Well-known figures who have contributed to building a positive image of Korea at home and overseas were honored at the Korea Image Awards ceremony organized by the Corea Image Communication Institute at the InterContinental Seoul Coex in southern Seoul, Wednesday.
Emmy-winning actor Lee Jung-jae from Netflix’s global phenomenon “Squid Game," former Olympic figure skating champion Kim Yuna, teen swimmer Hwang Sun-woo and European fashion houses received this year's awards, which marked the institute’s 20th anniversary.
Foreign Minister Park Jin and ambassadors and envoys from over 63 countries -- including US Ambassador Philip Goldberg and CJ Group Chairman Sohn Kyung-shik -- joined the annual event.
"The reasons K-content is capturing the world are that at its heart, it has a universal message that anybody can relate to, and the energy and passion of the Korean people who are best at turning crisis into opportunity," said Foreign Minister Park during the opening speech.
"This year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will engage in focused endeavors to strengthen diplomacy ... and promote Korea's flourishing culture. Korea is emerging as a new cultural powerhouse of the world."
In a pre-recorded interview, Lee, who won the Emmy Award for his role in "Squid Game" and successfully debuted as a director with the spy-action film "Hunt," in which he also acts, said, “There is no such thing as one ‘jackpot’ in life. … You have to seize the small opportunities in life, to eventually seize that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Figure skating champion Kim received the Korea Image Cornerstone Award for “opening a new history of the country’s figure skating with her unrivaled performances.” She also received the Budding Youth Award in 2008.
This year, the Korea Image Budding Youth Award -- given to young talent aged under 20 -- was presented to Hwang. He “emerged like a comet in the Korean swimming scene by setting a new Asian and Korean record,” according to the organizer.
The Korea Image Stepping Stone Bridge Award was awarded to European fashion houses -- global luxury fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Gucci -- in recognition of their roles in bridging Korea and the world. Ambassadors of the UK, Italy, France and the European Union jointly received the award.
“There is enormous demand for Korea in general, especially in Europe, from music, food and handcraft,” EU Ambassador Maria Castillo Fernandez told The Korea Herald.
“I believe in cultural diplomacy … Korea has to use more of the K-wave and use this momentum to be more multilateral.”
British Ambassador to Korea Colin Crooks recalls being thought of as strange for wanting to learn Korean 30 years ago, but now "all the young people want to know Korean, because it has become really fashionable,” he said.
The ambassador added that along with the popularity of K-dramas, K-movies and K-pop, one of the most visible links between Korea and the UK are soccer players such as Son Heung-min and Hwang Hee-chan.
Since 2005, CICI has been honoring cultural figures or organizations that have played major roles in spreading a positive image of the country.