Shocking truth about Asian plastic babes
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 Centre - 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 skilled plastic surgeons in the looks-obsessed South - 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 per cent sought plastic surgery or skin treatments such as botox.
Almost a half of all foreigners seeking a nose job, a facelift, a jawbone reduction or a tummy tuck were from China. Their number nearly tripled from 1,657 in 2009 to 4,400 in 2010.
"The Hallyu boom has definitely played a key role in drawing new patients from abroad," said Hong Jeong-Geun, spokesman for the Korea Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons.
Hong said many star-struck foreigners visit clinics with photos of celebrities like Kim Hee-Sun, a popular actress in Asia, and ask surgeons to emulate her nose angle or eyes.
Published April 18 2012