March 8, 2018. The #MeToo movement has gradually gained ground in South Korea, which remains socially conservative and patriarchal in many respects despite its economic …
JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

South Korea’s vibrant film industry is facing its own sexual harassment crisis.

On Tuesday, the Korean Academy of Film Arts was accused of suppressing details in a female-on-female sexual assault case. Wednesday brought the indictment of Kim Yong-bin, formerly head of the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, on a charge of indecent assault.

“Kim has been accused of sexual assault by two women. One, a former programmer, reported that Kim touched her backside in the festival offices in 2013 and praised how well her jeans fitted her. The other says Kim assaulted her during a workshop meeting a month later,” Variety reported on Wednesday.

The other story involves Lee Hyun-joo, director of a prize-winning lesbian romance called Our Love Story. Lee was convicted for a 2015 sexual assault in December 2017, but now the Korean Film Council has revealed that the victim complained to a professor at the Korean Academy of Film Arts, who advised her not to make trouble by pressing charges. The head of the Academy was reportedly also aware of the complaint.

Variety notes that this week’s headline-grabbing stories are but the tip of a sizable sexual harassment iceberg in the Korean film industry:

According to the police, some 70 people have been accused since the beginning of #MeToo. Ten, including prominent film director Kim Ki-duk and renowned stage director Lee Yoon-taek, have been charged with crimes. Earlier this month, veteran TV actor Jo Min-ki committed suicide after multiple accusations were made against him.

The TV star, Jo Min-ki, was 52 years old and had become a professor at a provincial university. Most of his eight alleged assault victims were students.

The UK Guardian adds another scandal reminiscent of the post-Harvey Weinstein meltdown in Hollywood: two of the actors who were filming the sequel to a blockbuster hit movie had to drop out of the production and, in one case, retire from acting completely after allegations of sexual assault. The producers have spoken of reshooting their scenes with different actors.

In conjunction with the establishment of the Center for Gender Equality in Korean Film this week, a survey was taken that showed 60 percent of women in the Korean film industry claim to have experienced some form of harassment.

The internals of the poll revealed that the concept of “harassment” was broadly defined to include “sexual comments about their appearance” and lingering gazes at “specific body parts,” but a fair number of the responses complained of unwanted physical contact as well.

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