KBS K-drama designer Minjung Lee helps bring characters to life [INTERVIEW]

Minjung Lee Kdrama designer interview

Fashion plays an important part in Korean films and K-dramas—from the Joseon era girls who are free to roam in boy’s clothing to the newly rich women obsessed with name brand items—clothing defines and transforms characters. There may be a reason that so many K-drama plots, both contemporary and historical, feature makeovers. Nothing visually symbolizes change and new confidence quite like new and more flattering clothing. Costume designers know that costumes have a lot to say. According to designer Minjung Lee, no one should take costuming for granted.

The outfits are an essential part of historical Korean dramas, contributing to both character development and cinematography. Historically accurate costumes help recreate eras so vividly that viewers feel temporarily transported in time. Those are the clues that Lee seeks to express when she envisions drama costumes.

Currently a visiting scholar at UC Davis, Lee worked as a costume designer for KBS Artsvision for 10 years. She focused on costume design because of her interest in the history of Korean clothing, but also because she was fascinated by the psychology of fashion.

“I really wanted to read someone’s mind, to understand why they wore what they did,” Lee told KultScene.

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This vision to see clothing as a reflection of personality helped Lee create costumes for characters in a range of KBS historical dramas. From the royal robes created for Kim So Eun in Empress Cheonchu: The Iron Empress to Kim Hyun Joong‘s Inspiring Generation wardrobe, Lee researched and created authentic designs that helped bring the characters to life.

Lee’s first experience creating a costume did not live up to her expectations. It happened in middle school, when her class was planning a costume parade. She knew what she wanted to be but the costume did not exist, so she had to make it.

“I wanted to be a tree but then I thought, how do you make a tree? I had to figure it out, to find out where there were fabric stores in Seoul. My mother didn’t even know. It was my first costume and it was not very good.”

The tree costume, fashioned from nylon tent material, may have disappointed her but that did not discourage Lee from studying fashion for her undergraduate degree then going on to pursue a master’s degree in Korean costume and a PhD in the aesthetics of dress at Seoul National University.

“My mother wanted me to be a doctor, but my talents fell somewhere between the scientific and artistic,” said Lee. “I Ioved to draw but was not talented enough to be an artist. Nothing looked like I wanted it to. Textiles seemed like a good way to combine the scientific and artistic.”

Her university studies included dyeing, printing, design, illustration, and marketing. Lee became so interested in the psychology of clothing that she briefly considered a career in psychology. Then she received her first costume request: The priest at the church she attended asked her to make him an authentic Gogoryeo era (37 BC–668 AD) costume, because he was studying martial arts.

Fulfilling that request was a challenge for Lee, as much of the dress history she studied in the past had focused on Western fashion. So she took a class in Korean dress history but there were few illustrations of what Goryeo era clothing actually looked like. Descriptions of Goryeo period clothing was mostly gathered from tomb paintings and the rare intact clothes displayed in museums were those worn by nobles. Rare Goryeo-era artifacts were mostly stored in North Korea, and while Lee attended school even scholarly access was limited.
There was no way to know what colors people wore, or what patterns tailors used. Despite the challenges Lee was determined.

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She contacted the costume department at KBS and asked to visit their storehouse to see costumes of that period. They agreed. “They could have rejected me but they let me look at the clothes in their warehouse.”

Exploring the KBS warehouse was so much fun Lee decided not to major in psychology but take a course in 10th century history. She eventually she became a costume designer at KBS Artsvision.

“After I got acquainted with the people at KBS I knew I had to become a costume designer,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about being a costume designer, no idea what was involved, but I knew I had to do it. I thought if I can interpret raw data into costumes, it will be perfect.”

Part of the motivation was the clothing, but also because Lee herself is a fan of Korean dramas. “I love every kind of TV,” she said. For a decade she worked on a variety of dramas, set in different centuries.

Once she starts working on a drama wardrobe, Lee says it is an all-consuming process and that she can think of nothing else. After she reads the script, Lee begins to research costumes of the period and create a wardrobe that best portrays the characters. She researches textiles and pays painstaking attention to the details–from hats to belts to jewelry– that make clothes seem authentic. Based on her research, she also has to create a budget and stay within it, oversee the production of all the drama’s clothes, manage fittings, and supervise alterations that might be required while filming. After the drama is over, the clothes must be collected and catalogued before storage.

Her roster of dramas includes Empress Cheonchu: The Iron Empress (2007), King Geunchogo: The King of Legend (2010), which she won an award for, The Princess’ Man (2011), Jeon Woo Chi (2013) and Inspiring Generation (2014).

Despite the rigorous research that goes into costume design, some historically accurate details may not be appreciated by a drama’s cast or crew. When Lee’s research led her to design clothing with sleeves that passed the fingertips, the crew was not pleased.

“The staff got mad at me because the sleeves dragged and ripped off, so I had to shorten them,” she said.“[And] sometimes the actors do not feel the clothes are flattering so they have to be altered.”

After years of designing costumes set further in the past, Minjung Lee designed clothes for the 20th century historical drama Inspiring Generation, set during the era of the Japanese Colonial Rule of Korea (1910 to 1945). “The clothes in such dramas are more realistic since they are well documented,” she said. “It makes it less of a challenge, but easier to replicate.”

Lee also hopes to design costumes for films, citing The Royal Tailor, starring Park Shin Hye, as an excellent example of faithful costume replication. “The costume designer was brilliant, one of the best. I actually made my dream come true by pursuing textiles, but I want to be a designer like her. That is my ideal.”

The costumer has written about dress aesthetics in the era represented in Inspiring Generation in her PhD dissertation, “Dress and Ideology during the 20th Century of Korea,” where she examined the clothes and ideology of that time. She presented a paper “Fashioning identity and Ideology in Inspiring Generation” for a Fashion in Fiction conference and recently also spoke about the era at a Fashion Institute of Technology conference in New York.

Minjung Lee is currently living in the U.S. and taking a sabbatical from her design work while serving as a visiting scholar at the University of California-Davis in the Textiles and Clothing/Women and Gender Studies departments. When she returns to Korea in February, she plans to write more about the significance of fashion. “Academia does not always respect dress,” she said. “They take dress for granted and fail to see it in the social context in which it originated.”

What do you think of Lee’s take on K-drama fashion? What’s your favorite historical drama fashion? Share your thoughts about this article in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Victim Blaming In Kim Hyun Joong & Ray Rice Cases Minimize Realities of Domestic Abuse

Is K-pop having its own Ray Rice moment?

Fans of K-pop often look at situations and criticize. Criticizing is one of netizens (Internet citizens) favorite pastimes. But what happens when a popular, well-loved Korean celebrity does something wrong to a woman he is in a relationship with? For that matter, what happens when a popular, well-loved American athlete does something wrong to a woman he is in a relationship with? Despite thousands of miles apart, holding different careers, and having many cultural differences, the cases of Kim Hyun Joong and Ray Rice force us to draw attention to the fact that victims of domestic violence are continuously blamed throughout the globe.

Throw those women under the bus the moment it seems like they did something less than exemplary; many netizens act as if these women essentially deserved to be abused. Palmer-Rice for spitting on Rice and “causing the problem,” Choi for dragging Kim’s name through the mud and then getting pregnant.

On February 22, a local Korean magazine published an article about Korean star Kim Hyun Joong getting back together with his ex-girlfriend, Choi, who had filed violence charges against him in 2014. It became apparent that fans of the singer, both Korean and internationally, were willing to forgive him the moment that the blame could be placed on Choi- for accepting Kim back after the two settled the case. Instead, blame was put on Choi, with comments saying she was essentially a gold digger, or saying that she’s insane, insanity that isn’t to be pitied.

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American football player Ray Rice’s girlfriend at-the-time, now wife, Janay Palmer faced similar victimization after Rice was caught on camera knocking her out. Initially, the video wasn’t made public, and the NFL initially suspended Rice for two games. After TMZ published the video on September 8, 2014, showing Rice violently smacking Palmer, Rice’s contract with the Baltimore Ravens was terminated.

No similar video was released to the Korean public regarding Kim and Choi’s relationship, but pictures showing Choi with bodily harm and text messages where Kim apologized to Choi for harming her were made public. Choi dropped the suit, but Seoul courts forced Kim to pay 5 million KRW (around $4,600) after indicting him on the charges.

The Baltimore Ravens’ official Twitter account spoke for Palmer, now Rice, in May, allegedly apologizing for her role in the incident.

Baltimore-Ravens-on-Twitter_-_Janay-Rice-says-she-deeply-regrets-the-role-that-she-played-the-night-of-the-incident._ The September 8 release of the video changed perspective, but the initial victim blaming gained wide recognition. The couple spoke publicly on NBC’s Today Show to discuss the hardships that the two have faced as a couple since the incident, and the missteps that the pair and NFL made as they tried to quiet the incident.

Most comments on the original TMZ video were critical of Rice, and supportive of Palmer. Some were the opposite, saying that she deserved being hit.

Kim Hyun Joong Choi Ray Rice KultScene Comparison via TMZ

Kim Hyun Joong Choi Ray Rice KultScene Comparison via TMZSlightly reversed, but the Kim-Choi situation once again is highlighting victim-blaming. Kim Hyun Joong was initially dragged through the Korean media for abusing her, and Korean netizens could not forgive him. Then, after the news broke that Choi is likely pregnant with Kim’s baby, the tables turned; comments began criticizing Choi for planning the whole situation so as to stay with her abuser.

Also on KultScene: Let’s Discuss: Making Excuses For K-Pop Idols

Kim Hyun Joong Choi Ray Rice KultScene Comparison via NetizenBuzz

Kim Hyun Joong Choi Ray Rice KultScene Comparison via NetizenBuzzKim Hyun Joong Choi Ray Rice KultScene Comparison via NetizenBuzzKim Hyun Joong Choi Ray Rice KultScene Comparison via NetizenBuzz

All comments translated by Netizen Buzz.

Hitting a domestic partner, or anybody, in an abusive manner is never alright. Rice and Kim both harmed the women who supported them, and in both cases the woman returned to her partner. No matter the circumstance neither woman is to blame for her actions, since there’s psychological research that shows why people, seemingly illogically, stay in abusive relationships. but the Ravens’ tweet essentially forcing Palmer-Rice to apologize for being abused and netizens accusing Choi of planning to get pregnant in order to trap Kim into a relationship are both missing the point that people who are in abusive relationships have a hard time leaving.

The Palmer-Rice incident started a national conversation about domestic violence in the NFL. During the 2015 Super Bowl, the most widely watched televised show ever, a commercial played, highlighting the fact that the average, uninvolved party has a hard time understanding what is going on in abusive relationships.

Even though the commercial is a step to begin the discussion about domestic violence and sexual abuse, the global consensus is that people do not understand, psychologically, why a person would not leave an abusive relationship. But people who are dependent on one another don’t think logically; love is not logical. Rather than trying to help the women, comments on the Kim-Choi, Rice-Palmer affairs act as if the women both behaved with complete, psychological independence, blaming the women for accepting back men who have abused them.

Rice hit Palmer. Kim hit Choi. Both became highly publicized abuse cases, and the public turned against both women, turning them into co-perpetrators rather than sympathizing with the victims of domestic violence.

CNN’s Mel Robbins wrote an in-depth analysis of the Rice-Palmer (now Rice) incident, highlighting the fact that we cannot forget that Rice abused his now-wife, and pointing out that victims will rarely leave their spouses for a variety of reasons.

“I’m sure he apologized later to her and felt sorry. That’s part of the cycle of abuse: violence then a honeymoon period, only to be followed by violence again. Katie Ray-Jones, president of the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Dating Abuse Helpline, has said an abused woman will leave a relationship approximately seven times before she leaves for good because of the psychological damage that batterers inflict. There are countless reasons victims recant their stories or stay in an abusive relationship: low self-worth, financial worries, fear, even love. Instead of wondering why a victim stays, the world would do better to focus on punishing the batterer.”

Both Kim and Rice were high profile stars in their respective realm of entertainment before the abuse scandals, and faced initial heat. But as long as people defend celebrities who abuse their partners, and place any amount of blame on victims, there will be bystanders who see the incidents and think that the victims truly deserve what they received. It’s a troublesome trait in our society that we see the fall of a beloved celebrity because of a domestic abuse scandal as more pitiful than the fact that a man beat a woman, physically, verbally, and psychologically.

Since becoming entrenched in domestic violence scandals, the two have faced setbacks in their career, but are still active. Rice is a free agent in the NFL and Kim released a new Japanese album, “Still.”

Disclaimer: I am no fan of the NFL, (or most sports) and am only writing as a general observer. Please comment below if I have facts wrong.

What do you think about what’s going on with celebrity abuse scandals? How do you feel about Kim Hyun Joong? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Let’s Discuss: Making Excuses For K-Pop Idols

Fans are what make any form of entertainment successful, and K-Pop fans are more intense than most other fans. In light of the recent scandal with Kim Hyun Joong, it has become apparent that K-Pop fans have lost their sense of reality when it comes to K-Pop idols.

K-Pop fans are known for being loyal to the genre, but also for being incredibly intense. In South Korea, overly intense fans are known as sasaeng fans. Sasaeng literally breaks down into the words “private” and “life.” These so-called fans are invasive and have a reputation of being tormentors more than fans. They do things such as following idols to their homes, sometimes sneaking in and vandalizing, etc.

There are also anti-fans, which torture Korean entertainers; there have been cases of idols who have been poisoned by anti-fans. One of the most infamous instances involved an anti-fan who gave TVXQ’s Yunho a drink filled with poisonous glue that nearly killed him.

Most people acquainted with K-Pop know about both sasaeng and anti-fans. So what is there to discuss? Well, there’s still the issue of delusional fans who don’t seem to recognize problems with celebrities.

No, not celebrities, but idols. This terminology is very important –Korean idols are treated as if they’re deified and held on pedestals, like the idols of a religion. Because of this, fans react in ridiculous ways. Recently, this week in particular, there has been an uptick in fans who seem to support idols’ illegal actions. This is, of course, in regards to Kim Hyun Joong’s accused beating of his girlfriend.

Kim Hyun Joong, Hallyu star and the leader of now-on-hiatus SS501, made headlines this week when his girlfriend of two years brought irrevocable proof of his abuse to police in Korea. While many fans around the globe were disgusted with his actions, especially when his company tried to claim that he and his girlfriend were merely being rowdy and it was an accident, many fans seemed to come out in support of Kim Hyun Joong.

Kim Hyun Joong fan comments on official Facebook

Kim Hyun Joong fan comments on official Facebook

In fact, a battle seems to be waging between fans that support him, and have started to accuse the girl of lying to the police, and between the fans that recognize how severe domestic abuse is.

Even when Girls’ Generation’s Hyoyeon was brought into a domestic fight with her now ex-boyfriend, fans defended her; it was as if people couldn’t stomach the idea that Hyoyeon could get into a fight. Idols are people, and fans do not seem to recognize this.

Even when domestic abuse isn’t involved, there are always fans who ignore the facts and support “their” idol. Regardless of the fact that Park Bom had definitely been involved in something illegal in South Korea, fans from all over the world said that the 2NE1 vocalist had been wrongfully smeared across headlines —that may very well be the case, but many fans ignore the fact that these idols are human and should be reprimanded like the average person when they have done something.

Keep Calm And Support KHJ

The reverse situation reveals the irony of K-Pop fans; when idols do something human that is offensive to fans, it causes upsets—something illegal is acceptable, if it makes the idol look bad. But when idols are revealed to be dating one another, or someone else, fans tend to freak out. While there are some very well accepted idol couples (such as Lee Seung Gi and YoonA, and Nichkhun and Tiffany), other idol relationships have literally led to rifts in fandoms.

The reactions of fans in defense of idols when they have done something both illegal and morally wrong and to berate idols for living their lives, is a ridiculous situation. Getting upset about something happening to your favorite idol is all right. You can be jealous that they’re dating someone, but cursing them for being happy is not really appropriate (even though many fans do it). But saying that idols who legally do something wrong are merely being framed or mistaken is akin to saying that you’re all right with the thing that they’re doing.

The fact that fans have such a twisted sense of reality in regards to K-Pop idols, that goes beyond the norm of fandom, is almost dangerous and fans need to recognize that there is a problem when people make excuses for mere human behavior.

What do you think? Do fans treat idols properly or is there something warped in the fan-idol relationship? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagramTumblr, and Bloglovin’ so you can keep up with all our posts.