Busan Film Festival issues should not be blamed on actresses baring too much skin

Last week, the organisers of this year’s Busan International Film Festival decided to announce that they were cracking down on ‘overexposed’ actresses, telling the Korea Times:

“We’ve decided to switch the atmosphere in order to shift the spotlight to the directors, actors and actresses instead of some female celebrities who are new and receive more attention because of their revealing dresses.”

How did they plan to enforce this atmosphere ‘switch’? Well, in actual fact they didn’t. They really couldn’t do much at all. In fact, in the very same statement, the BIFF PR manager explicitly stated:

“We can’t dictate the participants what to wear or what not to wear”

So essentially what we have here is a spokesperson saying that the festival is taking steps to curb this outrageous attire while also admitting that they have absolutely no control, as event organisers, over what the actresses who go to their red carpet events choose to wear. It really makes no sense.

Even stranger than this is the fact that there was a real change to the events line-up being announced in this statement. The BIFF decided this year to get rid of the acting agency-sponsored blue carpet events that have become occasions of interest for both professional and amateur celebrity-watchers over the past few years. These are events have gained a reputation not so much for showcasing the films at the festival as for talent agencies to get their names out there.

Last year there were a lot of complaints about idols taking the spotlight away from the actors, directors and producers behind the films being shown. One veteran actor, Yeo Hyun-soo took to his own Facebook to complain:

“On my way to Seoul now. The seniors that should’ve received an applause were left on the backburner while the idols received all of the applause. Any actor who appeared after the idols had to deal with the awkward situation of being booed and an uninterested crowd. Good job.”

Now, actors are, by definition, often quite dramatic and so his reaction should probably not be taken entirely seriously but it is definitely true that certain events were dominated by idol fans. It was one of these, now defunct, blue carpet events last year that was completely overrun by fans of EXO to the point where staff members actually had to hold the barriers back to stop them from bursting onto the blue carpet.

Of course it’s also not fair to put the blame squarely on idols. In November last year I got the chance to speak to an independent experimental director from Busan. His thoughts on the matter were that the main issue for independent directors looking to get more exposure was not the ladies in skimpy dresses or the pretty boy idols but the sponsorship from Korea’s biggest film production companies which help bankroll the entire festival.

CJ E&M, Lotte Entertainment and Showbox, by far the biggest production companies in Korean film, are all premier sponsors of this year’s festival. Realistically this will undoubtedly mean thei often large and celebrity-filled productions from these big studios will get priority at the festival leaving smaller independent productions out in the cold.

biff sponsors

The majority of the 3rd tier sponsors are large film production companies and cinema chains.

If the organisers were really worried about there not being enough attention given to the artists that take part in the festival then this would probably be something to address. But doing that would mean the festival would have neither that money nor the industry support to continue to run at its current scale. In other words, it is never going to happen.

And so, instead of addressing the complex reasons why the festival might have certain shortcomings, the organisers chose to turn a few unknown actresses in provocative clothing into scapegoats.

Because, in reality, is it even likely that this particular ploy would be any more prevalent than in previous years anyway? It seems to have decidedly mixed results for the (fairly small number of) actresses that have tried it.

The only three names that keep popping up are Oh In-hye from 2011 and Jang Han-na and Han Su-ah from 2013. Since then Jang Han-na has continued to gain a few roles as a supporting character in relatively successful films and one poorly rated drama and the only work Han Su-ah seems to have done this year is one god-awful music video. Neither seems to have seen much of an impact on their careers aside from a few more photos on search portals.

From left to right: Oh In-hye, Han Su-ah, Kang Han-na

From left to right: Oh In-hye, Han Su-ah, Kang Han-na

Oh In-hye, on the other hand, has managed to carve a bit of a niche out for herself doing roles in low-budget arthouse films with adult themes. There’s nothing wrong with building your career by primarily doing roles with a lot of sex scenes – an actor has to work and not everyone would be willing to take that job. However, female celebrities, in particular, are judged very harshly for their image.

If you’re an incredibly talented and internationally acclaimed actress like Jeon Do-yeon the public might give you some leeway for your roles but, for most Korean actresses, their popularity is entirely dependent on their image. Just look at the flak Kim Tae-hee got online just for being associated with Rain. If her ultimate aim is to become a popular celebrity, there is little evidence that this would be a good route for an aspiring actress. That there has been less than a handful of really shocking outfits in the past few years is a good indication that few actresses are keen to tread this particular path.

It is entirely disingenuous for the BIFF organisers to blame a few actresses in revealing clothes for the reputation the festival may have started to develop as a showcase of the shallowest aspects of the Korean entertainment industry. It’s much more complex than that. That reputation is not entirely warranted either. This is the biggest film festival in Asia. Of course some parts of it will be mainstream and shallow and will pander to the most commercial and cynical elements of Korean entertainment. The BIFF is, in many ways, a victim of its own success.

But why admit that when we can all just blame all the bad things on the desperate wannabes in the slutty dresses?

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