A scandal can crush the career of a Korean actor. But if carefully managed, a scandal can also be a mere bump in the road.
Park Shi Hoo’s agency Eyagi Entertainment recently staged a successful comeback for the actor that consisted of a two-part strategy. The first part was a carefully chosen comeback role that would reframe the actor as a gentleman and a hero and the second part consisted of legal action against lingering negative reactions. Damage control was necessary because Park Shi Hoo’s career was derailed by a scandal in 2013.
At the time, he’d recently finished a role in the successful K-drama “Cheongdamdong Alice” with Moon Geun Young. He played a chaebol [a wealthy heir to a large conglomerate] in love with a woman who would have traded love for money. He loved her anyway. The actor’s future looked bright.
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Then he was accused of rape. A trainee said he assaulted her while she was drunk. He said the sex was consensual following a night of drinking with friends. She filed charges. In April 2013, the Seoul Seobu Police held a press conference.
“We have charged without detention Park Shi Hoo with quasi rape and sexual battery and have forwarded the case to the prosecution,” said Yoon Tae Bong of the Seoul Seobu Police. Yoon said that the police found the victim’s statement consistent and matched it to video footage in the neighborhood
Park Shi Hoo maintained his innocence, eventually filing charges against the unnamed trainee and another person, citing defamation of character. Some rumors argued that the trainee was after a settlement. It would be difficult to pass judgment on what actually happened that night, since the only people present had differing opinions.
Whatever happened on the night in question, the plaintiff eventually dropped her charges and Park dropped his lawsuits. Korea’s network television stations decided not to ban Park, which sometimes does happen during a celebrity scandal. After all, he had not been found guilty. And there were no longer any charges filed against him.
Despite not being banned by the networks, Park would not work in Korea for another three years. He took some time off and focused on the international premiere of “Confession of a Murder,” a film that was completed in 2012. He considered a K-drama comeback in 2014 with the drama “Golden Cross.” But there was plenty of negative netizen feedback. Some fans stayed loya,l but a percentage of viewers argued that he should never work in Korea again. Park ultimately declined the role, saying that his decision had nothing to do with the negative feedback. It would be another two years before he appeared on the small screen in Korea.
During that time he appeared in a Japanese film “Scent,” then made his Korean big screen comeback in the film “After Love” alongside Yoon Eun Hye, released in March 2016.
In 2015 his agency announced that he would take a role in the drama “Neighborhood Hero” and the role seemed like a perfect fit to redeem Park’s public persona. In “Neighborhood Hero” Park plays a former agent, whose best friend dies during a mission. The failure of that mission causes him to spend three years in jail, a mirror of Park’s real-life experience; it’s exactly how long his career was confined due to negative comments.
Park’s character Baek Shi Yoon starts out seeking revenge for the death of his friend but when the former owner of the bar that he buys cautions him to take a higher path, it appeals to his noble side. Baek Shi Hoon becomes a hero in his neighborhood, unjustly convicted for his past actions, and ready to nobly stand up for the rights of his neighbors. The plot is complicated and often confusing but one thing is clear. Park Shi Hoo’s character is a gentleman and a much maligned hero.
In an interview with the Korea Herald, the drama’s director Kwak Eun Jong compared Park to the character.
“Baek Si Yoon has some painful memories so I needed someone who was able to be sincere about his feelings as well,” said Kwak. “Then I thought about Park Shi Hoo.”
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Around the same time, in February 2016, the actor and his agency announced that they would be filing defamation charges against 79 netizens who posted negative comments about the actor’s comeback drama. Park was not the only actor to take such action against slanderous comments that year. Park Hyung Sik, IU, and Song Hye Kyo also did so recently. But Park’s legal action was well timed to minimize negative comments about his comeback.
As all charges were dropped, Park should be considered an innocent man, one who deserves a fresh start. But even the lingering effects of so serious a scandal could have ended his career.
Choosing the spy comedy was the first part of an effective comeback strategy and ending negative comments was the second.
Ratings for the OCN drama were respectable for a cable show, reaching 1.4 percent for the first episode, which implies that a percentage of the viewing audience was prepared to watch the actor in a drama, however they felt about the scandal. Respectable ratings mean Park Shi Hoo will be offered new roles without the fear that his casting will be controversial enough to hurt drama profits.
At the same time the legal action taken against netizens effectively shut down negative comments that might detract from the show’s success.
After the scandal happened, some drama fans continued to believe in Park’s innocence, some didn’t care about his alleged crimes, and yet others were horrified at the charges and thought Park should never work again. Public opinion is still mixed but the comeback campaign is working to improve that.
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