The “uljjang” phenomenon is one that is fascinating, odd, borderline disturbing (or at least perplexing), uniquely Korean — and now, it appears, waning.
The word uljjang comes from a mashup of the word for “face” and a slang term for “best,” thereby meaning “best face” or simply “good-looking,” in the same way that momjjang means “well-built body.” However, the term also refers to the phenomenon of recent years where ordinary (albeit extremely good-looking) people have become bona fide celebrities simply from a photo posted online in their blogs, mini-hompages, and cafes. The photo in question would be widely circulated, and the hottie would find him- or herself vaulted into quasi internet celebrity, and then real honest-to-goodness mainstream celebrity once they’d been “discovered” and debuted as actors and entertainers. (Some were discovered in more conventional ways, aka off the streets and in public locations, which is how I hear Nam Sang Mi, pictured above, was first found, although I don’t know for sure that that’s true.)
Many uljjangs may have faded back into relative obscurity soon after the initial buzz, although a fair number went on to success. According to the following article, however, it seems the phenomenon — as with so many internet-spawned fads — is on the downtrend:
Why are there no recent internet “uljjang stars”?
Where have all the “uljjang” stars, who’d once seemed to pop up every day, gone?
Starting with Gu Hye Sun of the currently airing King and I and Nam Sang Mi of Time of Dog and Wolf, and including others such as Park Han Byul, Kang Eun Bi, and Bae Seul Ki, many stars who’d originated as “uljjangs” are now in the entertainment industry, but it’s not so easy finding new uljjang stars. …
(Random) SONG OF THE DAY
Romantic Couch – “Star Bossa” [ zShare download ]
Gu Hye Sun
The internet has changed and evolved, and those who’ve raised their profile via the internet amount to no small number. But it feels as though the so-called “debut course” for entering into the entertainment world after being crowned an internet uljjang has faded from existence.
The uljjang syndrome proliferated over the internet and became a topic of much discussion, reaching its height in 2003 when uljjang stars advanced into the entertainment sphere and made their successful debuts, one after the other. Many of these Cinderellas rose to stardom after being found while walking down the street, or following friends to studios. But as everyone chased the “fierce wind” of stardom, they found that it was a bit different from the hot trend of the uljjang.
Kim Ok Bin
It’s because the idea that “All you need is one pretty photo and anyone can become a star” was probably just fantasy. The “uljjang angle,” “uljjang makeup tips,” etc. were floated around as practical advice. The hot internet uljjang trend also encouraged the erroneous philosophy that external beauty was everything. “Uljjang athlete,” “uljjang doctor” and the like became internet sensations, and what’s worse, there were even fan cafes made for “uljjang criminals,” an example of ethical problems that arose.
But with lightning speed, the uljjang craze cooled down, and now in 2007, genuine uljjang stars have long disappeared. A source related to “odae uljjang,” a typical uljjang cafe, explained that issuing the uljjang designation too freely caused the term to lose its meaning, primarily from an overabundance of competition.
The source analyzed the situation: “As uljjangs became pop-culture icons, large numbers of uljjang cafes and sites were made. In contrast to the early uljjangs, people were hasty to affix the label of uljjang to anyone with a passably attractive face. High-quality uljjangs were tough to find, and the door closed.”
Bae Seul Ki
The representative further explained, “With uljjangs appearing in every occupation, there was no longer any direct correlation between an uljjang and a star. It deteriorated into simply being one more marketing ploy.” People began wondering and growing suspicious that uljjangs were just used to rise to stardom on the internet.
The source also indicated that many held the false belief that being an uljjang automatically guaranteed stardom, and thus failed to prepare properly: “For example, even uljjangs like Park Han Byul or Gu Hye Sun would take one to four years to become stars. You have to work through each difficult step naturally. Being an uljjang doesn’t by any means ensure easy stardom.”
Kang Eun Bi, Park Han Byul