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.


Anonymous said...

Actually, Gang didn't change her face of her own will. You probably noticed how she had a protruding jaw (which gave her the adorable pout); her dentist told her that this would cause problems later if she didn't push the jaw in.

Anonymous said...

From Andrew


As you well know I am extremely familiar with the Banghwa New Town area, but I haven't seen the architectural/ascethic plans for this until now.
I must say I am very unimpressed, and once again Korean developers show their aptitiude for uniqueness, innovation and enivronmentally sound construction projects (NOT)!
I guess some of those Hagwan owners we know around the area may be happy as it will put more bums in their classrooms, and it will undoubtedly get more Waegooks into the area, but I can't help but feeling that a terrible mistake is being made.

Anonymous said...

That photo of Gang Hye-jung has to be one of the most depressing sights I've seen in awhile. She used to be so pretty. Now she's just...ordinary.

Anonymous said...

I could've sworn it was Kang, not Gang

Anonymous said...

I agree with Iceberg. Koreans are stupid with their plastic surgeries. They all look so unnatural.

matt said...

I'm pretty sure that's not what iceberg said...