The Brutal Working Conditions Of Korean Entertainment Industry That Made A Foreign Actor Leave His Career

The actor shed light on the exploitation of children on set as well.

Kentucky-born actor Kenneth Fibbe has worked in some noted Korean series, including Descendants of the Sun and Oh My Venus. He was also featured in HyunA‘s “How’s This” music video. Though Fibbe had been actively pursuing an acting career in Seoul since his arrival in 2011, a few years later, he left Korea because his life in Korea had become intolerable.

| The Korea Times

While working with A-list celebrities like Song Joong Ki and So Ji Sub, Fibbe admitted that he felt like he was on a career-high. He also pointed out how most foreigners working in the Korean entertainment industry actually have no training in acting, and the lack of standards in casting foreigners in the industry makes it easier for people like him to gain bragging rights.

My ego was inflated when I was in Korea…Let’s be honest. Most foreigners in the Korean entertainment industry have no background in acting. If they had it, they would be in Los Angeles, where it is very hard to become an actor. But who does not want to be on TV? Who does not want to say I was part of the No.1 Korean drama like ‘The Descendants of the Sun’?

—Kenneth Fibbe, The Korea Times

Fibbe in “Oh My Venus” | Netflix
Fibbe in HyunAs “How’s This” music video

Fibbe said that being an English-speaking American was enough for him to get opportunities to work on big projects and hang out with celebrities, which made him feel like his social status was also elevated. But that charm lost its shine soon enough. The ground reality was he, like other foreigners in the K-entertainment business, was underpaid and had to endure low-quality working conditions.

Fibbe in a kids’ show for KBS2.

But what really hit the nail for Fibbe to convince him to leave was the frequent lack of a safe working environment for children on set, as well as the inhumane exploitation. He recalled several anecdotes that left a mark, including a project where he was supposed to get sexual with a 14-year-old girl for an ad.

It was very awkward for me, but to its producers, that was a lot of money… When an agency casts a foreign kid in Korea, they would just go to Itaewon in Seoul where the U.S. military base is located, and pass out their business cards to the mothers of the children who look cute. Then, these moms would put their kids on set.

—Kenneth Fibbe, The Korea Times

Filming a commercial advertisement is a lengthy affair, often taking up an entire day on set. As given, young children are not suited for such grueling hours, but according to Fibbe, that was never a consideration on set.

There was one commercial that I did on a freezing cold day in March…A three-year-old boy, who was never on set before, had to promote a mosquito repellant with me and other actors. He had been up all day. So, at the end of the filming, he did not stop crying, saying he just wanted to go home and sleep. But people on set did not let him go. They said all of us should stay here until the filming is finished and that they did not have a budget for another day. His mom told the agency that her son could not do this anymore, but they just told her to stay. And this happened all the time. It is exploitation of child labor, but it is not getting any better.

—Kenneth Fibbe, The Korea Times

Another time, he witnessed a fatal accident during filming. He was shooting an ad for Kia Motors, and two men accidentally got locked inside a car that filled up with carbon monoxide. Due to the lack of proper safety management on set, the two people fell unconscious and were on the verge of death. When they were finally pulled out, Fibbe rushed to give them CPR, much to the dismay of his agent.

He said I should not touch them because I was going to get the company in trouble…I couldn’t believe this was a real thing. I can’t save someone’s life because the agent is scared of his client?

—Kenneth Fibbe, The Korea Times

Though the men survived, the incident made Fibbe realize in the Korean entertainment industry, his life is less valuable than the production. Having witnessed multiple such situations, the actor finally pulled the plug on his acting career in Korea and returned home.

Source: The Korea Times YouTube
Scroll to top