Digging Deeper: Exposing Korea’s Underbelly (NEH Magazine)

The following was featured in the November “The Alternative Issue” of NEH Magazine.

Think back to being a new ex-pat in Korea. Remember all of the strange things going on right in front of you that you found so different and fascinating? Things that seemed so out of place, yet nobody was talking about?

Shortly after you most likely realized Korea is a place where face value trumps all. Heaven forbid going out of your way to steal face from and shame someone else, even if it’s in the name of telling the truth. You quickly learn a move like that is considered dishonorable and unacceptable in this culture.

This idea of Korea as seen through the eyes of an ex-pat is the main inspiration behind Digging Deeper, a series of web episodes produced by Sonny Side Films that take an in depth look at modern Korean culture. Sonny promises to touch on relevant, sometimes controversial issues that lay just beneath the surface of modern Korean consciousness. Strange things that are happening in plain sight of the surrounding world, yet few have the gumption to acknowledge.

Sonny is hard at work to fill a much needed media void in Korea. There are plenty of ex-pat writers, photographers and musicians. What he considers a disgrace is the lack of video entertainment available to the public. Not only that, but the majority of what you do find out in the inter webs is poorly produced personal video journals. Typically shot on a web cam, they attempt to fill the Youtube time allotment with their uninteresting content. This void is also a spark that helped ignite the Digging Deeper series, and Sonny is bringing quality produced video content, distinguished by providing current information with first-class production value in mind.

These two responsibilities, to acknowledge social issues going on below the surface, as well as providing high quality video content to viewers, are what drive Sonny and his production team. He has created a fresh format that is unique to anything seen before, certainly in Korea. Imagine the informative news reporting of 20/20 had a baby with the comedy of The Soup hosted by Joel McHale.

Assisting Sonny in the process are a handful of well-known ex-pats around Seoul. Comedy legend Brian Aylward, established hip-hop artist Ryan “DA” Green and media producer and personality Elliott Ashby are among those lending to the series. All have been interviewed on the topics, providing a foreigner’s perspective on the issues Digging Deeper raises. Some of them appear as willing participants in Sonny’s escapades.

When you are dealing with controversial topics you are bound to run into road blocks. Take the consumption of man’s best friend in the form of soup. Some foreigners have had difficulty simply finding a restaurant to serve them dog soup, let alone bring a camera on premise to document the experience. Sonny’s team did some research, revealing the friend of a friend who owned a restaurant where this canine cuisine is served, to whom they had to beg for permission. The compromise was no unauthorized faces could be shown, and the name of the restaurant has to remain a mystery.

You can imagine it’s not so easy when it comes to documenting the readily available prostitution found in Seoul, or is it? He received many ominous warnings. They won’t let you film anywhere near there. The area is tightly monitored by the mafia, who will confiscate your equipment and bash it right in front you. However, none of this happened. Sonny didn’t go under cover with hidden camera glasses or the camera in the bag trick. To the contrary, he strolled right down the center of the Yongsan dollhouse, camera in hand. Other than a few hollers of “hajima” (“stop” in Korean), there were zero repercussions for his actions.

One can’t help but consider the certain element of risk involved by exposing controversial subjects through the use of internet videos. Anyone doing so is striving for some level of notoriety, in this case, through gaining viewers who enjoy discussing these interesting topics relevant to modern Korea. A project like this is also bound to gain the attention of a different variety, by those who may not approve of what you are doing. Sonny has accepted the challenge of walking the fine line between being educational and innovative, and pissing the wrong people off.

It’s important to keep in mind that the purpose of Digging Deeper is not to be hyper critical, or overly judging of modern Korea. Rather, the point is to shed light on what is happening right now, positive and negative, charming and disturbing. From prostitution to PC rooms. The things that we see all the time, but for whatever reason, have a hard time accurately sharing with friends and family back home. Digging Deeper will provide us the opportunity to share and talk about it.

Whether you are looking for something funny, news worthy, serious, even a bit controversial, you will be able to find it with Digging Deeper.

Join http://www.facebook.com/diggingdeeperfans to participate in discussions and check out behind the scenes videos and pictures. A series of promotional videos, followed by the 8 part series of episodes is coming out soon. You can also follow Sonny Side Films at http://www.thesonnyside.com.

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~ by ripcitytoseoul on November 8, 2010.

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