The Use Of Disabilities In Korea

In the past years of watching Kpop music videos and Korean dramas, disabilities have always been a taboo subject. They know it’s there, and possibly rising year by year, but they decide not to acknowledge it too much. Recently there seems to have been a change in the thoughts of the Korean citizens. Within some Kpop music videos there are now actors playing physically disfigured characters, while in Korean dramas there are actors portraying characters with mental disabilities. There are even some television series’ that now show how people with physical or mental issues live, and they’re usually granted a longing dream, similar to what the UK charity “Make a Wish” does. 

The all female group Sunny Hill had their music video for Pray banned in Korea. The music video starts off with a haunting voice and a figure with a sack over their head, which once removed shows someone that is seriously disfigured. Obviously a play on the whole Beauty and the Beast scenario, but looking a little deeper into the video you see that they have turned the disabled figure into something of a guinea pig for tests. This gives the watcher a sense of guilt, as you automatically class the disfigured man as the beast, but by the time the video ends you realise that you were deceived by the beauty, and that the true horror lies within the woman. The reason the video was banned in Korea was for the obvious reason of torture, but it was also classed as horror, down to the horrific features and the disfigurement of the man.  

With the release of Brown Eyed Girls newest single, Cleansing Cream, we see a story unravel about a blind girl. The music video offers two differing viewpoints. It starts with the young blind girl wanting to be like her older sister, by caressing the clothing, touching the husband and laying just like her older sister. But the older woman thinks her blind sister is falling in love with her husband, and ends up trying to drown her before she realises what’s been happening. The other story behind the video is that the blind girl is in fact falling in love with her older sister’s husband, and thus tries to put on make-up to become more beautiful. The older sister sees this and looses all self restraint and tries to drown her. In doing so, she realises that her younger sister was in fact everything the older woman wanted to be. With the use of cold colours and fantastic camera positioning, the older sister is portrayed as seeing too much and having a cold outlook to life. The blind younger sister is then shown as the complete opposite, seeing too little yet full of warmth and love. Unlike Sunny Hill’s video, they haven’t portrayed this disability as being evil or horrific, instead it’s used as a way to show innocence and frailness.

With Korean dramas and movies, it’s not so much physical disabilities, but more mental disorders and diseases that make an appearance. Flower Boy ramyun Shop (pictured top) is currently airing in Korea at the moment and is a drama I really enjoy watching. It features actor Lee Ki Woo portraying an adult character who has Autism. Autism is a Neurological disease where characteristics combine a multitude of things, but most common are impaired social interaction, communication and restricted, repetitive behaviour. At first you see something isn’t completely right about Woo’s character; he is an adult, but acts really childlike. There are scenes when you are in absolute stitches because of his actions, until you are told that he has Autism. His actions then become a comedic release, but you are left feeling guilty again for laughing at someone who obviously can’t help being the way he is. It isn’t to do with taking the mickey of a disability, but hats off to Lee Ki Woo for his most excellent portrayal.

Finally we have the drama’s Scent of a Woman and A Thousand Day’s Promise. Although both completely different stories, they share one similarity, in that they both feature a young woman who is diagnosed with a deadly disease. Scent Of A Woman focuses around Cancer, a subject that has recently been bought up a lot in Korean dramas. It shows the reality the young woman faces, and how she prepares herself for the very worst. 

With A Thousand Day’s Promise a young woman in her early 30’s is diagnosed with Alzheimers, a disease which slowly deteriorates the brain cells, making you forget small things, which then grows to forgetting your closest friends and family, and in the worst case, you can forget how to breathe, eat and drink. An ongoing drama, it shows how this young lady deals with her diagnosis and the troubles and turmoils of trying to be strong through all the anger she has built up.
Like I said, Korea has always thought of disabilities as a taboo subject, and although not completely disability friendly, it truly seems that they are not judging anymore, but instead introducing these illnesses and disfigurements into the public eye to further educate the public.

Disfigurement has, and always will be, a talking point in any country. The same for the ever growing disability list, but educating people in the knowledge of these, and changing their perspective of people with illnesses, is something that Korea seems to have taken on board. You can read into the different music videos, or the stories of the characters in your dramas and movies, but taking a little extra time to find out more about that person’s illness will not only educate you, but show how hard the actors have worked to portray their character correctly.

There are many websites available online offering support and information, and there are many charities around as well (a simple Google search will give you all the information you need). So next time you see an actor portraying a disabled or disfigured character, think of the research that they’ve gone through, try and read up a little bit about their illness. It may get you closer to the character and help you appreciate the work of the actor, as well as educating you more on something you possibly never knew about.
Sources: Changing Faces, RNIB, Cancer Research, Alzhiemers Society

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