|(From top left to bottom right) Yoo Ah-in, Jang Geun-suk, Lee Seung-gi, Kim Soo-hyun, Lee Min-ho and Park Yoo-chun|
In South Korea, all able-bodied Korean men 19 or older are obliged to serve in the military for two years. Even the hottest stars like Kim Soo-hyun and Lee Min-ho can’t avoid enlistment.
South Korean drama production companies and broadcasters are expected to face obstacles in casting A-list actors as many are preparing to enter military service as early as this year.
“The stars who are preparing for military enlistment from this year and next are unexpectedly the most wanted actors for upcoming dramas,” a high-ranking official at a major broadcaster said.
Two of those who need to enlist by next year are Yoo Ah-in and Kim Hyun-joong, both 28 years old. According to law, a conscript is only allowed to postpone military service until the age of 29.
Hallyu star Yoo Ah-in hinted that jTBC’s “Secret Love Affair,” which started airing on March 17, would be his last TV series before he join the army.
“The date of enlistment has not been confirmed yet, but I think ‘Secret Love Affair’ was the best choice to fully immerse into acting as my last drama,” he told reporters at a press conference.
Actors who gained popularity across Asian countries such as Lee Min-ho, Lee Seung-gi and Jang Geun-suk, are all at the age when many Korean men start their military service.
They boast a broad fan base built on the Korean Wave throughout East and Southeast Asian countries, with hit dramas such as Lee’s “The Heirness” and Jang’s “You’re Beautiful.” Kim Soo-hyun, star of the Smash hit "My Love from the Star," was given a physical checkup by the military recruitment agency in 2012.
Obligatory military service is a double edged-sword for Korean actors.
As the country remains technically at war with North Korea, the public sentiment regarding draft dodging is highly sensitive.
Celebrities, including many actors, dread the military draft, fearing that being away from the media limelight two year would make their career grind to a halt. But at the same time if they come under suspicion of draft dodging, Korean fans tend to abruptly abandon their stars.
The showbiz industry takes note of the risk -- losing fans or the reputation of stars -- but it is also concerned about the side effects of mandatory military service.
“The export of Korean dramas still relies heavily on big name actors, so it is inevitable that the stars’ breaks will impact exports,” said a source familiar with the issue.
With Park Yoo-chun of JYJ, who hasn’t fulfilled his mandatory military service yet, starring in SBS drama “Three Days,” the company exported its copyright at the highest possible price to China. While the exact amount is unknown, it was reported that the TV series earned five times higher than other dramas in the Chinese market, which were offered less than $10,000 per episode.
JYJ’s agency C-JeS Entertainment said it would follow the military law despite the negative economic impacts on the firm, and take military duty in consideration when arranging the schedules for the group.
By Park Han-na (firstname.lastname@example.org)