A-pop! Controversy abound: plastic beauty queens and R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Pinkberry mogul

All things Asian in popular culture!

By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly


Do you hear that sizzle? No, it’s not the sound of an egg cooking on the sidewalk, as summer finally ramps up in Seattle — it’s the sound of scandal sizzling around the world for Asians and Asian Americans alike! July has been unkind to some Asians — read on to find out why.

Recently-crowned Korean beauty queen faces scandal

Korea recently held their annual national beauty pageant, where the newly crowned Miss Korea 2012, Kim Yu-mi, quickly found herself in a mire of controversy before the dust even settled on her diamond tiara. Shortly after winning the competition, an old yearbook photo of Kim surfaced online revealing a girl with smaller and broader facial features — features that were radically dissimilar to the pageant girl who had just won the Miss Korea 2012 title.

In an interview with Channel News Asia, Kim responded to the controversy by admitting that she had indeed gone under the knife. “I knew my old photos would turn up, but I was shocked the newspapers made it sound like I had claimed to be a natural beauty,” said Kim. “I never said I was born beautiful.”

Allegations of plastic surgery among beauty pageant queens is nothing new, but I found Kim’s statement interesting, particularly the part about never having been naturally beautiful. It suggests just how comfortable Kim is with her “plastic” self.

It might also speak to how commonplace plastic surgery is among public celebrities in Korea as well. Sometimes, when American celebrities are called out about having work done, excuses are made for it in the name of health. Or, for repentance in the public’s eyes, they might admit that surgery was a bad idea. Other celebs won’t comment on the controversy at all.

While I don’t personally encourage plastic surgery, it’s actually — dare I say — refreshing that Kim not only openly accepts criticism of her body, but still manages to be comfortable in her own skin as well.

One bone to pick with Kim, however. She says she hopes that the public will focus on her “inner beauty” instead of her physical looks moving forward. But while a great personality is an important trait for any beauty queen to possess, let’s be real — you can’t win a beauty pageant without people focusing on your appearance as well. And no one should know this better than Kim, who elected to have work done in order to become beautiful to begin with.

A Korean American yogurt mogul faces trial

The controversy now moves to America where Young Lee,  co-founder of the frozen yogurt franchise Pinkberry, will stand trial for allegedly beating a homeless man last year in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles.

According to The LA Times, the alleged victim testified in a preliminary hearing that Lee struck him repeatedly with a tire iron, and the victim became “dizzy from the initial blows.”

But why this act of violence happened remains unclear. Donald Bolding, the victim in question, went on to explain that after panhandling in front of the frozen yogurt mogul, Lee and an accomplice began to beat Bolding and demanded an apology for the “disrespect” shown to them.

Bolding, however, was unsure what Lee meant by “disrespect,” but speculated that he may have offended Lee when he unintentionally revealed an explicit tattoo on his stomach that depicts two stick figures engaged in intercourse. (Yes, you read that correctly.) To add further confusion to the situation, Bolding claims he was only “85 to 95 percent” sure that his attacker was Lee.

Well, then. If you’re that sure about it.

Other witness accounts, however, placed Lee at the scene of the assault, and the superior court judge determined that there was enough evidence for Lee to stand trial for the affair.

Although Lee did help co-found Pinkberry in 2005, he has since severed his ties with the company.

New shows and successes for Asians on television

Now, it’s time to take a break from the controversy and highlight Asians who had a good month in July. Korean American comedienne Margaret Cho was recently nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series on the acclaimed NBC sitcom, “30 Rock.” Cho played a recurring character that caricatured the late North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Il. It was certainly a memorable guest spot, I will say that much. So congrats to Cho, and here’s to hoping you’ll win the award come September.

Indian American actor Kal Penn was cast to co-star in the upcoming CBS sitcom “Ex-Men”. The comedy focuses on a 20-something who, after getting ditched at the altar, moves into a short-term housing complex and befriends a group of divorced men. Penn will play one of the fellow residents in the complex. It seems like a vague premise at the moment, but that’s about all the details I currently have. Still, I hope the sitcom does well — it would be nice to see Penn in a stable and starring role for once.

Asians have also been featured on several reality shows this past month. On the current season of “Project Runway,” Kooan Kosuke and Ven Budhu, Japanese and Guyanese designers respectively, have been competing to win the top title on the fashion design reality show.

Similarly, Asian American cheftestants Takashi Yagihashi and Patricia Yeo have been cooking up a storm on the competition reality show, “Top Chef Masters.” The show allows world-renowned chefs to compete for cash to be donated to their charity of choice.

While those Asian reality contestants battle one another for the sake of competition, a new reality series features Asians who are verbally and physically fighting with one another … while partying it up at the clubs. The recent launch of the web reality series, “K-Town,” follows a group of nightlife-loving Korean and Chinese Americans, and captures all the alcoholic-fueled debauchery and drama that happens after sundown in K-Town.

Since the original announcement of the show last year, “K-Town” has been a constant source of amusement and controversy among Asian Americans. While I recognize the potential negative impact the show could have on the Asian American identity in the media, I have to commend the series for its ability to portray a uniquely different and more complex perspective of the Asian American experience that has yet to be seen in American media. Plus, this is probably the only American show I’ve seen that features an all-Asian cast.

Have you watched “K-Town” yet? If not, be sure to check out the show on the YouTube channel, “LOUD,” and tweet me your reactions at @vivianmarie. I would love to hear your reactions to the show! (end)

Vivian Nguyen can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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