If you’ve been following Korean tabloids, you’ll know that for the past few months, there’s been a rise in a number of cases involving celebrities being bullies. There seems to be a new accusation every other day involving both K-pop and K-drama idols, who’d be forced to issue a denial/apology and go on a hiatus.
According to reports, there have been almost 20 young showbiz personalities accused of being bullies, or iljin which means “bully” or “students who harass their peers as a clique” in Korean. For rising stars, being labelled an iljin could mean the end of their burgeoning careers, even if most of the accusations actually date back 10 years or more, usually involving their time in school.
Here are some of the more recent idols accused of bullying, with many of them at the cusp of making it big:
1. Seo Ye Ji
Actress Seo Ye Ji, 31, has been caught with not one, but a few controversies. The most bizarre case involves her former boyfriend and actor, Kim Jung Hyun (of Crash Landing on You). According to text messages between the It’s Okay To Not Be Okay actress and her then-boyfriend Jung Hyun, she demanded him to skip all his skinship scenes with the actress – Girls’ Generation’s Seohyun – for his 2018 drama, The Time. She also demanded he act coldly towards all females on the set, and his hostile behaviour caused a lot of mental issues for everyone on the project.
A former staff member from her management agency has also spoken up about her alleged verbal abuse, threats and unreasonable behaviour, giving details such as the actress yelling at the staff over small mistakes and checking their phones to ensure they did not record her behaviour.
Because of this attention, Ye Ji’s sordid past was re-unearthed and brought back to the spotlight. Multiple women have come forward to accuse her of bullying girls in high school – according to one witness, Ye Ji would “go around with her girls, and if she didn’t like you, she would start hitting you. She treated people like they were her belongings” and that she would “bully and steal money from people.”
Since the controversy, Ye Ji has been staying out of the spotlight; she’s lost a slew of endorsement deals and has been dropped from an upcoming drama. In addition, Ye Ji may have to pay penalties worth billions of KRW (millions of USD) due to the breach in contract and cancellation of the advertisements.
2. Ji Soo
Actor Ji Soo, 28, was embroiled in a shocking controversy just as he hit his big break by playing his first lead role in the period drama, River Where The Moon Rises. He was accused of verbal and physical abuse, blackmail, and sexual harassment during his school days by a few of his former schoolmates. Some accused him of being a sexual predator who forced other students to commit illicit acts with him. Others accused him of being a ‘school violence perpetrator’ because of his excessively violent behaviour involving hitting multiple students, extorting them, or forcing them to do his bidding.
Ji Soo admitted to bullying during his school days, and issued a long, handwritten apology on Instagram on March 4: “I will reflect on and repent my past, which can never be washed away, for the rest of my life.”
Even though 18 of the 20 episodes of the drama had been filmed, the production company decided to recast the lead role, replacing him with Na In-woo (Mr Queen) and reshooting the unaired scenes. Because of this huge cost, the production company is suing the actor and his label KeyEast for KRW3 billion (S$3.6 million).
It took Ji Soo over 10 years to snag a leading role, but his career is as good as over, at least for the next few years, so he announced a hiatus on acting to enlist for his compulsory military service, from October to 2023.
3. Stray Kids’ Hyunjin
K-pop idols are also being hit with accusations. Popular eight-member boy band Stray Kids’ Hyunjin was accused of violent and verbal abuse during middle school.
He has since apologised in person to the victim, and has issued a hand-written letter (posted on social media) to show his sincerity, saying: “Whether it was intended or not, I don’t think I can be forgiven at all for giving unforgettable pain to someone.”
Since the controversy, Stray Kids have been going about their promotional activities without Hyunjin, who has been suspended indefinitely since late February. He’s also been noticeably absent (or omitted) from promotional materials in Stray Kids’ major endorsement deals, for example with beauty brand Clio.
4. (G)I_DLE’s Soojin
Soojin, 22, of K-pop girl group (G)I_DLE has had a slew of bullying accusations hurled at her by former schoolmates. One of the alleged victims was actress Seo Shin-ae, who had attended the same middle school. She accused Soojin and her friends of making personal attacks against her for 2 years in an Instagram post on March 26, saying: “They said they couldn’t believe how an unattractive girl like me became a celebrity.”
Prior to this accusation, Soojin was accused of being a bully at school. A former classmate said Soojin would slap her and rally others to make her an outcast, as well as take money and other belongings of other classmates. While she has denied those acts, she has admitted to trying out cigarettes and dressing inappropriately in middle school. According to Sports Kyunghyang, a member of Soojin’s iljin group confessed to being a bully and has apologised to the victim.
Since the accusations came to light, Soojin’s musical activities will be put on hold.
5. Jo Byung-gyu
The Uncanny Counter lead actor Jo Byung-gyu, 24, has had a slew of bullying accusations thrown at him. The first accused the actor of bullying him at school while in New Zealand, but later apologised and took down the post. Then two others came forward to accuse him of physical abuse, with one claiming that he was harassed by someone connected to the Byung-gyu’s agency to pay damages and upload an apology letter (and lost his job due to the stress).
Byung-gyu’s Instagram post on March 10 read: “My 10-year career has already collapsed and all of the projects I was scheduled to participate in have been put on hold. The damage amounts to a number I can’t quantify.” He’s also admitted to being affected mentally: “Ever since the accusations, I keep my eyes glued to the ground when I go out and I haven’t slept for weeks.”
6. Shim Eun-woo
Shim Eun-woo, 28, was accused by a former classmate from middle school of intense bullying and ostracising her socially. The World Of The Married actress was also accused to be the ringleader of a group of bullies. While Eun-woo’s management agency denied the allegations, the older sister of the alleged victim came forward with her own account of the events, and provided witnesses to back her sister’s version of the events.
Eun-woo met with the classmate in question, and has since admitted to the allegations and issued an apology on Instagram on March 28 to explain herself: “I realised that the words and actions I thoughtlessly directed at someone when I was young could remain with that person for a long time as wounds, and I spent time examining the life I have lived up until now and my present-day self.”
7. Park Hye Soo
Actress Park Hye Soo, who’s confirmed as the lead actress in the independent movie You and I, was recently accused of bullying during her school days. Her accuser made additional claims last month, but Dispatch reported that the accusers were lying about the allegations after revealing the text messages between the two.
While the allegations have been disproven, Hye Soo had to delay her shooting for You and I as well as the premiere of her drama series Dear.M, which is tentatively set for August.
Digging up the past
The wave of accusations of bullying surfaced early this year. Apart from Seo Ye Ji’s case, the rest involved allegations of bullying committed when these celebrities were still in school – some as young as middle school (aged 12-15 years). While many celebrities have been effectively put on hiatus or made to apologise, some netizens wonder if they should still be held accountable for actions they did when they were young teenagers.
As Byung-gyu says: “Just how am I supposed to prove something that isn’t true? How do I remember and prove the things that happened 11 or even up to 16 years ago?”