It was in the mid-2000s when South Korean plastic surgeon Joo Kwon noticed a trickle of Chinese women walking into his clinic, even though he hadn’t advertised overseas.
“They somehow found a way to the clinic … and nearly all of them said they want the face of Lee Young-Ae,” Joo said, referring to a top South Korean actress who starred in the pan-Asian hit drama “Jewel in the Palace.”
The trickle has now turned into a flood of Chinese packing Joo’s JK Plastic Surgery Center — one of the country’s largest — and many other clinics, lured by the looks of South Korean entertainers who have taken Asia by storm.
A Hallyu (Korean wave) of pop culture over the past decade has won a devoted fan base in China, Southeast Asia and Japan. The South’s TV dramas dominate prime-time airwaves and K-pop bands sell out concerts and top the charts.
Legendary TV hits like “Winter Sonata” and “Autumn Fairy Tale” help draw tens of thousands of foreign fans to filming locations in South Korea every year, boosting the tourism industry.
Now in the looks-obsessed South, skilled plastic surgeons who often helped beautify Korean stars in the first place are enjoying an unexpected boom as they do the same for their foreign fans.
According to government data, overall medical spending by foreign visitors hit a record $116 million last year. Fourteen percent sought plastic surgery or skin treatments such as botox.
Almost a half of all foreigners seeking a nose job, a face-lift, a jawbone reduction or a tummy tuck were from China. Their number nearly tripled from 1,657 in 2009 to 4,400 in 2010.