For his outstanding acting in Taxi Driver, actor Lee Je Hoon took home one of the two shared Grand Prize (daesang) awards at the “2023 SBS Drama Awards” on December 29, 2023 (KST).
During his acceptance speech, Lee grieved the loss of the late Lee Sun Kyun—calling him a “role model” even though the two never got to work on a series together. Lee even dedicated the Grand Prize to the late actor.
While Lee Sun Kyun’s name was not mentioned, it was obvious that Lee Je Hoon was talking about his late sunbae.
Being able to film a second season of Taxi Driver was honorable enough for me, and I was grateful for the chance. But now that I’ve been given such a prestigious award for the role, I don’t know how to react.
I gave Taxi Driver all that I had because I wanted to be of help and consolation to the victims who survived the incidents illustrated in the show. Even when I felt like I wasn’t enough and I lacked what it took, I had such wonderful director, scriptwriter, co-stars, and production staff members supporting me and pushing me through it. Without them, I would not be here receiving this award…
…Today has been extra painful. I never got to cross paths with him on a show, and I only got to spend a split second with him here and there. But I watched him build his career, and I dreamed of becoming an actor to walk the path he walked. I’ve always thought of him as a role model, and I want to follow in his footsteps. So I’d like to share this award with him.
May he rest in peace.
— Lee Je Hoon
The speech has since gone viral, and as expected, reactions stemming from Korea are unforgiving, unapologetic, and unreasonably hateful.
While most of his fellow celebrities and international fans are mourning Lee’s passing and the loss of a star in the world of acting, plenty of Koreans remain on the fence about Lee—clenching on to the piece of information that he was a VIP at an adult entertainment bar and using it to hold him to a much higher moral standard because he was a “public figure.”
Shamelessly dubbing the late actor an “adulterous addict” despite the lack of solid evidence, Koreans have expressed their disgust with Lee Je Hoon for looking up to Lee Sun Kyun.
- “This is what men think of adult entertainment bars. There’s nothing wrong with going to those establishments. Haha. Non-celeb dudes think the same. It’s shocking to women because women are less into prostitution. But remember Korea has more adult establishments than it has coffee shops.”
- “A role model out of a man who had an adulterous affair with a prostitute? And sharing the prize with someone who offed himself out of shame for getting caught? Instead of sharing it with the production staff of Taxi Driver? Man, celebrities are so out of touch. These actors have no idea what’s going on, huh? It’s as if Lee Sun Kyun died an honorable death, serving his nation. Or something.”
- “I was waiting for Taxi Driver 3. But I don’t think I’ll watch it.”
- “Taxi Driver 2 had episodes dedicated to victims of crimes like drug dealing and prostitution… Lee Je Hoon should’ve kept those thoughts to himself. I don’t understand why he even mentioned Lee Sun Kyun, especially when he himself said the two of them didn’t really know each other.”
- “Did Lee Je Hoon not watch the news? He must not know about all the things that Lee Sun Kyun did. Like, this whole speech is blowing my mind right now.”
- “The entertainment business will never cease to amaze me… LOL. I do know, now, that it’s a world where a married man can frequent an adult establishment and that’s considered OK.”
Some even criticized Lee Je Hoon for “overlooking the essence of the Taxi Driver role he was awarded for,” pointing out that character Kim Do Gi was an icon of righteousness—fighting against drugs and prostitution.
The correlation (if any) Lee Je Hoon’s win for his portrayal of Taxi Driver‘s Kim Do Gi and the speech dedicating the award to the late actor all contributed to the flood of comments.
- “This goes to show that Lee Je Hoon starred on Taxi Driver for the cash and fame, not because he had special feelings and intentions about what the show stands for. I’m so bitter.”
- “At this point, I feel like the world is pranking me. He’s going to share his Taxi Driver grand prize with who now…?”
- “This is ridiculous. LOL.”
- “It’s up to him to look up to a sunbae actor. What’s wrong with some of these comments?”
- “Perhaps Lee Sun Kyun was a role model ever since Lee Je Hoon was young and aspiring to become an actor. What’s wrong with that?”
- “A role model, huh?”
- “I heard the speech, even the part when Lee Je Hoon talked about the late Lee Sun Kyun. And when he said the whole role model thing, I understood it as Lee Je Hoon looking up to Lee Sun Kyun as an actor. Not for a moment did I think it was Lee Je Hoon commenting on Lee Sun Kyun’s private life and what has happened because of his personal choices. Some of these comments are wild.”
- “Oh, c’mon. Of course, Lee Je Hoon meant that he looks up to Lee Sun Kyun as a role model in the field, for the career that Lee Sun Kyun had. Who is interpreting this otherwise? No one is talking about Lee Sun Kyun’s personal choices. Also, it’s Lee Je Hoon’s daesang. Let him share it with whoever his heart desires.”
- “But people. Taxi Driver was literally ABOUT the Burning Sun scandal and drug crimes. Do you all not see where the irony lies?”
Hundreds of comments, under multiple posts about the speech, across Korea’s multiple online communities have accumulated. When a few Koreans tried to defend Lee Je Hoon and even call out the toxic nature of the comments being made, the backlash grew fiercer.
Online communities like theqoo and Nate Pann have been breeding grounds for cruel comments about the late actor. Lee Gyu Tag, a professor of cultural studies at George Mason University Korea, shared via CNN that this “intense online culture” is, clearly, unsafe.
I believe that the internet is also having an influence in imposing stricter moral standards on actors and singers in Korea. Whether they did drugs or committed illegal crimes, if it is not a serious mistake, they should be punished by law, and that’s it. But the public seem to think that people in the entertainment business deserve criticism or shameful comments on the internet.
— Lee Gyu Tag
Read more about 2023 SBS Drama Awards here.