By Marie Lim and Linette Heng
|Interview with Foyce
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LONG hours and sexual abuse are just some forms of exploitation that budding artistes face in the Korean entertainment industry.
But it's not unique to the Korean entertainment industry, claimed local actress Foyce Le Xuan, 30.
She has had minor roles in local television drama for about six years.
Le insisted that casting couches exist here too.
She claimed she had been propositioned by people in the entertainment industry.
It's something that plagues young talent and those hoping for a shot at stardom. They are the most vulnerable.
"I can say 99.9 per cent of actresses and models have been approached, but it's not talked about. The casting director will say, 'If you don't do 'it', others will do 'it'. So why should I choose you?", said Le from personal experience.
She said everything is implied, adding: "You know what 'it' means."
With the hype surrounding K-pop, thousands of young hopefuls have a burning desire to make it big and become the next idol in the industry. The Korean entertainment scene is now littered with sex scandals and stories of "stars" being forced to work long hours abound.
These "slave contracts" for Korean stars have been met with outrage, prompting the Korean government to launch a crackdown on the industry.
While Le claimed young talents are exploited here too, other young people shooting for fame said they have never been propositioned.
Mr Jeffrey Chung, famed for his models who do lingerie shows and shoots, denies there's a casting couch culture here. He said if a client suggests anything inappropriate, he will tell them off.
Mr Chung, who owns a modelling agency, said: "I've heard rumours about the casting couch. I have clients who joke about it.
"But I tell my models not to give out their numbers, and that it's not worth it. It's not a million-dollar contract anyway."
Chloe Tai, 19, is typical of a teenager hoping to make it big in entertainment.
|From left: Chloe Tai, Jayley Woo, Hayley Woo and Elaine Yuki Wong were shortlisted after the audition round of the Korean pop auditions held in Dec 2010.
She was one of the participants who made it to the second round of the auditions held by talent management company JYP Entertainment in Singapore last year.
She said: "Entertaining the clients is one thing, but I would not sleep around to get to the top."
Fellow participant Hayley Woo, 19, who also made it to the second round of the auditions, said: "I heard from my boyfriend who used to work with a TV company that it's messy in the industry. But I hope I won't be in such a position.
"I will reject it (if propositioned). Though it is a big opportunity, it is like selling your body and soul and I think it is not worth it."
Her twin sister, Jayley Woo, 19, who also made it past the first round of auditions, echoed her sentiment.
"I'd rather get rejected than go against my morals," she said.
But while they say no to sex, many are willing to go under the knife in order to become prettier and more appealing.
Miss Elaine Yuki Wong, 22, who is also looking forward to the second round of the JYP Entertainment audition, said: "Plastic surgery is very common nowadays and I have a lot of friends doing that."
Miss Wong, Chloe and the Woo sisters said that they were open to the idea of a nose job and breast enhancement surgery, if their future talent management recommended one.
Said Chloe: "I don't think there's anything wrong with improving yourself."
She added: "I know this is a sensitive topic for most people, but I really think this is acceptable.
Most of the Korean stars do it. And not just the Korean stars, most stars go under the knife."
And if the message was not a friendly suggestion but an order by the management, all four would agree to undergo the surgery.
|"...it is like selling your body and soul and I think it is not worth it." -Hayley Woo, 19
Said Hayley: "I think that there are no bounds to making yourself prettier. I just hope I won't get addicted to plastic surgery."
But Jayley was more worried about the quality of the surgery.
"The (facial features of those who have had) plastic surgery in Korea look a bit 'fake'. I hope that if they want to sharpen my nose, it would look natural," she said.
Jayley said she would even lose weight if her talent management agency required her to.
"Although people say that I'm not fat, I think my thighs are too fat. If you want to be thin, you have to do whatever it takes."
She is 1.64m tall and weighs just 42kg. This is considered underweight by the national body mass index (BMI) measurements. To prepare for the tough road ahead, Jayley has even begun to train herself to sleep less.
"I heard that you won't get to sleep much. I now sleep about six to seven hours a day rather than my usual eight to 10 hours a day," she said.
In preparation for the second round of the JYP auditions, which include a singing and dancing segment, the twins have even taken up dancing lessons.
"During the first dance lesson, I got dizzy but I persisted. If you want to make it big, you've got to give all you got," said Jayley.
The girls are also prepared to wear revealing clothing.
Said Miss Wong: "Even superstars have to wear bikinis and go up on stage, so I think it is fine. (Wearing less) won't harm me."
But it is not just physical changes that the girls are willing to undergo, some are already mentally prepared for the invasion of privacy and lack of personal space, which comes with stardom.
Said Chloe: "I will be willing to give up my time and personal space if I get in. In the media industry, people are always watching you, and you lose your privacy.
"Anything that you say can become controversial."
And among the sacrifices that some were willing to make was to remain single.
Said Chloe: "I'm a very career-minded person. I would choose my career over my relationship."
Jayley echoed the same sentiment.
"You can get a boyfriend at any point of time after your career has stabilised. I think my future boyfriend would understand that this chance doesn't come all the time. When it comes, you have to grab it," she said.
Chloe said: "I have mentally prepared myself for the long hours and punishing schedules. I've been wanting to enter the media industry since a very young age. If I really want it, I know I have to make some sacrifices."
This article was first published in The New Paper.