What They Said is a weekly series on the quotes Korea is talking about.
On January 17, a viewer posted a question on the KBS Audience Comments board online regarding a horse that was featured in the 7th episode of the historical drama series The King of Tears, Lee Bang-won, which had aired two weeks earlier. In one scene in the episode, a man is riding a galloping horse, which falls over taking the man with it. What caught people’s attention was the seemingly unnatural angle in which the horse fell, prompting concerns for its safety.
One of the first viewers to raise the question about the horse asked:
I watch The King of Tears, Lee Bang-won.
I’m not sure how the horses featured on the show are managed, but you can practically see their bones.
I have a question.
In the scene where Lee Seong-gye falls from a horse in Episode 7, the horse’s head is literally thrust into the ground.
If a horse is running normally, that kind of pose probably couldn’t be staged without forcefully maneuvering it.
Was that scene filmed with its front legs tied?
There are quite a few other viewers wondering the same thing. When the horse is falling, its front legs appear abnormally arranged straight together.
What happened to the horse in the scene?
The horse’s head was plunged into the ground. If the horse was running with its front legs tied and got its neck bent that way when it fell, it would have died instantly… I know this is all for filming a show, but isn’t that animal cruelty? This is a show with viewer ratings of over 10%.
Is the horse that Lee Seong-gye falls off in Episode 7 alive???
Please give me an accurate answer.
— Kim So-yeon, viewer, January 17, 2022.
A couple of days later, on January 19, online petitions were submitted to the KBS Audience Rights Center also asking about the horse. One of the petitioners posted:
During the production of TV shows, in what conditions are the animals filmed and how? In the 7th episode of The King of Tears, Lee Bang-won, there is a scene in which a character gets shot with an arrow while on horseback. If you look at the scene where the horse falls, it appears, even though it’s not human, as if it has lost all strength, like a dead horse. Unable to land its front hooves on the ground, it falls forward with its legs stretched out straight underneath.
I don’t think a dummy horse was used to film the scene, so what happened to the horse? I am concerned that the horse might be seriously injured or disabled. It cannot have died, can it?
Do we have to shoot a TV series that tells the story of our history while injuring, or even killing, an animal?
The dialogue and actions of the characters and the plot are sufficient to tell the story without injuring or even featuring animals. Please don’t tell our history while using animals and subjecting them to injury or death.
Please let us know the condition of the horse in Episode 7. Please do not try to tell our history while taking animals’ injuries for granted.
— Petitioner, January 19, 2022.
On the same day, the Korean Animal Welfare Association also issued a statement on its website:
In the 7th episode of the popular KBS drama series The King of Tears, Lee Bang-won, which is currently being aired, there was a scene in which an actor playing the role of Lee Seong-gye, falls off a horse while riding. This rekindled the issue of filming practices in which animals are used as props. In the scene, the horse was lifted from the ground and fell at a near 90° angle with its head plunging to the ground. Accordingly, petitions requesting confirmation of the safety of the horse were posted on the KBS Audience Petition board, and the Korean Animal Welfare Association has received anonymous reports that the safety of the horse could not be confirmed after filming the said scene.
Accordingly, the Korean Animal Welfare Association expresses grave concern that the horse featured in the scene may have suffered serious harm and urges KBS to release the original footage containing the scene along with information on the horse’s current condition.
The issue of the safety of animals used in TV series and films has been raised repeatedly for a long time. Videographers have said that the scenes in which a running horse suddenly falls are filmed using methods such as tying fishing lines around the horse’s ankles and pulling on them. For an animal that is unable to expect the staged fall and respond properly, such filming methods are a threat with potentially fatal consequences. Also, since animals can react in ways that humans cannot predict, the risk of injury is greater for the stunt doubles who are in those scenes.
As such, it is a global trend in the video industry to use computer graphics or animal dummies in place of animals when filming scenes that could be dangerous for both people and animals. Korean TV series have also been following the changing trend, and we now often see the phrase “Animals have not been exposed to danger while filming” in the episodes featuring animals. However, it was clearly revealed through The King of Tears, Lee Bang-won that KBS, a public broadcaster, is not moving with the times and is still treating animals as props for TV shows.
The Korean Animal Welfare Association examined KBS’s TV Show Production Guidelines and found that there was almost no mention of animals. Although Article 19 No. 2-3 lays out regulations for filming animals, these are rules that must be followed when filming wild animals in nature, and there is no mention of animal actors. Moreover, these regulations contain only abstract and general content, revealing that a higher understanding of animals and ecology is not reflected in the TV show production process. The practice of using the weak as a tool in TV shows must be improved, and the starting point should be a change in attitude toward animals.
Accordingly, the Korean Animal Welfare Association demands the following from KBS:
Immediately disclose the condition of the horse in the 7th episode of the drama series The King of Tears, Lee Bang-won and the original video footage as proof. Disclose the measures taken to ensure the safety of horses during the filming of historical dramas, including The King of Tears, Lee Bang-won. Establish practical and specific regulations in accordance with the KBS Code of Ethics, to ensure the safety of animals during filming. When filming episodes featuring animals, take measures to ensure the animals’ safety, and notify the public of any such episodes that are broadcast.
— Korean Animal Welfare Association, January 19, 2022.
On January 20, KBS issued a special statement about the horse in question:
We, the production team for The King of Tears, Lee Bang-won, are very sorry.
We feel deeply responsible and apologize for the accident that occurred during the filming of The King of Tears, Lee Bang-won.
The accident occurred on November 2, while filming the scene of Lee Seong-gye falling off a horse, which appeared in the 7th episode of the series.
Shooting a scene of someone falling off a horse is very difficult. This is because we not only have to take into consideration the safety of the horse but also the safety of the actor riding the horse and the safety of the staff who are shooting the scene. For this reason, the production team went through the process of preparing and checking for any potential accidents in the days prior to filming.
Despite these efforts, an accident occurred during the actual filming where the actor fell much farther from the horse than expected and the horse’s upper body slammed into the ground.
Immediately after the accident, the horse got back up on its own and, after confirming that there were no apparent injuries, it was returned to the owner.
Recently, however, viewers’ concerns about the condition of the horse have grown, so we followed up on the health of the horse again. Unfortunately, it was confirmed that the horse died about a week after filming.
We cannot but feel a deep sense of responsibility for such an unfortunate incident. We apologize again to the viewers for our inability to prevent the accident which led to this tragic event. This accident revealed to the production crew that there is a problem with the way scenes in which characters fall off a horse are filmed.
Therefore, we will find other ways of filming and expressing such scenes so that an accident like this does not happen again.
In addition, we will find ways to ensure the safety of animals at all filming sites with the advice and cooperation of related organizations and experts.
Once again, we sincerely apologize to the viewers and those who love animals.
— Production Team of The King of Tears, Lee Bang-won, January 20, 2022.
On January 21, CBS’s No Cut News reported an interview with the horse’s owner, who said the horse did seem fine on the day of the filming, but that it suddenly passed away about a week later. He added that, because the horse died several days after the filming, he could not say that the fall had been the direct cause of its death.
The Korea Animal Rights Advocates (KARA) also expressed their outrage about the treatment of the horse and made the decision to sue KBS for animal cruelty.
Celebrities have spoken out about the issue as well. Sumi Jo, a Grammy award-winning soprano, posted screenshots of the scene along with her thoughts on her Instagram account:
My thoughts on the abused horse on The King of Tears, Lee Bang-won and its subsequent death
Whenever I see a movie or a drama featuring animal actors, rather than focusing on the dog or the cat’s performance, most of the time I watch nervously, wondering whether they had access to fresh water while filming or whether they were beaten or abused during training.
A long time ago, during my visits to Korea for performances, I would watch historical drama series on TV, and there were sometimes scenes of dogs and cats being killed due to superstitions. The scenes were so terrifying and cruel that I was shocked to see that they had not just been made with excellent CGI.
Animal cruelty during filming has been customary until now, but in the future, thanks to the efforts and will of many people, including animal activists and others who recognize the value of life and behave accordingly, I expect to see a big change in the area of prevention of cruelty to life and the management and protection of animals.
Through this case, a media policy (guidelines) should be created and applied to all TV shows when animals appear on TV, and I believe that exploitation, leading to death, of animals in any way should be severely punished by law.
Although South Korea has risen to the ranks of advanced countries through its rapid economic development, it takes time for the people to develop awareness and culture.
It is possible to become wealthy overnight, but the sophistication of culture and awareness changes very slowly through education and environment.
As Oscar Wilde once said, ‘He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.’ I cannot help but think that this is a wise saying that reflects my own experiences in life.
— Sumi Jo, soprano, January 22, 2022.
Since January 19, petitions have been flooding the Audience Petition forum on the KBS Audience Rights Center website as well as the Audience Comments forum for The King of Tears, Lee Bang-won on the KBS website, even calling for the cancellation of the entire show. KBS has removed the episode in question from its replay list due to the heated public outcry, and announced that the show will be suspended for a couple of weeks.
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