Behind the scenes of Korean adult films
by Kwon Hyuk-joo
February 4, 2004
For actors, it isn't much fun, but a female manager enjoys her work ― with her clothes on
Lee Min-gyeong, 28, says with satisfaction as she finishes putting foundation on the face of an actor who happens to be half naked.
In the local adult film industry, which is run mainly by men and dedicated to satisfying men's fantasies, Ms. Lee, a makeup artist, is one of the few women who isn't an actress. But she's also the only female manager in the adult film industry, which differs from the porn industry. In the former, sex acts are simulated, while in the latter they're real.
Currently under Ms. Lee's supervision are five actresses and three actors. There's another actor Ms. Lee manages, but during the winter, the actor takes a break as he works as an instructor at a local ski resort.
"When they're not filming, the actors work as bartenders or delivery boys," Ms. Lee says. "Some of them are students who are taking a year off."
Ms. Lee says actresses work as store models who promote products outdoors while dancing to loud music, or as Internet jockeys, basically a disc jockey for online shows.
In choosing performers, acting skills are not too important unless they are hideously bad. As for their physical qualifications, the actor should not be too fat or too short.
Standards for actresses are more stringent. A woman's face and body shape are the most important factors.
"When I first started this job, I would often blush from embarrassment, but now I've seen it so often, I just throw in some acting tips now and then," Ms. Lee says.
Occasionally, Ms. Lee participates in making the film, but with her clothes on. On this particular day, Ms. Lee played the role of a staff member at a health center where the film was being shot.
"Most of the time, the staff plays roles since it costs too much to afford professional actors," Ms. Lee says.
Has anyone recognized the actors on the street? "Not likely," Ms. Lee says. "Adult film actors are usually forgotten, especially the ones who appear on mobile phones. None of the actors that I've managed have been recognized."
As technology for mobile phone services has rapidly advanced, adult films have become easily accessible for people on the go. June, SK Telecom's multimedia service, has made $100 million won ($85,620) since December by providing adult films through cell phones. SK Telecom's profits have doubled compared to what it earned nearly a year ago.
Sleaze limited to films only
Ms. Lee says many people assume that those who work in the adult film industry are as sleazy and sex-crazed as they are on-screen. "On the contrary, those working in the adult film have better manners," Ms. Lee says. "It was worse when I was working in the television and film industry."
She harbors no dream of pursuing a a career as an adult film actress, she says, as she wraps a heavy blanket around an actress who is wearing nothing but thin underwear, in the middle of a paddy field in Bucheon, Gyeonggi province. The staff was shooting a sex scene in a car.
"I won't be an actress even if they pay me as much as I want," says Ms. Lee.
Then why is she working for the adult film industry even though she never rents an adult film?
"The pay is good and the work is fun," Ms. Lee says. "I see it live, so why would I ever rent a video at home? Additionally, my phone is such an outdated model that it can't even receive mobile services."
Not all adult film workers are as satisfied with the industry as Ms. Lee is. Han Seok-bong has been working as an adult film actor for the past seven years and has appeared in 150 videos.
Considering that the highly acclaimed Korean movie actor Ahn Sung-ki has appeared in 70 films in his lifetime, Mr. Han should be more well known. Unfortunately, because the 150 films happen to be adult movies, Mr. Han is hardly noticed because his back appears more often than his face does.
Mr. Han complains that in the Korean adult film industry, actors are mistreated most of the time.
Another actor, Park Jin-wee, who has worked in adult films for 11 years, says, "Even if the director has personally selected us, if the actress doesn't like us, we're replaced immediately."
Mr. Han says that even if the filmmaker has to shoot another take because of an actress's mistake, the men are the ones who are always blamed.
"Due to the nature of our job, we have to make physical contact with the actress, but sometimes they bark at us not to even lay a finger on their precious body without permission," Mr. Han says.
"Some of the actresses come on the set with a wicked alcohol breath or unwashed," Mr. Han adds.
It get worse after the film shooting has ended. The actors receive less than half of what the actresses receive, with the men's pay amounting to 600,000 won ($514) to 700,000 won per movie.
"I once saw a Japanese adult film actor drive away in an expensive sports car to play golf after finishing a film," Mr. Han says. He envies the Japanese actors, who are treated like real stage actors and receive paychecks that are as hefty as those of a blockbuster movie star.
But what really irritates Mr. Han is not the paycheck or the mistreatment but the misunderstanding by the public.
"There's a difference between a porn movie actor and an erotic movie actor," Mr. Han insists. A porn movie actor actually has sex with the actress, but an erotic movie actor is "acting the sexual performance," which is what a movie or a television actor does.
"It's not real; we're not really doing it," Mr. Han stresses. "It's just acting."
But Mr. Han says people think it's the real thing, and for that reason he has told no one but his parents and close friends what he does for a living.
The treatment is different for adult film actresses, many of whom have their own fan clubs on the Internet.
Lee Ga-eul, 24, who recently made his debut in the adult film industry, says it's hard to make a living by shooting just one film a month.
"To make more money, I also appear on adult Web sites," Mr. Lee says.
When they are not shooting a film, Mr. Han drives a taxi and Mr. Park works at a small company.
Mr. Han said that because he has worked with so many naked women, in real life he finds it hard to get sexually aroused. "It's a job thing," Mr. Han said.
Besides the poor working conditions, the actors often are dissatisfied with the finished product. They complain that locally made adult films are ludicrous with their outlandish plots.
"We have to take our clothes off entirely even when shooting a scene where we're having sex in a dark alley," Mr. Park says. "And a virgin on her first experience has an orgasm and suddenly turns into a sex-addicted whore."
Mr. Han says some directors ask for a performance only possible in a circus.
Although they do tell the director and the staff if the demands are just too weird, most of the erotic actors just carry on because it is the profession they have chosen.
The actors consider themselves professionals who take their work seriously and put in a lot of effort to become the best. Mr. Han hones his acting skills while watching foreign erotic films every day, and Mr. Park tones his body every day in a fitness center. Mr. Lee has an intricate skincare routine to maintain his handsome face.
The actors are more hopeful, however, now that an Internet fan club has been established for Mr. Park.
Compared with the number of fans of adult film actresses, Mr. Park's fans are few. Most of these fans happen to be men, but it still brings joy to the actor to know that his work is now appreciated. The way male actors are treated, he's happy to have any fans.
Mr. Han dreams of a day when he's behind the wheels of a sports car, not a taxicab.
"Right now, it's the actresses who dominate this world, but it is the men who lead these women," Mr. Han says.
"There will be a time when we get the spotlight."
To read what's happening in Japan, see A Star is Porn.