By Han Sang-hee
Moon Da-bin, 15, is a middle-school student at Chungshin Girls' Middle School in Seoul. Among 36 of her classmates, half wish to enter show business to become singers, musical stars or television drama actors. Students have shifted from doctors, lawyers and teachers, traditionally respected career choices, and have set their dreams right into the spotlight.
The number of aspiring celebrities is increasing every year, but the dark side of the entertainment business, albeit spread through rumors, has never been as revealed as it is today.
The death of actress Jang Ja-yeon
, from the hit television series "Boys over Flowers
", and the so-called note that describes how she was beaten and forced to entertain and have sex with several program directors, CEOs and media executives, catapulted the revelation. In its wake, some have become skeptical about jumping into the glamorous industry, but others are still pursuing their dreams to become future stars.
Jung Sang-kyo is a 28-year-old who started out as a composer when he was in high school. His future seemed bright until he realized that he wanted to become a singer.
"This industry is very risky in terms of structure. Even if you are admitted as a trainee of a famous agency, if you do not grow into the image the agency is aiming for, there is no reason for the head to keep you under his wing. There is no reason for him to continue the risk", he told The Korea Times during an interview.
Jung said that there are numerous trainees who give up when they are 22 or 23 as they wake up to the reality.
"It looks fine and so some people don't give it a second thought before jumping in. They think they'll be different, but once you start, you get to really consider if this is the right path for you", he said.
People who just start it as a game or a quick and stylish getaway from reality give up quickly, while those left still have to endure a much tougher and competitive reality.
"If you are young and only know, let's say, 20 percent of what we call pain, and when you are burdened with 70 percent, you will have a very hard time recovering from it; you may never get back on your feet again. I would say that it's important to really know what you want and what's out there", said Jung.
Inner pressure may not be the only problem among aspirants, given the recent scandals and deaths of some actors and singers.
Lee Song, 27, graduated from Kyung Hee University, majoring in Theater and Cinema, and is currently working as a theater teacher and actor.
"I don't recommend students start at an early age. In my opinion, the faster you start, the faster you will get tired of it. I love acting and can't think of myself without it, but of course, there were times when I really wanted to quit and pursue a different career", Lee said.
She also added that in Korean society, knowing and being related to the right people still means a head start.
"If you are related to anyone important, you will probably be seen more on screen than any other fellow newcomers. If you are not under a big agency, regardless of your acting, you will have to move to the sidelines. I should know, I've been moved", she added.
Lee said that in her case, it was more about her personal passion and the cold shoulder she would be given from the audience that made her want to quit.
"You are always evaluated, even if you are new, pretty or even talented. I was devastated when I knew that I wasn't good enough, even after all that training and rehearsing. It's a tough place out there, and if you don't have the energy and passion to hold on, you will break down in no time", she said.
Despite the worries and fears, there is still hope.
The need for professional help has lingered for a long time, but experts pointed out that it was difficult to get things going in the current entertainment industry.
"Of course, counseling would help those who are depressed and who may be on the verge of killing themselves. But it's difficult for both professionals and celebrities to meet, and many stars feel ashamed to go to hospitals", a counselor at Seoul Women's University, who declined to give her name, told The Korea Times.
So some agencies have pulled up their sleeves to protect their actors and singers from emotional breakdowns.
Sim Enterainment, which nests actors like Moon So-ri
, Baek Yoon-sik
and Uhm Tae-woong
, signed a business tie-up with Kyung Hee University's East-West Neo Medical Center in order to prevent possible depression symptoms and other disturbing health issues.
"We are trying to offer a healthy environment for our actors, who go through immense stress and fatigue", Sim Entertainment said.
Young aspirants are also aware of the stress that may block their path to
"We think the important thing is to always stay positive. You cannot succeed without knowing that it's going to be hard", Mun said.
For Lee, it was a way of survival, rather than success.
"I cry, talk with fellow actor friends and get up again. Acting is everything to me, and I will not let obstacles stand in my way for long. The road may not be easy, but it was my choice, and I am going to stick to it", she said.