Choi Min-Soo was channeling Chief Moon on Tuesday night.
Instead of attending MBC’s end-of-year awards ceremony Dec. 30, the actor “respectfully declined” his acting award for “Pride and Prejudice.” His co-star Baek Jin-Hee read a statement from him, but was cut off in the middle before satisfying audience curiosity.
Choi’s full statement has since then appeared in print at Star News. Like the speeches of his character Chief Moon, much of the meaning seems lost in translation. Or at least lost in polite side-stepping.
But once we decode his metaphors, it appears Choi is calling the country to task for the Sewol ferry disaster. Korea, he says, is in “a situation where truth has lost its value.” (I’m paraphrasing a bad translation; here’s a slightly different bad translation.)
Though Choi doesn’t explain further, most evidence does suggest the Sewol disaster was preventable. The captain and crew of the Sewol received jail sentences in November. The case against the company that operated the ferry hasn’t reached court yet. But responsibility for the disaster appears to lie not only with the crew, but also indirectly with operators who overloaded the ferry, government officials who issued permits despite safety violations, and the Coast Guard who failed to rescue more passengers.
The network end-of-year ceremonies aren’t award competitions, so much as holiday office parties. Broadcasters bend over backwards to give out as many awards as possible. MBC managed to give out six “excellence in acting” plus six “top excellence in acting” awards, with a dozen additional acting awards on top of that, including Choi Min-Soo’s “golden acting award.” For this reason, it isn’t shocking for someone to decline to attend the ceremony. But it’s more unusual to simply skip out and refuse an award.
Choi’s statement refers to his drama role as a prosecutor, reminding us that “Pride and Prejudice” is taking aim at what South Koreans see as the real-world problem of the government failing to protect ordinary people. And the fact that Baek Jin-Hee was cut short shows how touchy the subject is, though I guess it’s always possible they were having sudden technical difficulties. You’d have to be really mean—or really, really afraid of embarrassment—to cut off that sweet Baek Jin-Hee, right?
Part of me wonders if Choi Min-Soo just wanted a night off—is it because he plays Chief Moon that I’m looking for selfish motivations? But I also think the Sewol should remain on everyone’s minds until the government holds companies responsible for meeting already existing safety standards. Choi Min-Soo is far enough along in his career that he doesn’t have to worry about offending anyone when he implies that the adults of South Korea are guilty of making the accident possible.
He doesn’t come out and say this either, though, so Choi Min-Soo’s statement ironically leaves us with the same question as “Pride and Prejudice”: wait, who’s the bad guy?