It seems there is finally some resolution to the Lee Byung-hun scandal that erupted in August of 2014. On Thursday January 15, a Seoul court sentenced Kim Da-hee and Lee Ji-yeon to one year, and one year two months of jail time, respectively, for their participation in the blackmailing of actor Lee Byung-hun.
The scandal began in August of 2014 when Lee Byung-hun turned to law enforcement claiming he was being blackmailed for a sum of 5 billion Korean Won by GLAM member Da-hee and model Lee Ji-yeon. The two women had supposedly threatened to release a video/cell phone recording of the three drinking together while carrying on conversations perceived as too lewd and inappropriate for a married man and two women nearly half his age. Lee Byung-hun’s representatives did not deny that Lee was familiar with the two women, but claimed their relationship was purely as acquaintances who met through mutual friends.
Since those initial reports, the scandal continued to take many interesting twists and turns. While both women admitted to participating in the blackmailing, they each had justification for their actions: Lee Ji-yeon claimed she was having an affair with Lee Byun-hun and had recently been jilted, while Da-hee claims to only have been involved because she was in major debt with her agency, Big Hit Entertainment. There were also almost K-drama-esque accusations of escape plans to Europe that lead to the eventual arrest and charges brought against both women.
As more details came forward from the three entertainers involved, it appeared that Lee Byung-hun and Lee Ji-yeon may have engaged in an affair that ended suddenly. Kim Da-hee — who was looking for a solution to her financial struggles — became an unfortunate accomplice in Lee Ji-yeon’s revenge plot. More unfortunate was the effect her mistakes would later have on the group, as it was announced on January 15th that GLAM, with its remaining three members, has disbanded due to contract termination.
Returning to the scandal, Lee Byung-hun’s reps were, naturally, very adamant in denying the affair. However, partial clips of the suspected blackmail footage were leaked in September, revealing Lee Byung-hun asking two women very provocative and questions — definitely not the kind of questions you would ask mere acquaintances. Soon after, Lee Byung-hun released a handwritten public apology to his wife, Lee Min-jung, referring vaguely to his “irresponsibility” as a husband.
Despite his continued proclamation of innocence, it didn’t take long for Lee Byung-hun’s CF endorsements (and reputation in general) to face severe public backlash. Petitions began to circulate urging Lee’s endorsements to be pulled, and launched the rather humorous solution of putting stickers of Miss A‘s Suzy over images of Lee on post-production Nescafe products. He was also replaced in other CFs by more favorable Korean actors.
While the women in question began undergoing legal proceedings for blackmail, netizens launched their own investigation of Lee Byung-hun that birthed the nickname “Lee Santa.” Netizens managed to find an Instagram account they believed belonged to the model Lee Ji-yeon where her captions hinted towards a generous benefactor. In addition to referring to this mysterious gift giver as “Lee Santa,” the gifts on display also corresponded to a winery Lee Byun-hun had recently visited as well as a cell phone brand he endorsed. Lee Byung-hun’s reps had no comment to these netizen accusations.
The waters were only muddied further when on January 5th, Dispatch revealed previously unreleased alleged text message conversations between Lee Byung-hun and Lee Ji-yeon. The text messages showed the married Lee Byung-hun planning a rendezvous with the young model and later suggesting they end their relationship. However, when similar evidence was presented in the courtroom, Lee Byung-hee regarded it merely as joking conversation. At this point — given his history of scandals and the Dispatch evidence — there was and still is little public doubt that Lee Byung-hun had cheated, so why he continued to deny the accusations so ardently remains a mystery.
Interestingly enough, most of the mud-slinging towards Lee Ji-yeon did not come from Lee Byun-hun himself, but rather from authorities and investigators in the case. There is no denying that blackmail and extortion are wrong, but you also can’t kick the predatory vibe that Lee Byung-hee gives off when he as a married man engages in such questionable activities with younger women. While there are no legal repercussions for Lee’s infidelity, there are severe consequences for blackmail and both Lee Ji-yeon and Da-hee were found guilty and ordered to serve jail time.
In the end, two young women are being sent to jail and Lee Byung-hun will continue advancing his Hollywood career with Terminator 5. The confusing scandal had many casualties, not the least of which being the disbandment of GLAM, the hits to Lee Min-jung’s reputation, and the — perhaps deserved — dissolution of Lee Byung-hun’s domestic career. With CFs being pulled left and right, Lee is fortunate to have a semi-established Hollywood career in the wake of this scandal.
Although the scandal has come to a legal close, the whole affair itself leaves a bitter taste in many mouths. While blackmail is in no way acceptable — and both women should be prosecuted for their wrongdoings — the behavior of Lee Byung-hun is hardly less shameful and he walks away from the scandal still married with a semi-flourishing American career. However, there is something satisfying in seeing his skeezy actions have domestic repercussions, even if they aren’t necessarily legal ones.
Readers, have you kept up with the Lee Byung-hun drama? How do you feel about the outcome?