Tag Archive | "arts & culture"

Hollywood, Broadway, and Seoul: Musicals Take Off in South Korea

By Juni Kim

The 2017 Oscars, the U.S. film industry’s top awards show, will take place in the heart of Hollywood this Sunday. Among the nominated films for Best Picture, the modern musical La La Land has emerged as the clear frontrunner with its unprecedented 7 Golden Globe awards and a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations. Although other critical darlings like Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea are in contention for Hollywood’s top prize, La La Land has already swept through much of the other film awards this season (in addition to launching a deluge of internet criticism claiming the film is merely “okay”) and it would be a major upset if it walks away without Best Picture on Sunday night.

Before La La Land was the talk of tinsel town in America, the film was first released in South Korea before all other territories and was the sixth highest grossing U.S. film at the South Korean box office last year. The musical’s generous reception should come as little surprise. South Korean audiences have taken to American musicals in recent years on both the silver screen and on stage, to the benefit of Hollywood and Broadway producers. In a country known for its melodramatic soap operas and glitzy pop groups, Western heart-on-sleeve musicals have proven to be a natural fit for Korean entertainment preferences.

Original musical films can be a tough sell for most global audiences, but South Korea has warmly received a number of them including La La Land in recent years. Irish filmmaker John Carney directed several musical films that garnered outsized box office success in South Korea. His 2014 feature Begin Again, which starred Mark Ruffalo and Kiera Knightly, became the most-watched independent film at the time in South Korea and brought in over a third of its worldwide gross from Korea audiences. The film’s success prompted the development of a Korean remake, which is set to star pop idol Dara of the popular girl group 2NE1. Outside the U.S., South Korea was also the highest grossing territory for Carney’s 2007 Oscar-winning film Once and last year’s Golden Globe-nominated Sing Street.

South Korean audiences also took to La La Land director Damien Chazelle’s previous feature Whiplash, which had about a third of its total foreign gross come from South Korea. Although not technically a musical, the film’s stark story of an aspiring jazz student’s struggles with his demanding teacher prominently features music, and the film’s box office success has been attributed to the plot’s cultural parallels with South Korea’s competitive and often rigorous student lifestyle.

Musical Graphic

Musicals have also been a part of South Korea’s recent trend of re-releasing Hollywood movies, which have a relatively easy path to break-even due to their low licensing costs. Previous Oscar winner Chicago and 2004’s The Phantom of the Opera both had re-releases last December despite having been out of Korean theaters for over a decade, and the latter film narrowly missed cracking the top ten films at the weekend box office when it was re-released.

The Korean appetite for musicals has also translated to the stage, where Korean productions of American Broadway musicals have flourished. With the help of adaptations of popular Broadway hits like Wicked and Grease, Korean musical attendance topped 12 million attendees in recent years, which surpasses the attendance of all other performing art genres in South Korea. Unlike the sometimes older audiences of Broadway musicals stateside, younger Koreans frequently make up the majority of musical goers in Seoul, which has attracted the attention of U.S. Broadway producers. American producer Judy Craymer, who was behind Mamma Mia!, noted, “A huge amount of theater’s repeat business comes from Korea; they see it on Broadway, then see it at home and so on. And, best of all, it’s this huge young audience. The growth potential is enormous.”

In seeking wider audiences, South Korean productions have also integrated pop fandom into their musicals by hiring singers and soap opera stars for leading roles. In a market where musicals often struggle to break even, the draw of a K-pop idol, who could potentially bring thousands of devoted fans, can make the difference between financial success and failure. On the importance of having famous young stars in productions, South Korean producer Chang Jun-won said, “Ten years ago, five years ago, ticket sales depended on a musical coming from Broadway or London or having a Tony Award, but today, K-pop casting has become the No. 1 criteria for a lot of shows.”

Despite cultural differences, many American musicals have found a second home in South Korea. Whether seen on a movie screen or live on stage, Korean audiences have eagerly taken to musicals, and future Hollywood and Broadway productions are likely to find similar warm receptions.

Juni Kim is the Program Manager and Executive Assistant at the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI). The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Comet_Cloud2’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons. Graphic by Juni Kim.

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Five K-pop Tropes that Need to Go

By Jenna Gibson

I have a confession to make – I love k-pop. Ever since my first few weeks living in Korea, when my k-pop obsessed friends sat me down and made me watch all the great music videos back to back to back, I was hooked. I love the spectacle of a great concert and the pull of a beautiful, cheesy ballad (if you think k-pop is all neon and glitter, you haven’t delved into the wonderful world of k-pop ballads).

As a fan of anything, especially something like k-pop that’s still relatively niche in the United States, it can be very frustrating to read news articles about the genre. While some have done a great job of delving into some of the really cool and interesting aspects of the k-pop world, others have fallen into the trap of tired cliche. After a few particularly frustrating examples recently, I have gathered (with input from my fellow fangirls) five of the k-pop tropes that American media needs to put to rest once and for all.

1. K-pop? Gangnam Style!

I have to give Psy credit. Gangnam Style did a lot of great things for Korean pop culture – I will never forget the shock I felt hearing Korean rap on a top 40s station for the first time. But that was five years ago…it’s time to find a new point of reference. This is not to say that Psy should be banned from news articles point blank – if you’re writing about k-pop’s entry into the American market, of course you have to mention the explosive popularity of the quirky rapper. But if you’re writing about how several big boy bands are facing an uncertain future because of mandatory military service…I’m not sure how a solo rapper and his 2012 hit are relevant to your story.

2. The Korean [fill in American artist here].

It’s understandable to try and describe Korean artists in terms that American readers will understand. However, leaning on comparisons without in-depth reasons why the artists are comparable is not good writing, it’s also condescending to both the Korean artist in question and to the people reading the article.  If you compare Shinee to the Backstreet Boys for no other reason than the fact that they both have five members, you’re not trying hard enough. And no, mega-star Rain is not the Korean Usher. Or the Korean Justin Timberlake. Or, oddly, the Korean Gene Kelly. And can we stop with the Justin Bieber references yet?  Just because they share one or two traits, that doesn’t make them the same.

3. Robots in guyliner

Korea is “cranking out pop stars” and Korean entertainment companies “specialize in manufacturing a steady stream of teenage idols.”  Yes, the k-pop scene moves fast. And yes, the fact that entertainment companies train kids for years before debuting them in well-thought-out groups is perhaps a bit unusual to the American eye. But it’s misleading to liken the idols to robots being spit out like cookie cutter copies of each other. This depiction ignores the autonomy of the boys and girls who work incredibly hard to get into a group and perfect their skills. It implies a uniformity that I certainly don’t see in the kpop scene today (anyone who wants kpop recommendations, I’m happy to provide a wide variety of styles to choose from!) And, finally, this depiction of Korean automatons on stage implies that the artists have no underlying talent beyond what the company has bestowed upon them despite the real talents they have.

4. The K-pop throne

One trope that is oddly common is calling certain groups the “kings,” “queens,” of k-pop. Now, you’re never going to be able to satisfy fans of every group out there, but by singling one out as the peak of the genre, you’re bound to get heated disagreements. At the very least, use statistics to justify including certain groups in an article – did they just sell out a world tour? Did they break a bunch of YouTube records? Did they break album sales records? Set a new record on the charts. Let’s be honest, you’ll still probably get some heated comments by ignoring certain groups. But at least a group’s claim to the k-pop throne will be justified.

5. K-pop is taking over the world!

This is not news. The New York Times reported on this theme as early as 2006. Time to find a new angle. Like the fact that a lot of the super famous 2nd/3rd generation k-pop groups are breaking up all around the same time – that’s an interesting article! (now, the author breaks pretty much all the other no-nos and then some, but that’s another story). Or how about this incredibly well-researched piece about how fans donate thousands of dollars to charity to boost their idol’s reputation? Now that’s an interesting story. Or, maybe why despite their success they haven’t conquered the United States yet. Generic stories about how Korean pop music is popular around the world? That’s so 2006.

Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Peter Kaminski’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Is K-Beauty the Next Hallyu Superstar?

By Jenna Gibson

Amid plunging exports, Korean cosmetics brands are defying the odds. According to new numbers released by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, exports of beauty products are up 53 percent in the first nine months of 2015 even though exports as a whole are down an average of 6.6 percent.

“Experts say the business strategy of product differentiation was the key to success,” writes the Korea Joongang Daily. “Korean cosmetics makers have mainly been focusing their export business on facial makeup and skincare products – such as Cushion foundation, BB cream and facial mask packs – instead of color cosmetics products, where European companies are dominant in the global market.”

Cosmetics giant AmorePacific is leading the pack. The company’s revenue jumped 20 percent in 2014, making it the world’s 14th largest cosmetics company. Meanwhile, Forbes listed AmorePacific at No. 28 on its annual list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies. Investors cited “AmorePacific’s innovations and booming Chinese business as some of the key drivers behind its success.”

But K-Beauty has gone far beyond China. After opening its first European store in Berlin this February, cosmetics store Missha opened three flagship stores in Spain last month. According to the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA), Spanish imports of Korean cosmetics have skyrocketed from 250,000 euros in 2010 to 2.61 million euros in 2014.

 Print

K-Beauty and Hallyu

Fans of Hallyu know that many of Korea’s cosmetics companies rely heavily on celebrity endorsements – many stores in Seoul’s shopping district of Myeongdong plaster gigantic posters of the hottest actors and K-pop groups across their walls, and fans can earn special merchandise featuring their favorite celebrity for spending a certain amount of money.

In fact, a recent survey of foreigners in Myeongdong and Apgujeong shopping areas found more than two thirds of them said they became interested in Korean cosmetics products after “getting to know Korean dramas or K-pop stars.” According to the study’s author, a professor at Hanyang University, “Interest and affection for Korean culture, or hallyu, has a direct correlation to growth in the cosmetics industry.”

Visit Seoul, the official travel guide for the city, is capitalizing on this trend –cosmetics are second on the site’s list of Top 10 Items to Buy in Seoul. As part of the Hallyu section of their website they have a recommended “Hallyu Star Beauty Course,” that introduces a hair and nail salon as well as clothing stores that are frequented by popular Korean celebrities. Clearly, Seoul knows its audience.

And across the Pacific, this year the United States’ Hallyu mecca, KCon, featured workshops including “Korean Celebrity Skincare Secrets,” and “K-Pop Idol Makeover” as well as booths from many of Korea’s top brands, hoping to capitalize on Hallyu fans’ interest in all things Korea.

Breaking into the American Market

Despite their success at Kcon, many of the big Hallyu trends that have caught on in Asia, the Middle East, and South America have been unable to break into the mainstream in the United States. K-pop acts like the Wondergirls and BoA have tried to break into the American music market to no avail, and while Dramafever has more viewers than ever, we’re never going to see My Love from the Star on during primetime.

K-Beauty, however, may have managed to break out of niche popularity. Sephora, a Paris-based cosmetics retailer with stores across the United States, began carrying Korean cosmetics brand Dr. Jart in 2011 and has since stepped up its offerings. Sephora’s American website has an entire section dedicated to K-Beauty, urging customers to “Get the latest from Korea: the coveted dewy look.”

Perhaps more telling, this year Amazon added a Korean Beauty subcategory within its beauty department, giving American consumers access to all their favorite cleansers, foundations and lotions without the international shipping costs. Even Target has hopped on the bandwagon, adding AmorePacific’s Laneige line to its premium skincare product aisle in 2014. Clearly K-Beauty is on the rise in the United States.

Jenna Gibson is the Associate Director for Communication Technology and Programs at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

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T-ara, Titanic, and Taeyeon: Pop Culture and North Korea

By Lilka Marino

Recent tensions along the Demilitarized Zone have been notable for one reason: North Korea launched rockets at loudspeakers that broadcasted an array of propaganda from regional and international news, weather reports, and economic updates from both sides of the border. Curiously enough, the program also included certain K-pop songs chosen for their uplifting and inspirational lyrics. The contents of this broadcasts were enough for Pyongyang to threaten “strong military action” should they continue. While the rest of the contents of each program seem like a logical irritant to a regime that depends on maintaining factual silence from the outside world, the innocence of K-pop seems like an unlikely candidate to cause the recent “quasi-state of war”.

In Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick reports the official party line towards foreign media and contraband, by a defector who received this lecture at work:

Our enemies are using these specially made materials to beautify the world of imperialism and to spread their utterly rotten, bourgeoisie lifestyles. If we allow ourselves to be affected by these unusual materials, our revolutionary mind-set and class awareness will be paralyzed and our absolute idolization for the Marshal [Kim Il-sung] will disappear.[1]

While a government such as the Kim regime does rely on its self imposed isolation, and keeping its people from outside influences[2], the reality does not reflect the regime’s expectations. In August, three North Koreans were executed for watching South Korean television programs on their mobile phones.  This execution, along with the threat to destroy the loudspeakers is indicative of the growing fascination with the outside world and pop culture, along with the recent demand for designer handbags and high heeled shoes, trends in East Asia that North Korean women began to emulate when Ri Sol-ju, wife of Kim Jong-eun, adopted them for herself. Foreign culture has settled into the isolated nation, and will not dissipate anytime soon.

While most foreign media and culture was discouraged in North Korea, the interest in foreign culture started with legal translations of Western classics in the mid-1980s. Kim Il-sung ordered these translations in limited quantities for writers to improve their ability; translations included Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. A decade later, these books were made available for the general public to purchase.

Quite possibly the most popular work to be translated, and possibly the most famous example of Pyongyang’s fascination with foreign culture was Gone With the Wind, first translated in a three volume series and released along with other American novels from the 1900s-1960s. The novel permeates North Korean society. When teaching English at PUST, Suki Kim reported that the only American book her college students were aware of was Margaret Mitchell’s work. The typically restricted film adaptation is shown to upper class North Koreans to teach English; one defector reported that the film was a favorite of the elite. Consequently, when the Samjiyon tablet made its infamous debut in 2013, it came preloaded with not only a ported version of Angry Birds, but also Gone With the Wind.

The biggest indication of national fascination is shown by the people’s love of the novel. Gone With the Wind has even made an appearance in talks between North Korean envoys and the United States, with the former apparently quoting “Frankly, Scarlett, I don’t give a damn” during negotiations. One defector reported that for a time, one could not go into Pyongyang and not avoid discussing the work, and that everyone had an opinion about strong Scarlett O’Hara, swashbuckling Rhett Butler, and the destruction of the Confederacy by the Union’s hands. It is the latter that experts speculate that holds the most appeal to North Koreans, along with the plucky heroine, who manages to rebuild and prosper after losing everything to war.

Regardless of what message North Koreans heard from Mitchell’s work, it was clear that the average North Korean is hungry for information from the outside world. This hunger would not always be fed through legal means. In the jammadang open-air markets, one student bought and read a translated book from Russia regarding how capitalism had evolved since Marx wrote his Manifesto, and realized he was being kept in the dark on purpose. How could South Korea and China be worse off than North Korea if Chinese and South Korean goods were pouring into the jammadang?[3]  Another defector reported seeing pirated DVDs and portable DVD players. These DVDs were both Hollywood movies and episodes of South Korean dramas, which sold quickly.[4] A market grew from the demand for media in particular; by 2013, brokers would wait in markets for buyers, who would ask them for the next episodes, waiting only a few weeks after their initial airing in South Korea.

These brokers, usually working with a group known as the North Korea Strategy Center (which focuses on smuggling foreign media into North Korea), feed the demand for drams, movies, eBooks, and music. They are responsible for bringing 3,000 thumb drives into the nation annually. Founder Kang Chol-hwan likened this media to the infamous “red pill” from the Matrix franchise. One broker, a defector by the name of Jung Kwang-il, is another smuggler who deals exclusively with delivering foreign media to the jammadang. He has documented his practice of delivering laptops, radios, thumb drives, and DVDs to North Korean sellers on PBS Frontline. When asked why he risked his life to do this, Jung said:

[North Koreans are] sharing thumb drives a lot. Even officials have one or two. North Korea is trying to hunt them down because the thing that changes people’s mindsets is popular culture. It probably has the most important role in bringing about democracy in North Korea.

It’s been reported that almost half of the North Koreans who defect had watched foreign television, even though it’s illegal. Countless defectors cite foreign pop culture as the spark that made them start doubting North Korea. Park Yeon-mi credited the popular film Titanic as starting a “moral crisis”, as both the idea of a man sacrificing his life for a woman as well as the economic development of the early twentieth century being far more advanced than what she had in the twentieth-first century in North Korea would aid her family’s decision to leave.

Surveys of defectors suggest that more than a million North Koreans listen to illegal foreign radio. A fisherman accidentally picked up a South Korean radio program with two women arguing over a parking spot, which was an inconceivable notion to him, as he could not imagine a scenario where there were so many cars that anyone would have to fight over parking.[5] While mp3 and mp4 players are legal in North Korea, downloading foreign media to them is definitely not. Yet one defector theorized that if you “cracked down” on high school and university students who owned the devices in North Korea, all of them would have South Korean music on them.

South Korean dramas were especially powerful to defectors; the sheer beauty in the clothing of the actors and the bustling streets with healthy looking actors and flashy billboards advertising all sorts of goods made watching more addictive; it was fun to picture living in a trendy Seoul apartment until one realized that the reality reflected in Pyongyang’s propaganda did not match up to what they were watching on their portable DVD players. Expert Andrei Lankov has described the fascination with South Korean pop culture within North Korea as, possibly, “the single most important development of the last ten years”.

Seoul has even created media targeted at North Koreans in order to take advantage of this growing interest. One such example is Open Radio for North Korea, a radio station staffed by defectors that broadcast news and personal messages towards Pyongyang. Another is the television program known as Now On My Way to Meet You, which stars North Korean women who now live in Seoul. Part news, part variety show, and part beauty contest, the show aims to show North Koreans the truth about life in the outside world and to especially empower other female defectors. One star even said that she believed that her friends “back home” watch it, fantasize about life south of the DMZ, and even want to defect, too.

Despite the growing demand for foreign media, Kim Jong Un has reportedly sent his security forces house to house, searching for illegal DVDs, and in November 2013 ordered the execution of as many as 80 people, some for watching foreign television. Authorities punished thirty college students with hard labor for watching “Until the Azalea Blooms” on their cell phones last June. Despite the death toll attributed to consuming foreign pop culture, North Koreans still are willing to risk their lives distributing and owning music videos, DVDs, clothes, books, and so much more from the outside world. With this forbidden fruit comes knowledge, and with knowledge, agency.

A young defector summed the allure of pop culture to North Koreans best: “No matter how many people die, the sensational popularity doesn’t die…that is the power of culture.”

Lilka Marino received her Masters of Arts in Liberal Studies from Hollins University with a double concentration in leadership theory and social sciences. Her interests include North Korean politics, Korean history, and traditional Korean culture. The views expressed here are her own.

Photo from Darrell Miller’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.


[1] Demick, Barbara. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. New York. Spiegel and Grau, 2009. Print.  p 255.

[2] Myers, B. R. The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Melville House, 2010. Print. p 55-75

[3] Demick, pg. 260.

[4] Demick, pg. 255.

[5] Demick, pg. 260

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By Design: A Look at Korea’s Fashion Industry

By Troy Stangarone

Sleek. Trendy. Cutting edge. Creative. Elegant. And at times bold. All describe fashion in Korea. For Korea, fashion is very much a part of the culture. From a Korean-American colleague of mine who could go toe-to-toe with any of the world’s fashionistas to the trendy and hip fashions of the recent Yeosu Expo or the streets of Seoul, Koreans are being recognized more and more for their sense of fashion. As a result, after years of being under the radar, Korean designers are increasingly being noticed by the world of haute couture of London, Paris, Milan, and New York.

For years, the image of Korea has been one based on the industrial successes of corporations such as Samsung, Hyundai, and LG. But more recently, Korea has begun to play a greater role in global culture. In the late 1990s, Korea began to export pop music, movies, and television dramas to Asia setting off what the Chinese press coined as “Hallyu,” or the Korean Wave. The success of Korean cultural exports has helped to turn Korea into a glamour capitol of Asia. At the same time, while Korea has long been known as a producer of high quality textiles, talented designers have not always received the recognition of their Western counterparts.

As a fashion trend setter, Korea makes sense. The Korean Wave provides a natural outlet for Korean fashion and Asia’s rise in the global economy will likely lead to increasing demand for Asian fashions as well.

In some sense, Korea may be ahead of the curve in Asia. Demand for luxury goods in Korea has made it an important market for foreign premium brands to test products. Louis Vuitton bags are referred to as the “three second bag” because of their ubiquity in Seoul.  The appetite for luxury goods is so great in Korea that mass market stores such as Seven-Eleven are getting into the market. The fashion craze in Korea extends so far that Seoul recently opened a handbag museum, which is even architecturally designed like a handbag.

According to research done by McKinsey & Company, Korea’s luxury goods market is worth $4 billion annually, or 4 percent of the global market, and expected to continue growing. Or, put another way, Korea purchases about one-third of the luxury items of the world’s second largest luxury market, China, with a significantly smaller population.

With the high level of interest in fashion in Korea, the government has put support into promoting Seoul and Korean designers on the global stage. It has ambitions of turning Seoul Fashion Week into a show on par with those in New York, London, Paris, and Milan, while at the same time setting up the Seoul Fashion Center and programs such as Concept Korea to help promising Korean designers break into fashion and trade shows abroad.

However, to make it big in fashion, Korean designers will have to succeed in the United States. While Korean designers have yet to see the success of Taiwanese born designer Jason Wu, who designed Michele Obama’s inauguration dresses in 2009 and 2013, they have had success in America. Michele Obama has worn Korean designer Doo-Ri’s clothing at a state dinner and her pieces are sold at Saks and Neiman Marcus. Other designers, such as Lie Sang Bong, list pop stars such as Lady Gaga and Beyonce as clients and the pre-show for Concept Korea at this year’s New York Fashion Week was by all indications a success.

For designers in Korea, government assistance is no doubt helpful for gaining exposure in the global fashion industry, but truly breaking out in a cultural industry like fashion will likely require the talents of those beyond government. The designers will have to be unique and cutting edge. They will have to find a way to tap into markets to create demand for their styles and continue to be seen as trend setters. Additionally, much as Psy broke into the U.S. market as his video went viral on YouTube, bloggers and smaller media will likely drive the interest that will help Korea break out into the mainstream of the fashion world.

While it might be tempting to dismiss Korea’s emergence in haute couture as being driven by the highly stylized Hallyu and the imitative nature of prior Korean industrial successes, that would likely be a misplaced assumption when viewed from an individual level. Fashion is often a highly personalized and distinctive form of human expression that often pales when imitated. Ultimately, it will be this sense of expression and creativity that will determine if Seoul and its designers rise to rival Milan, Paris, New York or London in the world of fashion.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade for the Korea Economic Institute. The views expressed here are his alone.

Photos from the author and tylerray’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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5 Questions with Daniel Dae Kim

At Korean American Day on January 13, the Korea Economic Institute had the opportunity of catching up with legendary actor Daniel Dae Kim for a conversation about his career, interests, and life as a Korean-American.

The conversation was originally recorded as a podcast (which you can download from our Korean Kontext podcast page) , but we now provide five of the best questions for our blog readers:

1.What was it that made you change your career path from law to acting during your university days?

DDK: For me, when I was going through college, there was a lot of tension between what I felt I should do and what I really wanted to do. It was unfortunate that the thing I wanted to do didn’t fall in line with what was expected of me. As much as I do love politics and government, the thing that I felt that my heart led me to was acting, and so that’s why I changed course.

2. Ronald Reagan once said, “How can a president not be an actor?” What do you think of Obama in terms of acting?

DDK: I think there is a great value to being an orator, a really good orator. I think President Obama is exceptionally good at speechmaking. I think he has a way of connecting to his audience without sounding like he is feeding you B.S., and that is a very important part of the job. When you have someone who is not as strong in that department, I’ve got to admit, I trust that person less or I feel less sure of his capabilities. That is definitely part of it. I think Ronald Reagan was onto something with that statement.

3. As a Korean-American, have you ever had any difficulty balancing your identity between Korea and America?

DDK: I think it is fluid. Throughout my life, there were stages at which I felt, or wished, I was more “American,” even though as Korean-American I am fully American. There were other times when I fully embraced my Korean heritage. It is a question to which the answer is ever evolving for me, but I am happy to say that I feel like I’ve found a nice balance. The older I get and the more sure of who I am I get,  the easier it gets.

But there have been moments where I have felt like I am a person without a country – I am not 100% accepted in America, I am not 100% accepted in Korea – those are the down days. However, usually I really feel lucky to have two cultures in my daily experience. To be able to say that I understand something specific about America that maybe a typical “American” wouldn’t is, I think, a real blessing. I have a perspective on Korea now, as an American, which I think is unique.  So, more of the time, I feel like I am privy to two societies as opposed to master of none.

4. What are some examples of the work that you do in areas outside of acting that perhaps your average American might not be familiar with, and of that, what are you most proud of?

DDK: That’s a really good question.  I’m involved with various charitable organizations, in Hawaii and nationally, and I’m proud of the work I do with them. More recently I’m proud of, gosh, if I can even say proud…I really think, more, the appropriate way of putting it is I am honored to be a spokesperson for organizations like KEI or KACF. I think they are really a large part of what I can offer back to the community – not just the Korean community, but the American community in general. I’m hopeful that I am able to do more of that.

5. Do you think it is important for celebrities to be involved in politics? With your education and experience as an actor, is it important and useful to express your opinion to fans?

DDK: I think that’s a great question because it is one that I am asking myself a lot these days. It’s a fine line, isn’t it? You’re in a position, as an actor, to be able to speak to thousands of people, so why shouldn’t you voice your opinion as a citizen? At the same time, the pitfalls and traps are that you become “just another  dilettante  actor” who has an opinion about something but is out of touch with the world – that’s the cliché, isn’t it? So, you know, I walk that tightrope, and I do have very strong political convictions but I very rarely voice them on Twitter because I feel like that’s not necessarily why people follow me. If they wanted to get political advice, they would follow the pundits who are out there, and they are a dime a dozen. At the same time, if I do feel strongly about something, it’s part of who I am, as a human being, as a citizen of America. So, I think that it does have a place for everyone. If the average person had a Twitter account, they could talk about it, so why should I be limited by what I do?

— To listen to the full podcast and find out about other episodes, make sure you visit the Korean Kontext Podbean page. —

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About The Peninsula

The Peninsula blog is a project of the Korea Economic Institute. It is designed to provide a wide ranging forum for discussion of the foreign policy, economic, and social issues that impact the Korean peninsula. The views expressed on The Peninsula are those of the authors alone, and should not be taken to represent the views of either the editors or the Korea Economic Institute. For questions, comments, or to submit a post to The Peninsula, please contact us at ts@keia.org.