Sept 4, 2006

Leading U.S. paper the Chicago Tribune has belatedly caught on to the receding tsunami that is the Korean Wave. On the paper’s Metromix website on Monday, an article titled "In Japan, a yen among women for ‘Seoulmate’" took a good look at the phenomenon that is drawing infatuated Japanese women to Korea in droves.

From Left: Bae Yong-joon, Jang Dong-gun, Ryu Shi-won and Lee Byung-hun

The article discusses the success of Korean pop culture across Asia, down to the going price for Korea’s top actors. "Korean male celebrities are now among the highest-paid actors outside Hollywood," it reports. "’Winter Sonata’ star Bae Yong-joon — whose character stood by his first love through 10 years of car accidents and amnesia — is now charging US$5 million," the highest in Asia. It also describes the near $100 million empire the actor has been able to build in the short time since he rose to superstardom. At least nine other K-Wave stars are bringing in more than US$10 million per year, the Tribune says.

The paper focuses on just how much the Korean tourist industry has picked up due to the success of these stars, adding that celebrity product spin-offs are flying off the shelves.

The Korean Wave has swamped China, Vietnam and Southeast Asia as well.

The Tribune says Koreans are sometimes called the "Italians of Asia." Fans have suggested that "a hearty diet and two years of forced military duty" helped to make South Korean men "among the buffest in Asia," the paper says.

Which makes them the most coveted in Japan. The paper carried an interview it conducted with a Japanese woman of 26 who had flown to Korea no fewer than 10 times looking for her "Seoulmate."

"South Koreans are so sweet and romantic — not at all like Japanese guys, who never say ‘I love you,’" she is quoted as saying. And she adds she will not abandon her quest to find true love in the Land of the Morning Calm.