K-Drama Pay Disparity: Lead Actors Earn Up to 2,000 Times More than Extras | Be Korea-savvy

K-Drama Pay Disparity: Lead Actors Earn Up to 2,000 Times More than Extras

Actor Lee Sun-kyun (Image courtesy of Yonhap)

Actor Lee Sun-kyun (Image courtesy of Yonhap)

SEOUL, Oct. 25 (Korea Bizwire) – An analysis of actor salaries for dramas produced by Korean broadcasting companies has revealed a substantial gap, with lead actors earning up to 2,000 times more than extras.

In light of this situation, there is a growing chorus of voices advocating for improved treatment and compensation for supporting actors. 

According to a report titled “Fact-finding Survey on Actor Wage Systems and Improvement Methods,” released by the Korean Broadcast Actors Union and the Korea Broadcasting Performers’ Rights Association, it was found that among nine dramas that aired in the past two years, the SBS drama “Payback” exhibited the most significant disparity in wages between lead actors and extras. 

For this drama, lead actor Lee Sun-kyun received a per-episode salary of 200 million won, while extras were compensated at a rate of 100,000 won. 

Similarly, in another SBS drama, “One Dollar Lawyer,” the main actor, Namkoong Min, received 160 million won per episode, an amount 800 times higher than the 200,000 won paid to extras per episode.

The most common minimum salary for Korean dramas is estimated to be in the range of 200,000 to 300,000 won per episode. On average, it takes about 2.63 days to shoot a single episode. During a typical day of shooting, performers work an average of about 10 hours, including 3.88 hours of standby time. 

The use of “blanket contracts” in wage agreements, which specify only the amount without detailing labor hours and conditions, has resulted in situations where extras with lower wages may receive compensation below the minimum wage, particularly when clothing expenses are excluded. 

Unlike foreign dramas, where wages are established based on labor hours, Korean dramas often set pay based on the number of episodes, thereby failing to fully account for actual working hours.

J. S. Shin (js_shin@koreabizwire.com)

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