The “Dirtiest” X-File Ever Leaked: The List That Victimized 99 Korean Celebrities

What was it, and who put it together?

Those who know, know. What was dubbed the South Korean “Celeb X-File” is a tale as old as time in the entertainment business. Based on the sheer number of rumors it circulated, the X-File was perhaps the dirtiest that Korean celebrities were ever done.

So what was it, and who put it together?

Actors Kim Tae Hee (left), Jung Woo Sung (center), and Song Hye Kyo (right) | iMBC & Hankyung

Back in 2005, a huge list of 99 celebrities and their most private matters—both facts and rumors—was leaked online. As soon as the press began covering the news of the leak, countless copies of the file circulated far and fast.

The said “file” was collected and managed by a Korean marketing firm called Cheil Worldwide, known as Cheil Communications at the time. Cheil Communications explained that the information had been collected in an effort to create a database of celebrities available for endorsements. A research firm, called Dongseo Research, partnered with Cheil Communications for this effort—though, in the process, it ended up leaking a 113-page PowerPoint file.

The cover of Dongseo Research’s “In-Depth Interviews With External Experts For Building A Commercial Model Database” PowerPoint file. | Dongseo Research

The file, titled “In-Depth Interviews With External Experts For Building A Commercial Model Database,” was created in November 2004. It included a list of names of the “external experts” interviewed, as well as the interview dates.

Ten reporters working for different Korean media outlets—including some of the popular TV reporters like Jo Young Gu and Kim Saeng Min—were recruited by Cheil Communications’ “Brand Marketing Research Institute,” and then interviewed by Dongseo Research in exchange for two $100 gift certificates.

A list of Korean reporters recruited as “External Experts” for the interviews. | Dongseo Research

I. The Purpose of This Research and the Database Creation Process

The Purpose: This research has been created to collect data about endorsement models. The data will be used to evaluate the models by sharing potential issues that could complicate endorsements to prevent advertisers from taking risks.

The Process:

1. Process: In-Depth Interviews
2. Participants: A total of 10 interviewees (Recruited by Cheil Communications Brand Marketing Research Institute)

Jo Young Gu, SBS Reporter: Interviewed October 27, 2004
Kim Saeng Min, KBS Reporter: November 1, 2004
Go Gyu Dae, Sports Hankuk: October 28, 2004
Choi Hyo An, Sports Seoul: October 28, November 10, 2004
Kim Jae Bum, Sports Today: October 29, 2004
Kim Ga Hee, Yonhap News: November 1, 2004
Heo Min Nyung, Sports Today: November 3, 2004
Baek Mi Jung, Good Day: November 4, 2004
Kim Bum Seok, Ilgan Sports: November 4, 2004
Song Won Seob, Sports Chosun: November 9, 2004

According to the file, Korea’s hottest models, actors, and idols were discussed in the said “in-depth interviews.” The file was an accumulation of pages and pages of these discussions, detailing each star’s “characteristics, future lookout, personal management skills, dating histories,” and more.

The file ranked the celebrities—scoring their current popularities, evaluating their potentials, as well as noting rumors related to their personal lives. While some of the information, like the celebrities’ basic data, were true, the file contained opinionated and unconfirmed data.

Names of the 99 celebrities discussed in the file. | Dongseo Research

Kang Dong Won / Ko So Young / Gong Yoo / Kwon Sang Woo / Kim Nam Joo / Kim Diana / Kim Rae Won / Kim Myung Min / Kim Min Sun / Kim Min Joon / Kim Min Hee / Kim Bin Woo / Kim Yu Mi / Kim Jung Eun / Kim Jung Hwa / Kim Tae Hee / Kim Hyun Joo / Kim Hye Soo / Kim Hyo Jin / Kim Hee Sun / Kim Hee Ae / Nam Sang Mi / Ryu Seung Bum / Moon Geun Young / Park Sang Won / Park Shin Yang / Park Ye Jin / Park Eun Hye / Park Jung Ah / Park Joo Mi / Park Han Byul / Bae Yong Joon / BoA / RAIN / Seo Min Jung / Sung Yu Ri / SE7EN / So Yi Hyun / Son Ye Jin / Song Seung Hun / Song Yoon Ah / Song Hye Kyo / Shin Ae / Shin Ha Kyun / Ahn Sung Ki / Ahn Jae Wook / Yeon Jung Hoon / Eric / Won Bin / Yoo Ho Jung / Yoon Do Hyun / Yoon So Yi / Lee Na Young / Lee Da Hae / Lee Dong Gun / Lee Moon Sae / Lee Mi Yeon / Lee Byung Hun / Lee Seo Jin / Lee Young Ae / Lee Eun Joo / Lee Eun Hye / Lee Jung Jae / Lee Jong Won / Lee Hyori / Lim Seong Eon / Im Soo Jung / Jang Na Ra / Jang Dong Gun / Jang Seo Hee / Jang Shin Young / Jang Jin Young / Jeon Kwang Ryul / Jun Ji Hyun / Jun Jin / Jung Da Bin / Jung Woo Sung / Jung Joon Ho / Jo Yoon Hee / Jo Yi Jin / Jo In Sung / Ji Sung / Ji Jin Hee / Cha Seung Won / Cha In Pyo / Cha Tae Hyun / Chae Rim / Chae Shi Ra / Choi Ji Woo / Ha Ji Won / Han Ga In / Han Go Eun / Han Suk Kyu / Han Ye Seul / Han Eun Jung / Han Ji Min / Han Ji Hye / Han Chae Young / Hong Soo Hyun

For example, the file ranked actress Kim Tae Hee a three-star celeb at the time but scored her four stars for having great potential for an endorsement. Kim Tae Hee’s page noted some facts, like her educational background at Korea’s prestigious Seoul National University. But it also outlined what the “external experts” thought about her appearance, her acting skills, and her management/manager. Some of the most groundless, unverifiable rumors about what the “external experts” heard were included, too.

Actress Kim Tae Hee’s page in the file. | Dongseo Research
Kim Tae Hee’s page, translated. | Koreaboo

Following the leak, the celebrities listed in the file—as well as their fans and even the Korea Broadcasting Actors Union—expressed outrage over the file. Both Cheil Communications and Dongseo Research were sued for having “scored [celebrities] like products” and “spreading massive amount of gossip” about them.

The “external experts” also faced backlash, despite their claims that the reporters denied most of the rumors that Dongseo Research tried to confirm in the interviews.

The Korea Broadcasting Actors Union holding a press conference, in front of a placard that reads, “Actors are not products to be scored and reviewed.” | Joy News

We know that unfounded rumors can ruin a career, and we feel deeply sorry that innocent entertainers who did nothing wrong have to suffer. Invasion of privacy through the Internet has become a serious problem, and this time the situation is more severe because it was not one or two people’s privacy but that of a whole group of entertainers.

All entertainers including those not named on the list are grieving. And whether the reviews were good or bad seems of less importance at this point. The last couple of days have been hard on me and my colleagues who are currently working of TV sets. I hope you will understand the despair a lot of entertainers are going through right now.

— Actor Ahn Jae Wook at the Press Conference

Cheil Communications apologized via an official statement that was published on 22 print newspapers, 14 online news sites, and their own website.

Cheil Communications’ official statement. | Cheil Communications

Our Sincerest Apology

We, at Cheil Communications, apologize to all who have been affected by the leaked file. The research began with good intentions of minimizing the risks of advertisers choosing the wrong models for their products. Even though the research was done by an outsourced company, Cheil Communications share the responsibility of what has happened.

We would also like to point out that most of what the file reported are unconfirmed rumors.

We will do everything in our power to resolve this issue. We also assure you that this won’t ever happen again. We hope the file leak does not affect the Korean entertainment business in a negative way. We, at Cheil Communications, are going to reflect on this incident and work harder to further develop the entertainment business.

Again, we apologize to the celebrities, reporters, and everyone else involved—including the fans who loves and cares for the Korean entertainment business.

January 21, 2005

— Cheil Communications CEO & Board of Directors

Soon after, the celebrities dropped the lawsuit after Cheil Communications agreed to some terms:

  • Operate a Cheil Communications “Task Force” to help with developments in the entertainment business.
  • Co-host workshops for Cheil Communications and entertainment agencies.
  • Share Cheil Communications’ database for further developing the modeling business.
  • Produce and/or sponsor public campaigns.
  • Fundraise to help with cultural developments in the entertainment business and for the public.
  • Sponsor scholarships funded by celebrities.

While the 2005 X-File scandal served as one of the first and most pivotal moments in Korean entertainment to raise awareness about how rumors begin circulating, celebrities battled four more “X-File” scandals between 2008 to 2016.

Pages from the 2016 “X-File.” | @ideashower/Tistory

Fast forward to 2023, though, things are looking much more hopeful. Now that Korean celebrities are more active in taking legal action against malicious rumors than ever, fake news is withering in impact. Fans of Korean entertainment, too, have learned over the decades not to trust unverifiable information—making such “X-Files” obsolete, as deserved.

Source: Oh My News, Joy News, Hani and Chosun

Idols Done Dirty