On May 18, actress Kim Sae-ron made headlines after hitting an electrical transformer box while driving while under the influence.
She ran away from the scene, but was soon caught and is currently under investigation. Kim issued a handwritten apology two days after her arrest, and while many international fans choose to view the incident as a mistake they can learn from, domestic public opinion remains cold.
This isn’t simply because Korean celebrities are expected to fully abide by ethical standards in their personal lives or because Kim has been known for her innocent image since her days as a child actress. Instead, Koreans’ reactions to drunk driving have changed dramatically over the past decade.
In Korea, apart from violent crimes, drunk driving is generally considered one of the worst crimes a star can commit. After slogans such as “drunk driving to kill” gained traction, celebrities and non-celebrities alike who committed the crime were condemned as “potential killers”.
The extent of damage in Kim’s accident, along with her car, caused a partial power outage in the area, but many noted that Kim was lucky she didn’t hurt anyone, including herself. The accident occurred during the morning rush hour in a busy area of Seoul, and damage to an electrical transformer box can lead to fires and even explosions – which is why its case is taken more seriously than the average cost of property damage.
Celebrities who have been arrested for DUI in recent years, such as ex-After School member Lizzy, aka actor Park Su-young, and ex-AB6IX member Lim Young-min, have been severely damaged by their public image and have found it nearly impossible to regain their popularity.
But it wasn’t always this way. In fact, until the turn of the century, driving under the influence of alcohol was a very common misdemeanor in the entertainment scene and was not considered a serious crime. It is not at all difficult to find a record or two of DUI records among celebrities who have been active since the early 2000s or earlier. Punishment was and is still considered a mere slap on the wrist, since it rarely leads to imprisonment. Stars caught drunk driving at the time faced criticism, but most were able to go back and get their image and jobs back to normal after a few months of regression, as a sign of regret.
Even today, cases of drunken driving for stars are often viewed as less dangerous if they occurred before 2010. For example, when the popular Netflix series “Squid Game” was released last year, a post on the online community forum drew attention to In fact, the show’s lead actor, Lee Jung-jae, has two stories about DUI on his record. Lee was caught drunk driving in 1999, causing a car accident, and then again in 2002, both of which were in the news at the time. But after a bit of initial oomph, this post was quickly forgotten. Lee’s public image was virtually unaffected, and the show continued to be successful both domestically and internationally. Lee is one of many veteran stars who currently enjoy popularity and positive public perception despite their DUI record. Stars like Lee are not likened to murderers, like drunk drivers in Korean society today.
According to popular culture critic Kim Heon-sik, the turning point that markedly changed Korea’s public perception of drunk driving was the incident that killed a young man named Yoon Chang-ho in September 2018, which led to anti-drinking driving legislation named after him. . Yoon, who was serving mandatory military service, died after being run over by a drunk driver in Busan. In his memory, Yoon’s friends and family launched a campaign to toughen punishment for drunk drivers, which resulted in the National Assembly passing the Yoon Chang-ho Law in late 2018.
“In today’s age of commuting, families and friends of victims can share information and accident footage, highlighting just how dangerous driving under the influence can be,” Kim said. “In recent years, stories of victims and the reality of drunk driving accidents have been actively shared on online communities, social media and Blue House petition boards. This has helped people empathize with the victims and realize that it can also happen to themselves or their family members. It has rooted in People’s minds that driving under the influence is not a small personal mistake, but a crime that can destroy the lives of others.”
Although the law was ruled unconstitutional in November of 2021 due to disagreements over specific clauses, its impact on the collective mentality of Koreans remains strong. The younger generation in particular tends to view crime as a serious crime, likening it to murder.
“Especially due to the high population density in Korea, a drunk driver is more likely to hit pedestrians,” Kim continued. “This, along with the Korean culture that tolerates the consumption of a lot of alcohol, has resulted in Korea in many accidents in which drunk drivers caused great loss of human life and property damage. The public tends to be less harsh if A celebrity was caught drunk by the police without causing real harm. But in Kim’s case, I think she’ll have to face the consequences for a long time, if she ever manages to come back.”
Several of Kim’s upcoming series, such as “Hunting Dogs” on Netflix and “Trolley” on SBS, have been postponed, or Kim was simply dropped from the cast. Kim faces further investigation and will have to compensate financially for the destroyed electrical transformer box, but it remains unclear whether or not she will be able to escape the stigma of “potential murder.”
by Halle Young [[email protected]]