He thrilled millions of viewers with his performance in the romantic comedy You Who Came From the Stars but South Korean heartthrob Kim Soo-hyun saw his popularity take a hit last week when he terminated an endorsement contract with Evergrande Spring, a Chinese mineral water brand.
Kim had signed the contract to star in commercials for Evergrande Spring alongside his female co-star, Jun Ji-hyun. The duo were reportedly being paid about $980,000, eclipsing the sums offered to Jackie Chan and Fan Bingbing to endorse the brand in the past.
But the deal sparked a firestorm in South Korea because the bottle’s label claims that its water is sourced from Changbai Mountain. That’s the Chinese name of a peak that borders the Korean peninsula in northeastern China. The problem? The Koreans call it Baekdusan and also lay claim to it.
The dispute over the mountain has caused controversy in the past. In 2007 South Korea’s silver medal-winning speed skating team were briefly detained at the Asian Winter Games in Changchun, the capital of Jilin province, when they held up a sign saying “Mount Baekdusan is our territory” during the medal ceremony.
After Kim and Jun signed the deal with Evergrande, South Korean patriots were soon calling them “traitors” and Kim’s management agency has since sought to terminate the contract, even though the advertisements have already been made. The two stars may have to cover the costs of the shoot, as well as returning their endorsement cheques.
“The agency feels sorry for not checking the water source thoroughly. We will be more cautious in other ads in the future,” Kim’s management team said in a statement last week.
Jun also admitted her error. “We made the contract only for the commercial. It’s our fault that we didn’t check the water source in advance,” her agency said.
The decision seems to have alienated some of their Chinese supporters: “Just because we are in love with you, now you think you can take our land? Between my idol and my country, I choose my country,” one netizen thundered.
“Are South Koreans brain dead? Changbai Mountain has nothing to do with them and now they claim that it is their territory. Get out of China! I’ll never buy another smartphone or car that’s made in Korea,” another threatened.
Some of Kim’s more loyal Chinese fans rushed to his defence: “Stop criticising Kim already. We are patriotic and so is he. They [South Koreans] also won’t tolerate someone taking their land and slapping it on a water bottle claiming that it belongs to them,” one wrote.
“I feel so bad for Kim Soo-hyun. He doesn’t deserve this,” another lamented.
At least there was one winner in the debacle, however. “Evergrande must be elated. Without having to spend a penny its brand has now become the most talked-about topic in the country. Good job!” one netizen mused.
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