Reigning queen of Korean sex symbols finds herself a subject of intense scrutiny.
BEFORE she appeared at a baseball park in May last year, South Korean actress-model Clara was just a run-of-the-mill entertainer. But her ceremonial pitch to start off a professional baseball game rocketed her to stardom overnight.
Clara, 28, whose real name is Lee Seong-min, appeared wearing form-fitting leggings that revealed her hourglass figure. The photo of her throwing a baseball immediately went viral, with netizens hailing her as a sex symbol.
Since the dramatic pitch, her comments on TV and SNS have made headlines.
“Clara” was the most-searched word last year on Naver, South Korea’s largest web portal.
Analysts attribute her sudden success to the ever-growing Internet use in the world’s most-wired country, where 73% of the people use smartphones.
“The Internet and smartphones were crucial factors in Clara attracting attention and gaining fame,” said Lee Ho-gyu, a professor at Namseoul Art College.
The faster news circulates, the easier it is to achieve fame. Clara was wise enough to use the heated-up media environment to boost recognition of her, he said.
Before she became a viral hit, the 28-year-old star spent some eight years under the radar. She pursued an acting career since 2006, appearing over 10 times in dramas, TV shows and music videos, but received little attention.
“Despite long years of acting, I was continuously turned down at acting auditions,” Clara was quoted as saying.
While basking in unprecedented support from fans, her past gaffes have come under media scrutiny.
For example, she revealed that she didn’t like going for chicken and beer, but later said on a radio show that she loved doing so.
Her remark that “I don’t know much about Korean ways of thinking” drew even greater ire from the public. Later, she had to make a tearful apology.
Controversial sex symbol
Clara has a unique background. Her father was a member of the now-disbanded group Koreana. She was born in Switzerland and brought up in the United States, but holds British citizenship. She graduated from US-based El Camino College with a major in fashion design.
“We never imagined Clara’s remarks would draw this much attention. After a spate of events, we realised how cautious Clara should be with every word she says,” her agent Martin Kyle told The Korea Herald.
Clara has also come under fire for her revealing outfits, sparking a public debate over the portrayals of the female body.
Korean novelist Gong Ji-young, famed for several bestselling works, went on Twitter to say: “Looking at female celebrities competitively undressing themselves and undergoing plastic surgery it seems as if it is too difficult to get a job and there is no other way to make a living.”
In response to Gong’s tweet, Clara wrote: “For me, attention is like a monthly payment for office workers. Indifference from the public means the end of my career. However, attention is not my main goal, just as salary is not the main goal for workers.”
Clara is not the only female star who uses sex appeal to boost her name. She is the reigning queen of a succession of sex symbols including actress-singer Um Jung-hwa in the 1990s and singer Lee Hyo-ri in the early 2000s.
Former sex kitten Lee Hyo-ri’s style may be tame by today’s standards, however. “Clara’s daring fashion sense was a shock to many Koreans,” Prof Lee said.
Clara’s success represents South Koreans’ longing to be sexy, and she seized a rare opportunity to stand out as a sex symbol during a time when sensuality is still in vogue, he added.
While “sexiness” continues to appeal to the public, the trend may be over soon. “People will soon be fed up with the flood of sexy images. The general public wants to see something new. To survive in this industry, female stars should show different aspects of their character,” Prof Lee concluded.
Clara seems aware of this. Indeed, she’s hoping to rebrand herself as an actress. To shed her sexy image on behalf of her acting career, she stopped appearing on several TV shows – TvN’s SNL Korea and MBC’s Reckless Family – to focus on her part in the upcoming drama Emergency Boy And Girl, a follow-up to the popular drama Reply 1994.
She is determined to make her way up to the top as an actress, “like Kim Hye-soo,” her agency said. – The Korea Herald/Asia News Network