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How once-beloved actress Kim Sae-ron fell from grace

Formerly one of the most promising starlets in S. Korea, Kim's career took downward spiral since drunk driving, aftermath in 2022

March 25, 2024 - 17:02 By Yoon Min-sik
Kim Sae-ron (Gold Medalist)

“We have no idea what Ms. Kim Sae-ron’s intent is with this action," actor Kim Soo-hyun's agency Gold Medalist said as it denied dating rumors between the two Kims.

The rumor was sparked early Sunday when the 23-year-old actress revealed on Instagram a photo of her and Kim Soo-hyun, which the agency explained had been taken years before when the two had the same agency.

Kim Sae-ron has yet to explain why she posted the photo on social media before the crack of dawn, or why she took it down just minutes after posting it. But her actions touched off a slew of negative reactions from the South Korean public, and were seen as another indication of how far the once-prominent actress had fallen from grace.

Kim was once among the most beloved actors in this country, with her big break being a starring role in the 2010 film "The Man from Nowhere." The then-nine-year-old child actor played an innocent kidnapping victim alongside star Won Bin and showed potential to become a major star, which the actress has followed through with for the most part.

The once-promising starlet was on the verge of superstardom, until a drunk driving incident nearly two years ago led to her falling hard out of favor from the public.

Downfall and social media

On May 15, 2022, she drove her car into a guardrail, a tree and a power converter device in Gangnam-gu, southern Seoul, while drunk. She was reported to have refused a field sobriety test and instead insisted on submitting her blood for testing at a police station, after which she posted an official apology.

Kim was sentenced to a 20 million won ($15,000) fine for drunk driving, which she did not appeal.

Her actions after the incident exacerbated the situation, showing that Sunday's incident was not the first time Kim had gotten herself into trouble by posting questionable content on social media.

In November 2022, about six months after the drunk driving incident, Kim posted on Instagram a photo of herself apparently working at a local coffee franchise. Her agency at the time -- which ironically was Gold Medalist -- told media that she had worked there after the drunk driving incident led to financial troubles.

It was later revealed that Kim had never worked at the cafe, and that she had instead taken the photo at another cafe that her friend worked at. When she addressed the media prior to her court hearing in April 2023, she said "it wasn't me who claimed to have financial issues, but I did take a part-time job."

It remains unclear why exactly Kim posted the photo of a cafe she had never worked at, or what her exact financial situation was.

What does the future hold for Kim?

Kim has not appeared in any films, dramas or major events of any kind since the 2023 Netflix drama "Bloodhounds," which was shot before the drunk driving incident. It is unclear if Kim would be able to return to either the small or silver screen, or what fans' reactions would be if she did.

A drunk driving incident is enough to stigmatize any celebrity, but it is rarely a career-killer for most of them. A 2019 survey of 1,065 South Koreans by local pollster SA Consulting showed that 54.5 percent of respondents said a celebrity should be able to come back after being punished for drunk driving. This kind of response was particularly high among teens, with 67.1 percent saying so.

A number of celebrities, including "Squid Game" star Lee Jung-jae, have actually had a successful career after drunk driving.

But the South Korean public tends to be particularly unforgiving toward celebrities who attempt to lie their way out of trouble, which is what they are accusing Kim after the social media photos.

One such case was Shin Jung-hwan, a formerly beloved singer and TV celebrity here. Shin was accused of illegal gambling in the Philippines in 2010, for which he later served jail time.

While attempting to minimize the fallout from the scandal, Shin falsely claimed that he was infected with the dengue virus and sent a photo of himself hospitalized as evidence. It was later revealed that he had never been infected.

While he has appeared in some TV shows since the incident, Shin never regained the status he enjoyed prior to the scandal. This marks a contrast to another TV celebrity, Kim Jun-ho, who was also convicted of gambling abroad but managed to regain his popularity after the incident,

Major online community platform DC Inside in August of last year conducted a survey to ask "which celebrity would make the worst subordinate at your company?" in which 12,122 people participated. Kim Sae-ron took 15 percent of the votes, ranking second, possibly indicating that one year was perhaps not quite long enough for the public forgive and forget.