When Korean filmmaker Kim Jae-hwan has an idea, he commits. Kim opened his own restaurant, installed hidden cameras then filmed brokers taking large bribes so the eatery would be featured on TV shows.
It was all in the name of exposing corruption in Korea's broadcast industry, where criticism of the media is rare. The resulting film, "The True Taste Show," has not only become a smash success, it "has changed the landscape of documentary filmmaking in Korea," according to the Joong Ang Daily.
"The True Taste Show," which premiered at the Jeonju International Film Festival in early May and was released in theaters a month later, documents the rampant pay-for-play problem in Korea media.
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Production companies that make food shows for Korea's three major broadcasting stations -- MBC, KBS and SBS -- take bribes from eateries in exchange for fawning television coverage. In Kim's case, his restaurant in Ilsan, Gyeonggi, was featured on MBC's "Find! Delicious TV" for 9 million won ($8,181) and on SBS' "Live Show Today" for 10 million won ($9,090). Members of Kim's staff were even hired as fake customers for the shows. "The profits were shared by the broker, production company and broadcasting station," reports Joong Ang Daily.
Why the restaurant industry? Kim says:
I wanted to talk about the media in a fun and lighthearted way. And food was the best option because it shows the essence of the commercialization of the media. Plus, everyone is interested in food. And I wanted to show what happens when the media betrays its true nature.
Hmmm... Korea doesn't sound all that different from the world of graft and advertorial that passes for most of the "lifestyle" writing in the United States.