She was the top female pop star, a budding diva whose sexy moves scandalized older South Koreans and made her a huge star among the young. Then "the video" hit the Internet.

For a short time, there was a cyber-war. Fans of singer Baek Ji Young tried to paralyze Internet sites offering the video showing Baek and a former producer having sex. The Internet site built new firewalls in defense. In the end, the voracious nature of the Web could not be denied. The video clip multiplied and raced across the Internet, reportedly at a rate of 200,000 copies in one day.

Baek, 24, first tried to deny it was she. She hid on an island, then capitulated. She held a tearful news conference to confess and apologize.

The popular star was a casualty of a stunning clash of cultures. South Korea is one of the most wired countries in the world, but it is also a traditional society in which sex is supposed to be a private matter and premarital sex is a scandal.

Baek is not the first casualty. Miss Korea 1988, Oh Hyun Kyung, 30, fled an acting career and South Korea last year after a video of her having sex with a boyfriend hit the Internet. Since an estimated one-third of South Korea's 47 million people use the Internet--one of the highest rates in the world--"it was like branding her with a scarlet letter," quipped one observer.

New forms of communication such as the Internet are "changing Korean society very rapidly," said Henry Paik, a show business columnist. "But this still isn't America or Europe. Here, if you have premarital sex, you're treated like a criminal. If this had happened abroad, the woman in the video would be asking for a commission on the sales."

There is a grudging suspicion here that this is all somehow the fault of America, that Madonna and post-Madonna shock tactics have breached the censors and sensibilities of South Korea.

South Korean censors used to clip risque parts out of American movies and videotapes. Now the Internet and DVD have bypassed the censors. American rap has spawned Korean rap, with full frontal profanity. A local performer, Seo Tai Ji, just released a music video with explicit sex scenes and nudity.

"Times are changing too fast," grumbled real estate agent Oh Kwang Hwan, 55. "I was shocked that the younger generation could even come up with an idea like making a sex video and putting it on the Internet."

"I think it was wrong for them to have filmed such revealing material," agreed Shin San Hyun, 28, selling vegetables at a nearby market. "But what can I do? I'm a man. I can't help wanting to watch it."

There is a generous dose of hypocrisy at work here, argued the pop star's attorney, Choi Chung Hwan.

"Everybody criticized the couple for having filmed the video, but everyone was rushing to see it," Choi said. "If you hadn't seen the tape, you couldn't have a conversation with anyone in Seoul."

And among men, at least, there is a decidedly different reaction to two male celebrities caught in recent sex scandals. Actor Song Young Chang, 42, was sentenced in November to 10 months in prison for having sex with a 16-year-old girl. Joo Byung Jin, who runs a TV production house, was arrested in November and charged with beating a college student after forcing her to have sex.

"I don't understand why they should be punished," said Shin. "They probably did it because [the women] wanted them to."

The scandals have tarnished South Korea's entertainment industry just as it was gaining some respectability. Not long ago, entertainers were viewed as a seedy lot, and "your family would be scandalized if you married an entertainer," said Choi.

But now, he said, "surveys of high school students show that being an entertainer is their first choice."

These latest scandals showed that the entertainment industry's sordid reputation is in some ways still deserved, said Paik, a former sitcom writer who now dishes up movie star gossip in a popular weekly newspaper column

"There used to be three ways to get in the business: bribery, sex or political influence," he said. Although changes in the industry have reduced the power of producers and directors, he said, those are still familiar routes to success.

Baek's video offers a poignant example. The first half, apparently shot two years ago, shows her nervously practicing imaginary media interviews under the direction of the producer. In the second half, they have sex. Baek insists she did not know the camera was rolling and has suggested they had a romantic relationship.

The ex-producer, Kim Si Won, disputed her claims of ignorance during a call-in television show. "We watched it together afterward and enjoyed it," he said. He has since dropped out of sight.

Others also are cynical about Baek's claim. Paik said it is not uncommon for managers or producers to insist that aspiring starlets make such videos, which are held in case the woman tries to dump her old associates after she makes it big.

"The manager gets a tape like this in order to get leverage," he said.

The speed of the Internet makes such weapons more potent. "Ten years ago, these things ended with just a few rumors," Paik said. "Now the evidence goes out on the Web."

"I want to be an actress, but I'm afraid of the system here," said Katie Kim, 21, who is training as a singer and musician. "If I'm at a party, producers will say, 'Why don't you stay late here after the party?' I always say I have to go home by 10 to be with my parents. But if my friends stay late at the party, they will be on TV the next day."

The public perception of entertainers is further blurred by efforts such as those of Jung Se Hee, a former "eros" or soft-porn actress who is campaigning for more legitimacy and respectability for those on the barer side of entertainment. She wrote a book, "Now I Can Strip in Pride," and argues that the Oh and Baek videotapes showed that all entertainers are in the same boat.

"Eros actresses are normal people, too," she said, sipping coffee in a trendy shop in Seoul. "Just because we take our clothes off doesn't mean we deserve to be ostracized."

Baek is making a similar appeal. She has refused to flee the country and is fighting to continue performing.

One of her concerts was canceled, and she is not expected to be allowed to work in television. But her appeal has generated a wave of sympathy.

"There are those who say Baek Ji Young is an idol for teenagers, so she should not continue to sing after what she did," Choi said. "But others say she's a victim. They say everybody has sex, and more and more of the younger generation take videos for their memories. They say that whoever distributed the video is the real culprit.

"I don't think she did anything wrong. Yes, public figures have to maintain a high moral standard. But we can't expect their moral standards to be higher than the general public."

Special correspondent Joohee Cho contributed to this report.