1. The Death of Celebrities in 2008.
The suicide death of actor Ahn Jae-hwan because his debt shocked the nation. Then, the suicide death of Korea’s commercial queen and sweetheart, Choi Jin-sil, friend to Ahn and his wife/comedian Jung Seon-hee, jolted the nation. Choi’s death hit the nation hard, with fellow celebrities following suit, including transsexual actress
Jang Chae-won, model Kim Ji-hoo, and vocal group M Street’s leader Lee Seo-hyun.
Many stars passed away, leaving the entertainment industry and its fans grieving.
The first celebrity to leave fans was Kim Chang-ik, youngest member of the group Sanulrim. He was followed by famed composer Lee Young-hun, who died in February after suffering from colon cancer. In April, Turtleman from the pop group “Turtles” died from a heart attack, while Kim Min-soo, member of the pop group Monday Kiz, passed away after being involved in a motorcycle accident.
Model Ion also died in a motorcycle accident. Most recently, actor Park Gwang-jeong passed away after suffering from lung cancer.
2. The Popularity in “Real” Reality Shows
This year welcomed various reality shows, some new and some simply upgraded. The key factor of this year’s reality programs is that the shows represent raw realism. MBC’s “Infinity Challenge” showed its group practicing for a Latin dance competition and also a nationwide aerobic competition. KBS’ “One Day Two Nights” presented a celebrity group visiting villages and carrying out tasks and games along the way. MBC’s “We’ve Got Married” put popular celebrity couples in “marriages” and showed them living in the same house, and spending time together like other married couples. SBS joined in the fun with “The Family is Out,” which brought a number of celebrities to the country picking fruits and vegetables, working in the fields and cooking things for themselves.
3. The Comeback of Big Stars and Rise of Idol Groups
The pop scene this year was busy with the return of big stars as well as the rise of hip pop idol groups. Singer Kim Gun-mo appeared with his new album, which was made with composer Kim Chang-wan for the first time since their split 13 years ago. Ballad singer Shin Seung-hun also returned after holding concerts in Japan. Singers Kim Jong-kook and Jo Sung-mo returned after finishing their military service, while “JYP” Park Jin-young, Rain and even Seo Tai-ji returned to their loyal fans. Female singers were also strong, with Baek Ji-young and Lee Soo-young gracing the stage with new tunes.
The rise of the idol groups ― Big Bang, Wonder Girls, Girls’ Generation and newcomer SHINee ― wowed fans with distinctive styles and catchy songs. Individual activities that group members pursued were also interesting. Tae-yang from Big Bang released his own album, while Yu-na from Girls’ Generation was tapped for the main role in a KBS drama.
4. Big Classical Artists Visit Seoul
Numerous classical stars visited Korea to the delight of fans.
The Vienna Boys Choir started 2008 with their angelic voices, followed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra as led by conductor Vladmir Jurowski, cellist Pieter Wispelwey and pianist Peter Jablonski.
Crossover tenor Andrea Bocelli visited Korea the first time in eight years last April, wowing fans with his charms and charisma. Pianist Martha Argerich and maestro conductor Chung Myung-whun dazzled fans with their joint performance. Young maestro Yannick Nezet-Seguin and pianist Li Yundi graced fans with their tunes. Finnish conductor Esa Pekka Salonen performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle with the Berlin Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela.
5. Stars Moving Out to Hollywood
Several celebrities knocked on the U.S. market with their albums and films.
Singers BoA and Se7en are currently stationed in the U.S., appearing on television, Web sites and newspapers. They are striving to captivate American fans. BoA is planning to release her official album next year, while Se7en performed at a concert in Seattle and will release his album early next year.
Rain has been one of the busiest stars both here and in the U.S. After his small role in the Wachowski brothers’ “Speed Racer,” he was tapped for the main role in the upcoming movie “Ninja Assassin,” slated for release next year.
Jang Dong-gun and Lee Byeng-hun will separately appear in the U.S. movies “Laundry Warrior” and “G.I.Joe: Rise of Cobra.”
Female actors have also jumped into the Hollywood stream. Jun Ji-hyun appeared in “Blood: The Last Vampire” and Bae Seul-gi joined the cast of a global project film called “Finale.” Han Chae-yong will fly to New Zealand next year to shoot the movie “Soul Mates,” a joint Korean-New Zealand movie.
6. Various Plots in Local Dramas
Dramas of 2008 saw many experiments.
Many drama-makers looked for storylines within their own territory, touching on the lives of people in the broadcast business. “On-air” became popular for dealing with the life of a stubborn celebrity and her manager. Kim Ha-neul played a cocky actress, bringing herself once again to the spotlight for her trendy fashion style and good acting skills.
“Worlds Within” also made headlines with its catchy plot, about the struggling lives of actors and drama producers. Its two main characters were played by Song Hye-kyo and Hyun Bin. “Spotlight” delved into the lives of news reporters, yet failed to gain popularity despite famous actors like Son Ye-jin and Ji Jin-hee. Classical and culinary plots were also popular this year. The hit drama “Beethoven Virus” touched on the orchestral journeys of musicians as well as a stubborn maestro conductor. “Sikgaek” offered simple culinary dishes and recipes around the nation.
Last but not least, art fans had the chance to enjoy “The Painter of Wind,” which told the story of two of Korea’s most famous artists back in the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910).
7. Forgery Scandals Hit Local Art Scene
The art scene in 2008 was smeared with forgery scandals regarding works by some of the nation’s most famous artists.
The late Park Soo-keun’s painting “A Wash Place” made headlines when it was sold at an auction for the highest price ever, 4.52 billion won. But its authenticity was soon questioned as a local art magazine pointed out its differences from the original as seen in Park’s Collection book.
The Korean Art Appraisal Association carried out an appraisal due to Seoul Auction’s request, clarifying that the work was the original. Despite the clarification, Park’s famous painting continued to spark controversy. It was sent once again for appraisal by other appraisal organizations here and in Tokyo, only to bring yet again the same result.
8. Idol Groups Leading the Local Fashion Scene
Fashion advice in 2008 was smart and simple: follow your favorite stars. Soaring idol groups did not only affect the pop music industry, but also the fashion scene. Young fans wearing clothes similar to those of their favorite singers were nothing new. But this year fans and stars alike brought trend after trend all through the year.
Male groups dominated the fashion scene with their tight skinny jeans and high-top shoes. Big Bang was one of the most popular groups this year, and the members successfully brought out their personalities with distinctive hairstyles, both baggy and skinny pants, and even makeup. SHINee was new to the pop scene, but their simple and easy-to-follow looks captivated fans, complete with colorful shirts, jackets, high-top sneakers, and tightly fitted jeans.
The Wonder Girls and Lee Hyo-ri were the center of attention wherever they went, with their chic and glamorous styles. The five-girl group brought retro back to the fashion scene, with colorful stockings and simply dresses. Lee expressed her style with sexy, tight fitted leather pants, hats and leggings.
9. Sluggish Movie Market Ever
For movie fans, this year was not fruitful. The market share in local movies was the lowest since 2001, a staggering 42 percent as compared to the 52.3 percent last year. 113 films were released nationwide, but only seven exceeded an audience of two million.
Foreign movie studios like Warner Brother and Sony Pictures also shut down their operations, citing sluggish sales and the downloading that prevented viewers from buying DVDs at full price.
Despite stagnation, there were still catchy movies that brought fans to theaters, such as “The Chaser” starring Ha Jung-woo and Kim Yun-seok, and “The Good, the Bad, the Weird” starring top male stars Jung Woo-sung, Lee Byeng-hun and Song Kang-ho.
10. Stars Rush to Stage
The local theater industry is enjoying a boom of popularity despite the economic recession. This is mainly due to its star-studded marketing strategy.
Star power apparently led to the success of musicals and plays this year. Top singers such as Choi Sung-hee, better known as Bada, Ock Ju-hyun, Park Ji-yoon, Dae-sung from the boy band Big Bang, and Kangin and Hee-chul from Super Junior, rushed to musicals, pushing up ticket sales.
Also, celebrity movie stars such as Ko Soo, Hwang Jung-min, Choi Hwa-jung and Han Chae-young returned to the stage in various big-name plays as part of “Yeongeuk Yeoljeon 2” as programmed by veteran actor Cho Jae-hyun.
The strategy of casting celebrities worked to attract young audience members. But some critics said that it was only a temporary measure, which merely pursued commercial success without theatrical artistry. (Han Sang-hee, Staff Reporter, The Korea Times)