|Actress Song Hye-kyo in a scene from Netflix series "The Glory" / Courtesy of Netflix|
By Kim Rahn
Its heavy theme ― school violence ― was well presented through the tightly knitted plot and stellar performances by star actress Song Hye-kyo and the supporting actors who played her abusers.
In recent years, school violence has been one of the most serious social problems in Korea. As social networks have become a strong tool to raise public awareness, more victims have been coming forth via these channels to recount past violence they have suffered, especially when the offenders are well-known public figures.
Such revelations have led some celebrities to be ostracized. One of them is actor Ji Soo, who lost his TV title role in 2021 after being accused of having bullied and beaten schoolmates, extorted money and sexually harassed peers during middle school. Another case was twin volleyball players Lee Jae-yeong and Lee Da-yeong, who physically and verbally abused teammates during their school days. After admitting to the allegations, they were indefinitely banned from their local team and the national team.
But "The Glory" has brought further revelations and consequent aftermaths. One of the strongest contenders at a trot contest show was found to have been a bully and, following mounting criticism, quit the competition. In Thailand, several celebrities were hit hard for their past wrongdoings and made public apologies, including actor Pawat Chittsawangdee who allegedly bullied an autistic child.
Some victims have also come forward to testify about how serious an impact school violence can have on the victims' lives. Kwak Jun-bin, famous travel YouTuber, said in a TV show that he was bullied throughout his school years and eventually quit school. He then lived as a recluse for years with revengeful thoughts toward the perpetrators. Another woman appeared on a talk show to say she suffered the same torture as the main character in "The Glory" ― burns to her flesh from a hair iron.
Among the revelations, the case involving the son of Chung Sun-sin, who was named as the chief of the National Office of Investigatio, garnered the most attention. In February after the prosecutor-turned-lawyer's appointment to the post, it was found that his son verbally abused a roommate at high school to the extent that the victim required psychiatric treatment and attempted suicide due to emotional distress. Records showed the son was well aware that his influential father would mobilize all legal means to protect him. The father did so by taking the case to court, successfully delaying his son's transfer and disciplinary actions for nearly one year so that the junior Chung could enter the prestigious Seoul National University. Right after the revelation, the father stepped down from the post.
Chung's case bore some similarities to "The Glory" ― the abuser comes from a powerful background, he/she doesn't reflect the wrongdoing but lives a privileged life, while the victim becomes entrapped in the deep pain and trauma probably for the rest of his/her life. Situations are similar in other cases: Kwak, even having built a successful career for himself, cried during the TV show even some 15 years after the violence. For the woman on the talk show, seeing a hair iron still strikes fear into her heart. Young Chung's roommate did not advance to university. On contrary, the perpetrator of the violence against the woman became a nurse, and Chung's son has been enjoying life at one of Korea's most prestigious universities.
In contrast to the lifelong trauma inflicted on the victims, the offenders usually forget the incidents because they are of no importance to their lives. The irony of this was shown in "The Glory" ― its director An Gil-ho was accused of physically assaulting some Korean students when he was a high school student in the Philippines. He first denied everything but later admitted to some of the allegations. If An remembered his past wrongdoing and felt any remorse, he would never have participated in making the school violence-themed series ― if he had even a modicum of conscience.
"The Glory" and the series of ensuing revelations showed that school violence, which parents and teachers often regard as simple "mischief" between classmates ― sometimes intentionally labeled as such so as not to make the matter grow ― is not just horseplay. It is actual violence that ruins the victims' dignity as a human and leaves them in lifelong pain.
And it showed a more important lesson: offenders may pay the price someday. Even children should be made aware of the fact that their current wrongdoings could be revealed in the future, humiliating them in public and hampering their and even their family members' career paths.
The writer is news division head of The Korea Times.