ALI ZANE WRITES – The Netflix original series “The Glory” has provided viewers with a new perspective on the trauma that school violence victims carry throughout their lives.

“The Glory,” produced by Netflix and Hwa&Dam Pictures – a Korean drama production company with an impressive list of works and a stellar success rate—follows Moon Dong-eun, a woman in her late thirties played by veteran actress Song Hye-ko, who has dedicated her adult life to seeking revenge on her high school bullies.

The storyline: Dong-eun’s primary tormenter Park Yeon-jin, played by rising actress Lim Ji-yeon, repeatedly assaults Dong-eun by burning her skin with a hair iron. Now an adult left with permanent scars both physical and emotional, Dong-eun vows to get revenge on Yeon-jin, who has become a weather-caster, and her friends. Due to the intense storyline and graphic depictions of school violence, “The Glory” continues to make waves in South Korea’s online community.

Fans binged “The Glory,” Part 2, after waiting three months for release of the second part. But it appears that life imitates art, or is it the other way around? On March 10—the very day of “The Glory,” Part 2’s release– series director Ahn Gil-ho was accused of physically assaulting a former schoolmate back in 1996, while attending international school in the Philippines. The online accusations by an anonymous user read: “I just find it absurd and unforgivable that a perpetrator of school bullying would direct a television show about bringing school bullies to justice.”

Oddly, after initially denying the rumors, Ahn released a statement two days later confirming the accusations. Once praised for his unparalleled and eye-opening drama on school violence, Ahn has since been shunned by the public for his controversial past.

As a result of this disclosure related to the release of “The Glory,” South Koreans are finger-pointing other public figures and celebrities who have been revealed to be perpetrators of school violence. This has led to repercussions in their careers and a fierce online debate.

Two such recent cases include actor Kim Jisoo, best known for his leading role in the popular Netflix original youth romance drama “My First Love,” and ex- K-pop girl group Le Sserafim member Kim Garam.

Kim Jisoo has been labeled a “sexual predator” by the public, due to learning about a history of alleged school violence and sexual harassment that came to light in March of 2021. An online post made by an anonymous user stated, “I was bullied by Kim Jisoo and the delinquents in 2008, my third year of middle school. The word ‘bullying’ is not enough to describe everything.” More accusations surfaced: Former classmates have alleged verbal sexual harassment, as well as unsubstantiated reports that he filmed himself having intercourse with a middle schooler in the school bathroom. Then, two days later on March 4th, the actor admitted to bullying his schoolmates and released a handwritten apology on his official Instagram stating, “I sincerely apologize to those who suffered because of me. There’s no excuse for what I’ve done. It was unforgivable. When I started acting, I kept my past hidden but, in my heart, I always felt guilty about the dark past.”

He denied all allegations of sexual assault and harassment, though, and threatened to take legal action against those spreading rumors. Still, afterwards, Jisoo was dropped from the KBS series “River Where the Moon Rises,” in which he had been the male lead. Later the series production company sued the actor and his agency for 3 billion KRW in compensation, due to damages resulting from the need to reshoot with his replacement actor Na In-woo. Two months later, the Keyeast agency terminated his contract. Kim Jisoo has yet to make another public appearance.

On May 2nd, 2022, HYBE entertainment debuted its first girl group Le Sserafim, a six-member group, which became an instant success. Yet just two weeks after their official debut, 16-year-old member Kim Garam found herself in the center of a school violence scandal after an anonymous source leaked school records detailing Garam’s alleged bullying against a disabled classmate. That same day, another source posted an authenticated version of the document, which was viewed over 500,000 times. Garam and her label denied the accusations but on May 20th announced that she was taking an indefinite hiatus. Two months later, on July 20th, HYBE entertainment officially announced the termination of Garam’s exclusive contract. Le Sserafim now promotes itself as a five-member group. Like Kim Jisoo, Garam will likely never make another appearance in the Korean entertainment industry.

With South Korean celebrities being exposed as perpetrators of school violence, fans have since realized that they do not truly know these “people” they see on screen. And since the release of “The Glory,” fans are unsettled knowing that there may be more victims like “The Glory’s” fictional Moon Dong-eun, who, per the storyline, is forced to relive the trauma when seeing the assailant on TV.

Some object to the controversy, saying that “The Glory” dramatizes reality and is meant to serve as entertainment, but clearly the entertainment industry is reflecting reality, so that viewers are developing strong concerns about the real-life issue of bullying.

Whether life imitates art or art imitates life, entertainment fare is now becoming a weapon in the fight for social justice. What new hard truths about South Korean society will be revealed?

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