S. Korea's President-Elect Promises to Expand Support for Arts and Entertainment

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Park Geun-hye pledges to create "Contents Korea Lab" catering to overseas demand for local pop culture.

SEOUL -- South Korea's president-elect Park Geun-hye demonstrated pop culture appeal by pulling off "Gangnam Style" moves during her campaign, but will the Asian country’s first female head-of-state effectively expand government support for arts and entertainment?

Park, a conservative who has been espoused by various artists and entertainers, plans to implement more funds and policies for the culture sector when she steps into power next February. "I plan to boost the budget and introduce policies, which are necessary framework for building soft power," she said.

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The president-elect’s main agenda is to increase the allotted budget for the culture ministry to 2 percent by the end of her term in 2017. Past governments, including the current Lee Myung-bak administration ruled by Park’s Saenuri Party, have failed to significantly expand the ratio. Onlookers have criticized that the current figure of 1.14 percent (some 3.9 trillion won, or $3.4 billion) as being far from the average 1.9 percent for other OECD countries.

In light of the ever-increasing popularity of "hallyu" (Korean wave) overseas -- namely Korean pop music, TV series and film -- Park proposed the creation of a "Contents Korea Lab" to develop the global industry. In regard to cross-border transactions, she plans to actively recover more stolen national treasures from abroad and to improve cultural exchanges with North Korea.

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The incoming president also pledged to facilitate arts donations by implementing tax exemptions and to create better working conditions for performance- and media-art-related staff. 

Park has been backed by many household names during her campaign, including veteran actor Lee Soon-jae (who played a president numerous times, such as for the 2009 Busan Film Festival opener Good Morning President), singer-turned-TV personality Eun Ji-won and mixed martial arts star Choi Hong-man.

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Lee Juno -- formerly part of a pop trio with "the Korean Michael Jackson" Seo Tai-ji and now YG Entertainment head Yang Hyeon-seok -- is also known to be an avid supporter of Park. He said the enthusiasm is shared by his past band members: "One of our old songs, Ijeneun, was dedicated to (Park’s father and former president) the late Park Chung-hee, and I support the younger Park. I believe Seo Tai-ji does, too."

Even the poet Kim Chi-ha, an activist once sentenced to death during the senior Park’s militant administration, surprised the public by supporting the junior Park. The controversial announcement was considered scandalous in the literary circle, but observers say the writer’s change of heart inspired many voters to espouse Park as well.

Following Park’s election, celebrities expressed their hopes for the new administration. Megastar Jang Dong-gun (Warrior’s Way) said, “I hope our new president will listen and respect what others say and make an effort to make a more harmonious society."

Shim Jae-myung, CEO of Myung Films, urged the incoming administration to address the polarization in the local movie industry, and help lessen the gap between big entertainment giants and smaller independent filmmakers.