Reporting from Seoul — —
She was a young actress with designs on mega-stardom. But to realize her dreams, Jang Ja-yeon was resigned to take her place in the seamy realm of the South Korean sexual casting couch.
In the end, the disgrace proved too much. In the seven-page note she wrote before her March 2009 suicide, the 27-year-old TV sitcom regular described how her manager forced her to have sex with industry VIPs such as directors, media executives and CEOs, many of whom she cited by name.
Jang’s death stunned this nation transfixed by celebrity and all its trappings. Since 1990, a half-dozen TV and film actresses have committed suicide over the stress that comes with success in South Korea. The aftermath of Jang’s suicide triggered a federal government investigation into “slave contracts,” in which young talent, mostly women, become locked into exclusive contracts by their agents requiring them to work long hours for low pay, receive unwanted plastic surgery and, in Jang’s case, turn to prostitution.
Nearly two years after her suicide, critics say, little has changed in the cutthroat “Korean Wave” of TV, film and music that each year draws thousands of young hopefuls ready to endure whatever it takes — including sexual abuse and exploitation — to make it big.
How are these actresses exploited? They are part of a plentiful supply of beautiful young women who will do anything to work in front of the camera. Nobody forces these young women to be actresses. There are abundant hot chicks competing for a limited number of roles. Many of their skills and looks are interchangeable. It is not the industry that is exploitative as much as life.
When women are willing to sleep around to get ahead, then whose fault is that? The way I see it, is the individual’s responsibility first and foremost to make his own choices.
And if you fail to get ahead by not giving your body, then you can choose to be a whore or to be honorable.
If somebody had offered me a part in a movie in exchange for having sex with the men of their choice, I would’ve refused.
If somebody had said they would only convert me to Orthodox Judaism if I had sex with the men of their choice, I would’ve refused.
If somebody said I had to have sex with various men in exchange for a shiny new car or a nicer place to live, I’d refuse.
You could dump a truck load of cocaine on my front lawn and I would not use any.
Whatever happened to individual responsibility?
When I’ve been desperate for money, I’ve taken lowly jobs but I’ve never had sex with any blokes. I guess I’m a moral leader.