Sunday, January 28, 2007

To dream of beauty (and better English)

Still from "Michuhwanmong"

I walked into class earlier this week and asked one of my ten-year-old students why she had been absent the previous class. She told me she had gone to the dentist, but her classmate quickly added, "She cut her tongue". I asked her why and she told me it would help her speak English better, and insinuated that my Korean co-teacher had said it would help her pronounce 'S' better. This student has never had any noticeable problem pronouncing English words (it's her shyness that hampers her more than anything), so the fact her parents would do something so unnecessary left me shaking my head in disgust. Actually disgust was what I felt after I asked to see the result (she was pretty blase about the whole thing, saying it had only hurt for a day or two) and saw the stitches under her tongue. If (and only IF) you want an idea of how this looked, there's a screenshot from Park Jin-Pyo's short film "Tongue Tie", (which I mentioned here) that has documentary footage of a frenectomy (specifically, the tongue being stitched) here (it's not for the squeamish).

The LA Times article about this procedure (from 2002) can be found here:
Linguists sneer at the idea that South Koreans' tongues are too short to speak English properly, pointing to the unaccented speech of hundreds of thousands of Korean Americans.

"O.K., since Westerners are taller they might have longer tongues. But this operation lengthens the tongue by only a millimeter or two and that has nothing to do with it," said Lee Ho Young, a linguist at Seoul National University. [...]

Jung said the operation takes as little as 10 minutes and can be done as outpatient surgery with local anesthetic. It usually costs $230 to $400.
Actually, though I didn't ask, she responded to a classmate's comment saying that it cost 120,000 won. Who knew that dentists were doing it?

On the topic of plastic surgery, an article about plastic surgery in which women have their calves sliced to give them thinner legs can be found here.

Also on this topic, Gord over at Eclexys, when describing his girlfriend's (a nurse in training)
"feeling that anyone considering plastic surgery should be required to see a surgery, be present for one and really experience how gross it is to cut open a human body and fiddle with it", reveals an unpleasant fact about plastic surgery. Also related to this is an excellent post he wrote about the "kind of absolute horseshit that female interns have to deal with" within the medical culture here.

The Hankyoreh has a pertinent article on the topic of eyelid surgery and the concern girls have with their appearance:
A high school student, Yu Na-yeong, 18, shot an 18-minute drama called "Michuhwanmong" ahead of graduation. It is the story of a girl worrying over the fact that she has "single-lidded" eyes, or without a crease in the lids when she opens them fully.

The film, loosely translated as "Dream of Beauty", can be seen here (it opens with 2 minutes of behind the scenes shots). The still above is from the film. The article continues:
Yu had watched the mainstream movie "200 Pound Beauty" with some of her friends. In the movie, an obese woman was reborn into a beauty after undergoing full-body plastic surgery. Then she managed to reconcile with the "past" and succeeded in work and love. About the movie, Yu commented, "The movie has received some favorable criticism that it does a good job of addressing the social problem of an appearances-first attitude, but I felt that it encouraged plastic surgery."
Worth mentioning is the fact, as related by Mark over at Korea Pop Wars, that "200 Pound Beauty is now officially the 10th-biggest Korean movie of all time, beating out JSA for the No. 10 spot."Almost 6 million people have seen the film, a poster for which is here, while the music video for Kim Ah-jung's cover of Blondie's 'Maria', (which has become pretty annoying due to its sudden ubiquity here) serves as a preview of the movie (here). At 6 million viewers, 12% of the population has watched a film that "encourages plastic surgery", according to a high school senior, who continues:
For young girls, plastic surgery is not extreme, said Yu. It is considered natural that teenage girls would undergo a surgery to obtain "double eyelids," she explained. "After taking the college entrance examination, many girls got plastic surgery, at least to get double eyelids. Teenage girls have a strong desire to overcome their appearance-related complexes, instead of valuing their individuality."

The Korean Womenlink, a women’s rights organization, conducted a survey of 1,648 South Korean female middle and high school students about how they evaluated their appearance. According to the survey, just one out of 10 respondents, or 13.7 percent, was satisfied with their appearance. About 43.6 percent, or 718 girls, were totally unhappy about theirs.
It's one thing for these girls to feel inadequate themselves; it's another when their parents project this onto their children, as they certainly do with the tongue operations, and which they must have done when I saw a ten-year-old student with bruised eyes who had just had eyelid surgery, something that made me feel pretty nauseous. And yet she treated it like a joke, saying, "Look into my eyyees" in an exaggerated voice and giggling. In response to my post about Gang Hye-jung's plastic surgery, Iceberg commented, "She used to be so pretty. Now she's just...ordinary." I think that hits the nail on the head. In Korea, plastic surgery-enhanced faces are ordinary, and getting plastic surgery is "considered natural." It's as Korean as kimchi, the four distinct seasons, cyber terror, and cakeboxes full of money.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Dinner in Jongno, Redevelopment in Hongdae

Last Saturday I met up with my friend Scott Bug and was taken through the back alleys of the Jongno area, where he's lived for many years, to a restaurant where I had a chance to try Chueotang (Mudfish soup) for the first time. Below is a shot of the outside of the restaurant, which dates back to 1932, and the alley it was situated in:

Inside, it's not a large restaurant; there's only room for six tables. In the picture below, the mirror on the opposite wall helps to give an idea of the space inside.

And here's the chueotang itself, which was delicious, before I added the noodles on the left and the green onions just off to the right. The mudfish were essentially the consistency of paste, with the soup also consisting of mushrooms and tofu. It was tasty and filling, and something I look forward to having again in the near future.

After dinner we headed north of Jongno into the narrow alleyways hidden away there. On weekdays Jongno's office workers keep this area busy, but on weekends it's very quiet.

We stopped in for a drink in a cosy place tucked away at the end of an alley and were entertained by a poet and artist in his sixties with no front teeth who showed us the examples of his work which were displayed all over the walls of the establishment. He took it upon himself to be our host, whether we wished it or not, but it was all good fun, and the music, much of it Korean rock music from the '60s and '70s, was great (I'm still trying to track down the original version of Lee Jang-hee's "Geugeonneo" that we heard there, but all I can find is a horrific synth version from the 1980s). Though he was intent on continuing to entertain us, we politely extricated ourselves and headed off to Cafe Sukara in Hongdae to see an exhibition put on by someone we'd met a few weeks previously:

The name of the exhibition was "Seogyo-dong 365 - I think this building is beautiful." The building and address in question refer to a narrow strip of buildings which essentially run down the middle of the street in Hongdae which runs between (and parallel to) the street the subway station is on and the street which runs in front of the entrance to Hongik University. I've been told that this is essentially the last strip of these older buildings in the area. When I first saw them over five years ago, they contained a lot of restaurants and tiny, almost anonymous "Soju-beer-hof" places. Over the past three years dozens of tiny clothing shops have taken over the southern part of this strip of buildings, but despite this gentrification the area still retains its charm (and in fact one of my favourite haunts in Hongdae can be found here).

Above is a photo taken on the west side of the strip of buildings (which are on the right) near its southern end. The exhibition has a number of interesting photographs of these buildings from many different angles, as well as some that show the changes of the past few years. Most remarkable, however, is a series of photos taken facing each building running down the entire length of both sides of the strip. The result can be seen in the postcard for the exhibition I showed above, or, more clearly, here:

Keep in mind that this excerpt shows only a quarter of the composite photo (a tiny version of the exhibition can be seen here). What's remarkable is the way in which the two long photos, one for each side of the strip, generate an identity for these buildings by allowing us to see them all at once, as a whole. The viewer is given both a sense of space and place, and it certainly gave me a new appreciation for these buildings. More can be found out about this at their website, (which seems to work best with IE), which also helps to give a sense of the community surrounding these buildings. There you can find pages with photos which help to give you a sense of where these buildings are, while this page gives directions to the cafe where the exhibit is being held.

Of course, there's another reason for displaying photos about these buildings: they might not be with us for much longer. A look at the map below where help give you a sense of where everything is so I can talk about it more clearly (I also note, just right of center, the location of Cafe Sukara):

In the bottom left corner in yellow are the aformentioned buildings; notice how that strip is dwarfed by all of the surrounding buildings. Across the street, in white, is the wide 'pedestrian' street (created through a previous redevelopment - note the 'swirly' design of the streets there). At the northern end it connects to the wide swath running from northwest to south east, outlined in red. This area is being excavated so that the Incheon Airport Railway and the Seoul-Sinuiju Railway can run underground. The ultimate plan for this area is shown in the promotional posters below:

They plan to turn it into a 5 km long park, a "New Daehangno" (note the swirly design of the park, and the fact that the previously mentioned pedestrian street of meandering design is to merge with this park. Extend the logic of the park space displayed in this poster to the other end of that pedestrian street and, of course, the strip of buildings at Seogyo-dong 365 has to go - it'll get in the way of these grandiose plans. The picture above doesn't give much of a sense of scale (these advertisements for developments never do, as they exaggerate the size of whatever is being built to rediculous proportions - hell, some would knock Namsan out of the way to make some lego-block officetel look more spectacular on the poster), but the one below suggests that the park will be widened quite a bit beyond the current width of the railway tracks:

Now, it seems to me this could be another version of Cheonggyecheon: an 'environmental' development (hey, it's park space, not parking spaces!) which will lead to massive redevelopment in the area around it (the Ahyeon new town will be built quite close to this future park, to begin with). Most of the housing in the area is quite old; for example, this photo taken back in May of the construction begun near Hongdae station shows at least one hanok (care to bet if it's still there?):

Is the city, with its massive redevelopment plans (Cheonggyecheon, 50 New Towns, it's new park corridors) really going to let a 5 km long park touted as the 'New Daehangno' sit surrounded by villas and houses dating from the 1970s and 1980s? I think not. What do you think they mean by New Daehangno, anyways? I don't think of parks when Daehangno comes to mind, I think of cafes and bars (ok, and theatres) and consumption. I imagine this park space will be surrounded by loads of commercial space and perhaps a few officetels (okay, maybe a lot of them). I'm rather certain this is going to become another cash-cow for the developers, and the scene below is only the beginning.

Of course, every day in Seoul is the beginning of a new development, so it's nothing to get too excited about. I just wish this future monster of a development could keep it's tentacles off of the Seogyo 365 buildings. Will the city ever get a clue and realize that the part of Hongdae surrounding that strip of buildings is one of the more unique areas in the city, and doesn't need to be improved by razing it to the ground and replacing it with a concrete pedestrian street? (watch out for the cars!)

Hongdae is one of those places that gets touted for its club scene in magazines and newspapers catering to foreigners (while providing fodder for the local tabloids due to the mix of Koreans and foreigners, but that's another story). Does the city really think Hongdae will become more attractive to the eyes of foreign tourists (or even its own residents) by making it look exactly like something they'd see back home? At some point people will look back at some of these lost neighbourhoods and regret their disappearance - all too late. Many people have, of course, but it's just not a point of view that gets much airtime or sympathy from those with the power to knock things down and build them back up, and those people have too many dollar signs in their eyes to see beyond them. Kudos to those responsible for the Seogyo 365 exhibit, which exists at an intersection of art, architecture and protest.

I linked to the directions to Cafe Sukara above, and also pointed it out on the satellite map. The exhibit finishes next Monday (the 29th), but if you have a chance, do stop in, grab a coffee, and have a look around.

Oh, it turns out the Hankyoreh has an article about this exhibition (in Korean).

Thursday, January 25, 2007


The Joongang Ilbo often posts long articles in English which are quite good, and one I just read one titled 'The silent, deadly curse of bullying'. It looks at a 21 year-old woman who was bullied for years in middle and high school, and who is now a councellor for bullied children.

I could dig up lots of other articles about bullying in Korea, but I'm sure anyone familiar with Korea has a pretty good idea of how nasty it can be here. Contributing to this is the fact that, unlike many children who are bullied in the west, who have at least a friend or two, childen in Korea who are bullied are often totally ostracized, as no one wants to be associated with them for the fear that they, too, will be targeted by bullies. Another factor is the institutionalized violence prevalent here, especially in the school system, which lead the victims to simply 'shut up and take it,' and often not even try to fight back.

I'll be delving into this topic more in the near future. The article is here.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Panoramania in Banghwa-dong

I've been looking into the development of Banghwa-dong, where I live, for awhile now, but I've amassed so much information it's hard to know where to start. Banghwa-dong is in Gangseo-gu, and is located next to Gimpo Airport; Banghwa is also the last stop on subway Line 5. Its northern part is nestled between Gaehwasan and Chihyeonsan, which overlook the Han River to the north.

I'd taken a lot of photos over the past few years but one thing I'd never looked into much, even though I quite like them, was how to turn them into panoramic photos. Well, kudos to Lost Nomad, who mentioned a little program called ptgui, which I've been using to make panoramas out of dozens of older photos, as well as pushing me to great heights (literally) to try to capture the cityscape I call home by taking some new ones.

Here is the neighbourhood as cobbled together from Google Earth. A few landmarks as well as the vantage points for the following photos are marked on the map (in yellow and red). Like any photo here, it can be clicked on to enlarge it.

Banghwa-dong can essentially be divided into three sections: The area north of Yangcheon-gil, the street running across the northern part of the map, which was mostly a large planned development; and the middle and southern sections which lie south of this street, and which are divided obviously enough by a large street. The southern section is bounded to the south by Gonghangno, the wide street running to the airport. The middle section has seen quite a few new apartments scattered across it, but the southern section has remained untouched, as it will all be razed to make way for the Banghwa New Town. The main crossroads near the center of the map are where the following two photos were taken. The first pans from northwest to southeast:

In the foreground at left is an apartment complex dating from the late 198os (as many in the area do), while the taller (rebuilt) complex behind them is three years old. To the north of those, and including the large complex in the center of the photo, are the apartments completed in the mid 1990s, which were built on former farmland (these were finished in anticipation of the completion of subway Line 5). To the south of the street running away from the intersection at the center of the photo is a neighbourhood dating from (likely) the early 1980s. A great many 'pocket' developments (where an apartment complex is built amidst older housing) can be found there; beyond it is Magok-dong, the four square kilometers of fields which lie between Banghwa-dong and the rest of Seoul. Those fields resemble what the northern part of Banghwa-dong would have looked like 15 years ago.

The next photo is taken from one of the taller buildings on the left side of the above photo. The panorama is bounded between the tall apartment building in the center of the above photo and the last tall apartment on the left. It pans from southwest to slightly northwest:

Across the horizon are more examples of pocket development, with the visible apartment complexes dating from between 1993 and the present. More than a third of Banghwa-dong's 'middle section' has been replaced with apartment complexes. The area in the foreground on the left gives an idea of what the non-apartment complex dwellings generally look like, and how they are laid out (the area was based on farming roads, explaining the curved, non grid-like arrangement of the streets). The street running across the photo was only connected to Gonghangno, to the south (left) a few years ago (in an attempt to impose a grid on the area). The apartment building at far left can be seen on the right of the following photo, which looks east from the same vantage point as the photo above:

This apartment (the one on the right) was a hole in the ground when I first moved here, but quickly sprouted up to block out the view (it's interesting to look at my older photos and see what a different landscape was visible before). Now, this apartment complex can also be seen on the right hand side of the right hand photo below, while to its left is the apartment building which appeared in the center of the first wide panorama above (as seen below in the left hand photo).

The photo above on the right is a close-up of the one below, which was taken from about 700 meters to the south on the other side of the fields that make up the Magok-dong area. The line of construction running in front of the buildings is for the new subway line.

To the right of the apartment buildings a small mountain, Gungsan, can be seen, and behind it, Bukhansan. To the right of the mountain is Gayang-dong, which is full of apartment buildings also built around the same time as those in the northern part of Banghwa-dong. In front of Gungsan (a former Baekje-era fortress) is what was once the center of the area, Yangcheon; the elementary school there dates back to 1900.

I often go for bike rides around the Magok area, which is often a peaceful place (though you can still hear the traffic in the distance on Gonghangno). These fields, along with the two mountains to Banghwa-dong's north, make Banghwa a place where nature is less than a half hour's walk away. It's too bad that these fields will soon disappear to make way for the Magok research and development city. They've been on the chopping block since Kim Young-sam's presidency, and at this point the land has long since been bought up by the government. It'll likely be over a decade before it's all developed.

A more pressing development is the Banghwa New Town project, which is supposed to start this year. I've already shown before and after plans for the project, and below is a photo taken from the southeast corner of the new town area (about 300 meters west of the last photo's vantage point), panning from west to north showing the area to be developed (I nabbed the photos from here):

The 'peak' at the far left is the top of Gimpo Airport's international terminal (now mostly a shopping center), while the peak at center is Gaehwasan; Chihyeonsan is visible at right (it's currently having a tunnel bored through it to connect the (new) street at right to the Banghwa Bridge and the Gangbyeong expressway). At top right is an apartment building that should be familar by now. This photo should give an idea of the appearance of the area to be developed. There are numerous villas built across this area, as well as several low apartments dating to the early 1980s. There are also a lot of houses, and some of the owners I know aren't very pleased at having to move. Across the horizon in the distance are the newer apartment complexes; prior to their building in the early 1990s, most of Banghwa-dong looked like what we see in the foreground, or like the fields we saw above.

Above is a photo taken by my friend Matt in the area near Banghwa station, looking east (Gungsan is actually visible on the horizon, two kilometers away). What's interesting is that you can see Chihyeon Maeul (village), which was the town that once sat nestled between Chihyeonsan and the fields these apartments overtook. There's been a few pocket developments within the village, and I imagine the area will disappear over the next decade. Of course, once the new town is finished in 5 or so years, in that time even more 'pocket redevelopment' will have occurred, making most of Banghwa-dong unrecognizeable from how it looked in the early 1990s. Of course, there are many areas in Seoul which will be able to say the same, especially once the 25 new towns are finished (with 25 more to come, some of which will be massive). Another planned new town is in Sillim-dong, and Antti's post about visiting Sillim-dong and taking photos in the area to be redeveloped has convinced me of the need to do the same in southern Banghwa-dong before it's gone.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Maybe it's the economy, but I've noticed more and more restaurants, bars, and other stores in my area changing ownership in the past few months. The makkeoli place above appeared a few months ago (it's a franchise, and there are now three within a 15 minute walk of my house), while the 'Cool Hof' that used to be just down the street from it was replaced recently. Cool Hof had its charms, including a wooden statue of a disembodied sax player out front (I'll dig up a photo eventually), and an interior straight out of the '80s (according to a friend). It's dark interior has been replaced by the bright lights of the haejangguk restaurant below:

For those who may be curious as to what exactly 'Cheongjin-dong Haejangguk' is, this Joongang Ilbo article gives a lot of information about Haejangguk, giving us this helpful bit of information: "Haejang means to eat or drink something in the morning to relieve a hangover," and guk means soup, and it can be eaten at night after drinking or the next morning. As for what Cheongjin-dong Haejangguk is, we're given this description:
Seoul blood soup: This is made of blood jelly and ox bone.
The most well-known neighborhood for haejang soup restaurants in Korea is Cheongjin-dong, in Jongno district, Seoul. Despite its fame, now there are only a few haejang soup restaurants open. A blood soup restaurant called Cheongjinok is the oldest establishment. Some customers slice the blood jelly and eat it while drinking alcohol.

According to Choi Jun-yong, 38, a third-generation restaurateur, when Cheongjin-dong was at its peak in the 1970s and '80s, there were over 10 blood soup restaurants there. The area sees more customers in the early morning than late at night. Cheongjin-dong's haejang soup neighborhood was created in the late Joseon Dynasty. There was a market selling firewood nearby, and restaurants opened to serve the buyers and sellers.

Above is a photo of Cheongjinok, where I tried some blood soup awhile ago. I can't say I was too fond of it, however. Part of the reason can be found in this paragraph:
To make the soup, ox bones are first boiled for 24 hours to make a stock, then rice, blood jelly, outer cabbage leaves, green onions and pig's intestines are added. The soup is usually served in an earthenware bowl.
I can't say I'm a big fan of intestines, or of congealed blood, so this particular haejangguk wasn't exactly to my liking. The article mentions several other kinds of haejangguk, however:
Goesan marsh snail soup: A refreshing green soup made of chewy snail meat.
Marsh snails are called olgaengi (marsh snail) in the Chungcheong provinces dialect. They are called godi in the Gyeongsang provinces and daseulgi in Seoul. The marsh snail lives in fresh water and usually hides under rocks.
I went hiking in Goesan awhile ago (I wrote about it here) , and tried this kind of soup in nearby Cheongcheon. As I said at the time (yes, I am lazy enough right now to quote myself):
Of course, every town has to have its specialties, and Cheongcheon's are olgaengi, a soup made of tiny shellfish, maeuntang, corn, and mushrooms. I didn't get a chance to try the last two, but had the Olgaengi soup that night. It wasn't bad (it contained a bit of deonjang and vegetables), but the flavour didn't really endear itself to me.

Just in case it sounds like I have a dislike for all things haejangguk, I can assure you I do not. One of my favourite foods in Korea is Byeodagui (뼈다귀) haejangguk, or as a friend likes to call it, 'neckbone soup'. There are four of these restaurants within a ten minute walk (of course, the best place is furthest away), and not a few long nights have ended lazing about on the warm ondol floor eating this hearty, mouth-watering soup. For the life of me, I can't understand why this wasn't mentioned in the article.

Something else worth mentioning about haejangguk restaurants is that they're open 24 hours, so they can be enjoyed at any time.

Since I'm on the topic of food, the best news of the month in that regard has been that a barbeque chicken place has opened nearby, and serves a yangnyeom (spicy) chicken dish that tastes exactly the same as the best chicken restaurant in Korea, a similar place near Bucheon station which I sometimes visit just to eat the chicken - and now I can get it two minutes from my house.

Yes, there it is, along with some smoked duck and complimentary (and tasty) gochu-jeon. Not meaning to quote LG's north american ad campaigns, but when you're sitting in front of this, Life's Good.

(Yes, there are posts coming about history, internet-fueled 'gusts', and urban redevelopment - I've just been busy)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Redevelopment Projects

I watched Invisible Waves awhile ago and was impressed to see Gang Hye-jeong had a small role in it, speaking English with Asano Tadanobu (easily my favorite young (er) Japanese actor) on several occasions. Gang pulled it off well, and made me think that these kind of roles in arty films with pan-Asian casts (made in varying quantities by Hong Kong, Chinese, Thai, Korean and Japanese filmmakers) might be something she could do well, allowing her to become more familiar to audiences in other countries.

'Invisible Waves'

I was first captivated by Gang Hye-jeong when I saw her in her first film, the science fiction/art film Nabi (Butterfly), back in 2001. She's not 'beautiful' in the way that most Koreans would define it, but that's precisely why she stood out.


It might be time to mention, again, that I don't watch tv, so I was a little surprised to read about Gang in the comments to a post over at the Marmot (about KTF's bid to show the sexy side of Moon Geun-young - didn't she do that already? - in an ad (note to KTF: Tina Turner's fashion in Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome is not 'sexy')). One commenter noted that Gang Hye-jeong had undergone a little bit of plastic surgery, so I googled about and found the gallery where this photo came from:

Shock and disbelief where quickly followed by disappointment; she's given up her own brand of beauty so she could look just like the typical pretty faces you see peering out of magazines, billboards and tvs everywhere. Her most marketable asset - her uniqueness - is gone. What a complete and utter waste. I didn't realize how far behind I was on this until I saw this post (from April) over at Psychedlic Kimchi, appropriately titled, "The miseducation of Gang Hye-jeong". That title gets to the point, as being overly self-conscious about their bodies is something I've seen among even young elementary school girls. Unfortunately, I know a "You're not fat" from me is going to be drowned out by several dozen messages that day from various other sources, some of whom are their teachers or even their parents.

I haven't seen it, but the movie "200 Pound Beauty", about a women who has massive plastic surgery in order to become slim and beautiful, has been attracting moviegoers and media attention. I couldn't help notice, in this article, what was said about the main actress (in a role turned down by many others) and the reactions to the latex costume which made her appear overweight:
Kim Ah-jung says that it was easy to throw herself into the character when she heard people on the street murmur they felt sick looking at her with the special disguise on.
Nice. (Apparently, being an extra wasn't much fun either). This article gets all sociological on us and tells us that
The movie confirms what a lot of surveys say _ good looks can open a lot of doors in this society. One recent survey shows 80 percent of 1,133 Korean employees nationwide would be willing to consider getting plastic surgery for that reason.
Coincidently, the government just announced this week "a set of measures to guard against the practice of attaching importance to women’s appearance in hiring." The article tells us that
About 80 percent of public agencies and 85.4 percent of private companies required job applicants to submit a photo and personal information _ including their height and weight.

The regulations will target government ministries and public servants first, followed by private companies.

"We will also make efforts to change people’s basic attitude toward women. Patriarchal stereotypes and the widespread ``lookism’’ aggravated by the mass media are the major reasons for the discriminatory recruitment practice,’’ the official said.

Perhaps the desire to "change people’s basic attitude toward women" is part of what led to this campaign?

Anyways, getting back to plastic surgery and the film '200 Pound Beauty', in this article, surgeons were asked to provide figures in order to ascertain the cost of the movie's full body makeover:
First of all, a facelift alone costs from 21.5 to 24.5 million won _ this includes fixing jaw, chin and nose for 14 million won and eyelid surgery for 3.5 million won. Also, getting rid of a double chin or under-chin fat costs 4 million won.

The other makeover, from the chin down costs at most 35.5 million won. Liposuction of the abdomen, thighs and arms would generally cost 1.6 million won _ taking up the largest portion of the surgery. Then comes a 9 million won operation to make the body smooth and elastic.

After all this is through, it will take at least three months to recover from these sort of operations and start one’s life as a thin and glamorous woman, doctors say.
I have no idea if the movie, a comedy, criticizes this idea. For a film that challenges unnecessary surgery, do watch Park Jin-pyo's short film "Tongue Tie", which is about cutting the flap of skin under the tongue so as to allow children to 'speak English better.' This is something I saw in one of my kindergarten students years ago (living in Jung-dong, in Bucheon, one of the first 'new satellite cities' around Seoul), something a friend described as 'rich people mutilating their children'. The film uses actual footage of a tongue operation, and is not for the squeamish; it ends with quotes from children about how much they hate learning English. The short film can be found in the omnibus film "If you were me", which was funded by the national human rights commission.

While Park's film would likely make someone think twice about the idea, I have to wonder if '200 Pound Beauty' helps contribute to a greater normalizing of the idea of a 'full' makeover. Koreans already have a worrying attachment to the idea that plastic surgery is a perfectly normal way to fix their 'flaws', and I doubt that the government measures mentioned will do much to change this in the short term (though changing the hiring guidelines is a good idea regardless). Of course, 'full body makeovers' can be seen in other aspects of Korean society, and these makeovers are often fully supported by the government:

Above is the plan for the Banghwa New Town project, which will see 490,616㎡ (half a square kilometer) of older housing demolished and rebuilt from the ground up. It's just one of 25 planned new towns (with 25 more to come). Among the inhabitants, I wonder how many more people who have undergone plastic surgery will be living in the completed new town, as opposed to those living there now?

Made-over neighbourhoods for made-over people keep the clinics and construction companies very, very happy.