Who was Jang Ja-yeon?
Jang Ja-yeon was a South Korean actress best known for appearing in her only KBS television drama series ‘Boys Over Flowers.’ This budding star was found hanging from the stairway banister of her home in the Bundang district of Seongnam, Gyeonggi province, on March 7, 2009. She was 29 years of age at the time of her death. She was awaiting the release of her feature films ‘Searching for the Elephant’ and ‘The Weird Missing Case of Mr. J.’ Jang was known to be suffering from depression, which was probably triggered by her parents’ death in a car accident ten years ago and was being treated medically over the last year or so. According to police investigation, there was no foul play and her death was concluded as suicide; but it was revealed in 2019 that the initial investigation in 2009 was corrupted and false. A national scandal surfaced when her seven-page suicide note was found where she had accused her management agency of abusing her sexually and physically. She had mentioned that she was beaten regularly and compelled to have sex and entertain many bigwigs of the entertainment industry, including CEOs, media executives, and program directors. She had penned down 31 names of prominent entertainment executives with whom she claimed she was forced to have sex. Police probed 20 people and finally prosecuted seven, while Jang’s agent Kim Sung-hoon was sentenced to a year in prison, two years of probation, and community service for 160 hours.
Childhood & Early Life
Jang Ja-yeon was born on January 25, 1980, in Jeongeup, North Jeolla Province, South Korea. She had two sisters and a younger brother.
She lost her parents in a car accident in 1999. Following the tragic incident, she lived with her older sister and younger brother.
She attended ‘Harksan High School’ from where she completed her graduation. She then enrolled at ‘Gwangju University’ to obtain her bachelor degree in journalism. She also studied at the ‘Chosun University.’
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She ventured into the world of glamour and entertainment by appearing in a television commercial in 2006.
She got her breakthrough role in the South Korean romance comedy drama television series ‘Boys Over Flowers,’ which also starred Ku Hye-sun, Kim Bum, Kim Joon (of T-Max fame), Lee Min-ho, Kim So-eun, and Kim Hyun-joong (of SS501 fame).
‘Boys Over Flowers’ aired on KBS2 for 25 episodes from January 5, 2009 to March 31, 2009. It was based on the Japanese shōjo manga series of the same name, which was penned down by Yoko Kamio. Jang played the supporting role of ‘Park Sun-ja’ aka ‘Sunny,’ one of the ‘Mean Girls Trio’ (Jin Sun Mi), who trouble the main character of ‘Geum Jan Di’ played by Ku Hye-sun.
Before the series ended, Jang took the extreme step of killing herself. She was awaiting the release of her films ‘The Weird Missing Case of Mr. J’ (2009) and ‘Searching for the Elephant’ (2009).
‘Searching for the Elephant,’ a South Korean psychological thriller, starring Jo Dong-hyuk, Lee Sang-woo, and Jang Hyuk in lead roles released on November 5, 2009, and grossed US $915,943 at the box office. It received mixed reviews from critics. It was the directorial debut film of S.K. Jhung, who also wrote and produced it.
‘Searching for the Elephant’ marked the final on-screen appearance of Jang who can be seen playing the character of ‘Hye-mi.’
On March 7, 2009, at 3:30 p.m. Jang had a word with her sister over phone. During the conversation, she mentioned about the "overwhelming stress" that she was going through and also uttered that she "wanted to die." Jang’s sister called her back later in the day. When the call went unanswered, her sister came rushing to her home around 7:42 p.m. and found Jang’s body hanging from the stairway banister.
Police investigation followed and no evidence of foul play could be unearthed. Hence, it was concluded that she committed suicide, which was believed to have taken place at around 4:30 p.m. on March 7, 2009.
Condolences poured in from thousands of her fans, while her colleagues from ‘Boys Over Flowers’ gathered at the ‘Seoul National University Hospital’ in Bundang to pay their homage to her.
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Her funeral was conducted on March 9, 2009 amidst family, friends, and co-actors. Following her cremation, her remains were interred in Jeongeup, North Jeolla province, next to her parents’ grave.
Jang’s suicide was initially attributed to clinical depression. It was said that she was suffering from depression, which was caused by her parents’ death in a car crash ten years back. She was also being treated medically to get rid of her depression.
However, a seven-page suicide note of Jang was found where she had alleged that her management agency beat her regularly to yield to their demand of entertaining and having sex with many bigwigs of the entertainment industry. The note gave rise to an outcry. It sparked a debate over the darker side of the entertainment industry and the police was persuaded to probe her management agency.
In her seven-page note, she had mentioned a list of at least 31 names, including that of media executives, CEOs, and program directors with whom she claimed she was forced to have sex.
Her strained relation with her management agency was a known fact. As her allegations were published in the media, police was forced to investigate many industry professionals, cultural elites, and VIPs whose names she had enlisted.
Although the South Korean police restrained from announcing the full list, a portion of the list was flashed on the internet.
Some of the names mentioned in the list were Jun Gi Sang, producer of ‘Boys Over Flowers,’ Jun Chang Geun, producer of KBS’s ‘Geumji Ok Yeob,’ Shin Kyuk Ho, chairman of ‘Lotte,’ Lee Woong Ryeol, chairman of ‘Kolon (ko),’ and Bang Myung-Hoon, vice-president of ‘Sports Chosun’ among others.
According to the reports that surfaced in South Korea, Jang accused her agent Kim Sung-hoon of beating her regularly to give in to the ongoing sexual exploitation.
Kim, who was in Japan at that time, brushed off such allegations. He cried foul play saying that Jang's former manager Yoo Jang-ho could’ve had a hand in the conspiracy so as to cause damage to his business. However, a police raid in Kim’s office unearthed a ‘secret room’ with a bed and a shower on the third floor.
In June 2009, Kim, who was still in Japan, was arrested in Tokyo for overstaying his visa. Later, the Korean police sent a request for Kim’s extradition with regards to Jang’s case. An investigation was conducted on 20 people of whom seven were prosecuted.
Kim was sentenced to a year in prison. His punishment also included a probation period of two years, and community service for 160 hours.
The South Korean film ‘Norigae,’ which released on April 18, 2013, was based on her tragedy.
President Moon Jae-in issued a thorough re-investigation into Jang's case as well as a proper investigation into the ‘Burning Sun’ scandal and the sex scandal of former high-ranking Ministry of Justice official Kim Hak-eui in 2019.
The allegations from the media could not be used as evidence to press charges against those involved. Thus, Jang's former manager Kim Sun-hoon was the only person to go behind the bars with regards to the case.