Actor Kang Dong Won‘s career might be in jeopardy after it has emerged that his great-grandfather Lee Jong Nam was a Japanese collaborator during times of Japanese occupation of Korea. However, rather than just being about guilt by association, comments by Kang Dong Won praising his great-grandfather back in 2007, the great-grandfather’s alleged association with promoting comfort women and being rated as a “first class” collaborator, and an attempt to cover it all up are also stoking criticism.
This is a complicated issue that emerged via a Max Movie article in the media on 3/1, Korea’s Independence Movement Day from Japan, and his recently been investigated by Dispatch. To get a full idea of the background to this, one should really read the whole article.
Basically, Kang Don Won’s great-grandfather made a killing in the mining business during Japanese occupation of Korea, and he was listed as a collaborator in the pro-Japanese dictionary for sending money and goods to Japanese soldiers, was a part of multiple pro-Japanese organizations, and even participated in pro-Japanese propaganda campaigns.
While his great-grandfather is essentially a traitor to Korea and there is a segment of people who would be upset at Kang Dong Won regardless, many are mad that he has tried to bury the truth instead of acknowledging it and reflecting on the past.
Kang Dong Won ultimately deserves some level of criticism for this, as trying to cover up the fact that a family member was a pro-Japanese collaborator is a terrible idea and does essentially what Japan is frequently accused of doing, and I actually agree with Dispatch that acknowledging it to move on is part of his responsibility.
That said, there are a bunch of factors that potentially lead to this to being blown out of proportion, many of which Dispatch themselves mention. For starters, his praise for his great-grandfather was said two years prior to said great-grandfather being finalized on the list of pro-Japanese collaborators in 2009 — that can still be seen as an issue depending on whether one believes Kang Dong Won knew or not, but judging by his recent shame about all this, I’m guessing he didn’t — and there is reportedly no such thing as classes of pro-Japanese collaborators. Additionally, because it’s the most modern of issues, being associated through his ancestor with the plight of comfort women was a mover in this even though it turned out that was false. Also, Kang Dong Won didn’t appear to benefit at all from his great-grandfather’s wealth, so the accusations of him getting to where he is today and having the easy life appear unfounded.
Other sites provide no context to any of this besides what the Korean netizens are saying, which leads to international netizens assuming what isn’t true is actually true and then them judging based on that. However, if one reads the full context of the situation, we can see that while Kang Dong Won definitely deserves to be criticized for his reaction to such news going public, a lot of what he’s currently being hated on for is not true, which is still important to remember among all the furor.