Need Fake Friends For Your Wedding? In S. Korea, You Can Hire Them
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Weddings, baby showers - real milestones; moments you want to share with your loved ones, right? Well, you would think so. In South Korea, there is a whole industry that helps people find fake friends to fill seats at their weddings and other life rituals. Here's our real correspondent Elise Hu.
ELISE HU, BYLINE: The flowers, the dress, the crowd of happy faces - this is a summer wedding in South Korea. Only the faces in this crowd include Kim Seyeon, who is a total stranger to the bride and groom. She's making about $20 just to be here.
KIM SEYEON: (Through interpreter) When it's the peak wedding season in South Korea, sometimes I do two or three acts a day every weekend.
HU: She calls weddings acts because Kim Seyeon is a role player. She's part of an agency that casts her to attend weddings all over the country. At this wedding, at least 30 of the guests are getting paid to fill the seats.
SEYEON: (Through interpreter) It's fun. A lot of the times, they'll need these guests because they want to save face. They are conscious of what others think, and they need more friends. So the brides are usually very thankful for my presence.
HU: Neither the bride, who hired Kim, or the groom, who doesn't even know there are fake guests at his wedding, noticed an NPR reporter in the crowd. I just blended right in with the other unfamiliar faces. The logic in South Korea is this - you can rent chairs and venues for weddings, why not guests?
LEE HYUN-SU: (Through interpreter) Wedding guest rentals started in the late 1990s, and in the early 2000s, broader role-playing rentals began.
HU: Lee Hyun-su runs the agency called Role Rental 1-1-9. He keeps a database of about 20,000 actors who he places to work in real-life situations. We're talking fake bosses, fake parents, fake mistresses. Lee has cast them all.
HYUN-SU: (Through interpreter) Well, this year, we've seen increases in other types of rental requests, renting family members, boyfriends, girlfriends, lovers or office employees. There have also been times when people hire fake spouses to get a loan from the bank.
HU: While it may seem strange to have actors in what are supposed to be real-life situations...
MARIA YOON: I get it. I see where they're coming from.
HU: Performance artist Maria Yoon, a Korean-American, experimented with the artifice of weddings with an art project a few years ago. She staged 50 different wedding ceremonies to play on the idea that all weddings have a performance aspect to them. She just fears the Koreans are taking the dishonesty too far.
YOON: Koreans have this nunchi. If you have a fancy car then your car has to be better than your next door neighbor to tell them how much money you make. You know, as I get older, life is too short for you to make your neighbors happy. You just have to be happy yourself.
HU: Back at the wedding we're attending, it's clear the need to impress keeps the guest rental business going strong. This huge wedding feels more like a cruise ship production than what Americans might be used to.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEASONS OF LOVE")
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes.
HU: There are musical numbers. There are skits. There's even a solo sung by the wedding emcee, who is a different guy than the officiant. Somewhere in all this song and dance, a couple got married.
HU: The pomp and pretending may seem strange for first timers, but our agency role player, she's a Korean wedding veteran, sitting quietly in the back with a blank expression on her face.
Did you enjoy it?
SEYEON: (Through interpreter) I had fun, but it's not the type of wedding that I want.
HU: Our actress has her real-life wedding coming up with an actual fiance. So I had to ask...
Are you going to have fake guests at your wedding?
SEYEON: (Through interpreter) No, I don't think so. I don't even think I'll have a wedding in this country.
HU: A country where a wedding can be a lot more than a celebration of love. It can be the most elaborate of productions.
(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED SONG)
SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).
HU: Elise Hu, NPR News, Seoul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.