Asian pop stars, so popular with teenagers, make fans fall in love with their smiles and chewing gum songs, but a documentary presented at the Busan Film Festival reveals another side to fame.
Thai director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit could not believe it when he was allowed to film backstage at a BNK48 concert, one of Asia's most famous pop groups.
In the individual interviews, which alternate with show sequences and behind-the-scenes scenes, Thai singers describe a "rather gloomy competition among members," their sacrifices to be selected and the long daily essays.
In the documentary, artists also confess that there is a hierarchy within the group, among the "prima donna", asked to participate in promotional events that translate into high incomes, and those that are reduced to the role of substitutes.
One of the most striking scenes from the documentary "BNK48: Girls Do not Cry" shows one of these young women dancing outside the stage as she imagines she is part of the show. "You have to face the reality of life," explains Jib, 14, who speaks with an unusual maturity for his age.
The documentary "BNK48: Girls Do not Cry" tells the odyssey of this group, which has millions of fans in Asia and is inspired by the Japanese AKB48, another pop group.
So far the documentaries about the Asian pop stars were very controlled by the musical agents.
The pressure of social networks
The Thai director managed, however, to enter into the lives of these young people and unravel a little behind the scenes. "Usually pop idols are trained and only say insignificant things in the media," explains the director, one of the most promising in Thailand.
"But they immediately started talking about the reality, the difficulties and the pressures they suffer," he added in an interview to AFP during the Busan film festival in South Korea, the most important in Asia.
"They did not impose any restrictions on me," says Nawapol, who often tells in his films the lives of young Thais who face the challenges of modernity.
"I just put the group members in front of the camera and we started talking. For them, it was like a confession, a therapy," he said.
One of the members of the group explains that she went to a casting just to fulfill her mother's dream, another because a psychic predicted that one day she would become a star and a third for fear of having a life away from the lights of fame. "Being nobody is horrible," said Korn, 19.
In the documentary, the young women also underline the weight of social networks, where what counts is the number of likes and the number of followers. "We have the feeling that we are being harassed all the time," explains Pun, 17, for whom it is a burden to be forced to accumulate followers.
The documentary, which had a great success in Thailand, was selected for the 23rd International Film Festival in Busan.
During the twelve months that the director followed the lives of the pop stars, the 20 young people, between the 12 and the 22, underwent many changes. Nawapol hopes to be able to return to film with the group "within five years and see where life has taken them."