Hark-Joon Lee’s 9 Muses of Star Empire Screening at the Korea Society

By Yinsana Mok

On Thursday, April 17 at 7 PM, journalist and documentary filmmaker Hark-Joon Lee, joined The Korea Society for a wide-ranging discussion about his recently directed first feature-length documentary, 9 Muses of Star Empire. It is a revealing, behind the scenes, look at K-Pop, Korea’s global music industry, and the everyday lives of K-Pop stars.

Lee, a well-known investigative reporter for The Chonsun IIbo, South Korea’s leading daily, lived among North Korean defectors in China for five years, while capturing their dramatic stories of crossing into China and the harrowing journey along the 20,000 kilometer escape route stretching south to Thailand or north into Russia.

Based on the documentary film, there is over 4,000,000 K-Pop fans worldwide. Korean Pop is a musical genre originating in South Korea that is characterized by a wide variety of audiovisual elements. Although it comprises all genres of “popular music” within South Korea, the term is more often used in a narrower sense to describe a modern form of South Korean pop music covering mostly dance-pop, pop ballad, electronic, rock, hip-hop, R&B, etc.

K-pop has become very popular and many people worldwide like it very much. 9 Muses was one of the popular K-Pop groups, a South Korean girl group under Star Empire Entertainment. However, the group 9 Muses collapsed after 4 years. Lee decided to do a documentary film about the insight of the 9 girls’ everyday lives.

It is found that in order to be trained like a Star is not as easy as it may seem. While the girls were in training, they face blames from their leader, manager, and every other leader in the Star Empire. These girls felt like no one was there for them.

9 Muses also collapsed, because their leaders never complimented them. Even after they tried and trained so hard, the requirements to become their stars was too high for them. The girls did not get enough sleep or rest. The only time that they can release their stress is when they are practicing, singing, and dancing, because there wasn’t any other free time for them.

Based on the film, Hyemin was the second girl that got so stressed; she said “she thinks that the other girls in the group only care about themselves and how they can stand out.” Overall, this film was one of the best documentary films, because it shows a deep insight of the 9 Muses everyday life that you cannot find anywhere else.

Questions asked:
Q: How hard was it for you Director Lee, to film a first feature-length documentary?

A: “One thing that came to my mind and attention is that I feel that women they communicate differently than men. I felt that the conversational style, women, they converse more indirectly whereas men or boys, they communicate more directly. So, working with and getting used to this conversational style and with the 12 girls, it was a very hard situation for me.”

Q: How many months or years did it take you to create this film? How long did this take you?

A: “I can tell you that it took around 12 months. When I was filming it, it didn’t feel like it was that long, because I want to capture the moments behind the curtains when the 9 Muses aren’t on stage. When I was taking the film, it actually took a bit of time for the 9 Muses to actually trust me and to be able to feel comfortable to let me take the film. Also, one month to film this documentary, we weren’t able to receive sufficient funding. That’s why the film was a bit choppy. But I was still so curious about what was going on with these girls, so I kept on going.”

When I was deciding to film a documentary film of a totally different subject, I was so happy that I can make a film with so many beautiful women, but while I was filming this I wasn’t happy at all. It was just a very stressful thing for me and I also told my editor that even though I want the film shoots to be fast, I still want to show a sense of hardships that the girls are facing.

Q: I really enjoy the film and I never really see anything behind the scenes for K-Pop artist groups. I have 2-3 questions, What was your purpose in wanting to work with the K-Pop? What was the purpose of this documentary, like what do you want to accomplish? What did you want to express?

A: “So the initial purpose for me to film a documentary about K-Pops, because there is another K-Pop group called TongPanSingKee, they were in an interview and their answers were like answers coming from a textbook. So, I was actually surprised by this, because I wasn’t like that at all in my teenage years, so I was asking myself if this is really the truth. Is there something going on, or is there something behind this? So, I really want to see if there is a different story behind it.”

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