Image: Viral cartoon of Han Dong-hun's imagined visit to a convenience store.
One of the fastest-rising stars in the Yoon Suk-yeol 윤석열 administration has been Justice Minister Han Dong-hun 한동훈. The career prosecutor, long known as Yoon’s right hand man during the president’s time in the Public Prosecutors’ Office 검찰청, entered politics together with Yoon. The unconventional appointment of Han as Justice Minister 법무부장관 - with the 49-year-old jumping the line ahead of older and more decorated candidates - foreshadowed the Yoon administration’s targeted prosecutions against liberal politicians. (See previous coverage, “Prosecutors’ Absurd Charges Against Lee Jae-myung.”)
Han found stardom in conservative circles as he appeared to represent the future of South Korea’s right. Unlike his vulgar, superannuated, Taegeukgi 태극기 flag-waving predecessors, the younger Han grew up in Seoul’s Gangnam-gu District 강남구, the home of the nouveau riche lampooned in PSY’s viral hit Gangnam Style. Well-dressed and articulate, Han raised expectations by rhetorically embarrassing liberal politicians who overreached in their attempts to come after the president’s capo. He skillfully parried and defused Democratic legislators’ attacks during his confirmation hearing before the National Assembly 국회, which took over 17 hours and ultimately garnered over 1m views on YouTube.
But nearly a year into Yoon’s unpopular presidency, Han’s stardom is losing its shine. After better-prepared liberal legislators began exposing Han’s tendentious claims, Han replied with sophistry and defensive technicalities. A viral cartoon this week lampooned Han’s manner of speech by imagining him visiting a convenience store:
Clerk: Please insert your credit card in the slot.
Han: I never said I would pay with a credit card.
Clerk: Would you like to pay in cash?
Han: I never said I would pay with cash.
Clerk: How do you want to pay?
Han: How do you know I want to buy anything?
Clerk: You put the merchandise on the counter.
Han: That doesn’t necessarily mean I intend to purchase it.
Meanwhile, the judiciary delivered an unexpected blow to Han’s image as a stylish young conservative. During the trial of former journalist Lee Dong-jae 이동재 of Channel A 채널A for colluding with prosecutors to manufacture damaging news coverage of liberal politicians (see previous coverage, “Press Collusion Implicates Yoon”), prosecutors read a transcript of a recorded phone conversation in which Lee said: “I told the baldy 대머리.” Under oath, Lee confirmed that “baldy” referred to Han Dong-hun.
A blog run by a men's hairpiece company confidently declared that Han was wearing a toupee, and noted: “From an expert’s perspective, the hairpiece appears cheap and awkward, like a lid over the head. First-time hairpiece users often make this mistake, because they obsess over having a full head of hair.”