The dark side of Korea’s entertainment industry: From sex “sponsor” contracts to shocking suicides

Trading sex to get the parts, endorsement deals and many other benefits is not something new in Korea’s entertainment industry. This “sponsorship” has led to negative consequences. 

Behind the glamor of Korea’s entertainment industry are the disturbing dark sides that can give us goosebumps. Ugly truths about the “underground rules” have been exposed to help the public have a more realistic outlook on what Korean artists go through behind the camera.

In which, the story of trading sex for resources (movie/TV roles, endorsement deals, …) in the industry is frequently brought up. These sponsor contracts have resulted in heartbreaking outcomes. Many female celebrities had to trade their careers and even their lives for having to follow this terrifying rule.

Reasons for the offers of “special benefits” in exchange for sex

Trading sex for acting gigs, advertising contracts, etc. is said to come from the needs of two parties, between artists or management companies who want to quickly shoot to fame and powerful figures in the entertainment industry who have a need to satisfy their sexual desires. 

In the fiercely competitive entertainment industry, it’s not easy to get roles, endorsement deals, event schedules, etc. It gets even harder for rookie actors with lack of support and unpopular artists who struggle to make a name for themselves. Therefore, they become the main target of the offers of jobs in exchange for sex. 

There are always figures off-camera with plenty of money and power who want to “sponsor” artists 
There are always figures off-camera with plenty of money and power who want to “sponsor” artists 

The shivering reality: Plenty of “sponsors”, many celebrities in question

Sponsor contracts in Korea’s entertainment industry exist in different forms. In which, one of the popular forms is when the sponsors take advantage of artists sexually while promising to bring them many benefits that help their careers.

‘High Kick!’ star Shin Se Kyung was once embroiled in rumors of being involved in a sponsor contract to get a part. These rumors stem from the fact that she was continuously offered acting jobs despite her controversial acting. However, Shin Se Kyung‘s reps, Namoo Actors, later issued a statement denying the rumors and filed a lawsuit against those who spread false information defaming their artists. 

 Shin Se Kyung

In August 2011, Korea’s entertainment industry was in chaos when more than 30 sex videos with the presence of different female stars were distributed online. These videos feature the same man. Many netizens believe that female artists were secretly filmed while having to sleep with a high-ranked official in Korea in exchange for the opportunity to get an acting part. 

Many female artists not only comply with the offers of sponsors but also develop romantic relationships with these wealthy and famous characters.

‘The Moon Embracing the Sun’ star Nam Bo Ra is the second daughter in a poor family with 13 siblings. On February 15, 2016, YTN published photos of Nam Bo Ra holding hands with a 2nd generation chaebol son. Nam Bo Ra admitted that the two had met a day earlier, but on the morning of February 15, they decided… to break up, after 3 years of dating. Around the same time, there were rumors that the chaebol in question was Nam Bo Ra’s sponsor. However, she denied the information and announced to take legal actions against those who spread malicious rumors about her.

Nam Bo Ra's wealthy boyfriend is said to be her "sponsor"

Not long ago, an incident related to sex sponsor contracts continued to stir up the Korean public. On December 1, 8 News reported that president of CJ Group – Lee Jae Hwan was accused of “sponsoring” a female idol (referred to as A) in exchange for sex.

A is a young celebrity who started out as an idol. Lee Jae Hwan is the youngest brother of the current CEO of CJ Group. He is also the chairman of a subsidiary company under CJ. Flirting messages between the 59-year-old president and the female idol were also exposed in this news. 8 News also revealed another conversation, in which Lee Jae Hwan directed the CEO of a subsidiary of CJ Group to promote A.

Lee Jae Hwan
Lee Jae Hwan

Lee Jae Hwan’s reps then denied “sponsoring” A in any way, but admitted directing subordinates to contact her because they recognized the value of female idols in the music industry.

Former IZ*ONE member – Choi Yena was suspected of being female idol A. After IZ*ONE disbanded, she participated in many TV shows and was active on her personal YouTube channel. The female idol’s agency has shut down rumors of her involvement in this sponsorship, and stated that they would collect evidence to take legal actions.

Choi Yena

Korea’s entertainment industry has witnessed many cases of artists being forced by their companies to “serve” powerful figures in the industry in exchange for jobs. ‘Boys Over Flowers’ star Jang Ja Yeon is a prime example. 

During her lifetime, Jang Ja Yeon signed a contract with an agency in the hope of becoming famous. However, this company forced her to continue drinking, serving when ordered. In 2009, Jang Ja Yeon committed suicide at her home in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province.

The death of Jang Ja Yeon caused a stir in public opinion for a long time
The death of Jang Ja Yeon caused a stir in public opinion for a long time
The death of Jang Ja Yeon caused a stir in public opinion for a long time

Her suicide letter announced an extremely horrifying fact, that she committed suicide because she was forced to have sex too many times, even becoming a sex tool for big bosses in the entertainment world. Specifically, Jang Ja Yeon had to “entertain” a total of 31 people with 100 times forced to have sex.

Jang Ja Yeon is not the only victim, even a young trainee was forced to have a relationship with her own CEO to get support from the company. The program “Enews” (tvN) aired in April 2012 caused a stir with its main content focusing on sexual abuse scandals that shook the entertainment industry. In the interview that day, witness Noh spoke up to expose the hidden and embarrassing mysteries of the entertainment world.

There are always figures off-camera with plenty of money and power who want to “sponsor” artists 

Noh shared shocking information about the CEO from an unnamed management company: “The most shocking thing for me is that the CEO sexually abused even a 6th grader. He touched her thighs and breasts and then forced her to kiss despite her disapproval. He did all the worst. He took advantage of the trainees and took nude photos of them with the promise to delete the pictures when they become stars. He used his position to suppress naive children.”

Although not to the point of suicide, “little Kim Tae Hee” Heo Yi Jae is also a victim of an underground rule. From a promising actress, she quit her job and disappeared from showbiz for more than 10 years. Only recently did the actress reveal that the reason she quit her job was because she was cursed by a colleague and behaved violently. All because she refused this man’s offer to sleep with him. At first, this senior was very kind, but then turned 180 degrees when he could not seduce the actress.

Heo Yi Jae quits her job because she was insulted after she rejected the underground rule
Heo Yi Jae quits her job because she was insulted after she rejected the underground rule

Shocking suicides

Apart from the pressures of “sponsors”, management agencies, and producers, Korean stars also suffer from immense public scrutiny, which may result in heart-breaking consequences.

In fact, whenever a celebrity do something that the public deem “wrong”, regardless of contexts, heavy criticisms can be expected. The eye of the public seems to follow a celebrity’s every move, never giving them a break, thus severely affecting one’s mentality.

sulli thumbnail

Even worse, in many cases, it is impossible to notice worsening signs in celebrities until things became too late, leading to an increasing rate of shocking suicides in the industry. SHINee Jonghyun, actress and KARA member Goo Hara, and singer-actress Sulli, who was a member of f(x), have fallen victim to this.


Most recently, ASTRO member Moonbin was found dead in his residence on April 19th, at the young age of 25. While his cause of death remains unclear, the police suspected that he may have taken an extreme decision.

Unforeseen consequences from the situation of exchanging sex for benefits in the entertainment industry

The exchange of sex for acting gigs, advertising, … causes many bad consequences, most easily recognizable is that it has created injustices in the entertainment world. Lesser-known artists without a solid background will hardly have the opportunity to access the entertainment world. In some cases, the artist may suddenly have their role deleted.

In December 2012, actress Jang Kyung Ah angrily revealed on her SNS that “there is an actor who “sells” their body in exchange for a role”. It is not clear why she expressed such an attitude, but many netizens think that the actress seems to have suffered a loss in her work and this may be related to the object the actress is referring to.

 Jang Kyung Ah

Many artists receive film projects thanks to sponsors while being incompetent, criticized for their acting ability. This can affect the quality of the work, causing investors to suffer significant losses.

Many actors carry the mentality of serious artistic activities and want to take their own steps firmly on the career path. If one day they suddenly receive sponsorship offers from famous characters, they will temporarily have a pessimistic mentality and lose faith in the path they have chosen.

In the case of artists being forced by the company to serve powerful figures, some of them have tormented themselves, leading to serious mental damage. Even to free themselves, some artists chose to take their own lives at a very young age. The actress of “Boys Over Flower” Jang Ja Yeon is an example. Her death has left many regrets in the hearts of the public, and at the same time raised a wake-up call about the dark side of Korean showbiz.

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