The Korea Herald


[Newsmaker] Were they ever gone?

With clever planning, celebrities shorten mandatory career break for military service

By Lim Jang-won

Published : April 21, 2021 - 15:10

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Park Bo-gum in “Seobok” (CJ ENM) Park Bo-gum in “Seobok” (CJ ENM)

As the movie “Seobok” hit the top of South Korean box office, lead actor Gong Yoo conducted interviews and promoted the movie. However, co-star Park Bo-gum was nowhere to be seen – he is serving his mandatory military service.

Still, with last year’s tvN drama series “Record of Youth” featuring Park, “Seobok” currently in theaters and upcoming movie “Wonderland” scheduled for release later this year, Park’s absence from the entertainment industry during his military service is difficult to notice.

Park filmed the works in advance of joining the Navy in August 2020. That COVID-19 delayed the release of “Seobok,” which was scheduled for release last December, has also played a role in Park’s more or less steady presence in the public eye. Eight months into his military service, it’s as if Park were still actively continuing his career.
Park Bo-gum (left) appears as an event host for West Sea Defense Day ceremony on March 26. (MBC YouTube) Park Bo-gum (left) appears as an event host for West Sea Defense Day ceremony on March 26. (MBC YouTube)

Although soldiers cannot undertake money-making ventures during their military service, the Ministry of National Defense does not restrict revenue from work completed before the start of the service.

Park isn’t the only celebrity to have projects released while serving in the military. Singers Lee Seung-gi, Park Yoo-chun and Kim Jae-joong released, during their service, songs that they had finished recording before joining the military. Lee also finished filming “The Princess and the Matchmaker” before joining the military, though the movie was finally released after his discharge.

In addition, trot singer Kim Ho-joong, who started alternative military service in September, released a prerecorded album in December and appeared on a prerecorded entertainment show.

By preparing diligently before starting military service, celebrities are able to shorten the hiatus from work.

Until recently, military service was seen as an obstacle for male celebrities’ careers. Until the 1990s, the compulsory military service was over two years. compared to the current 18 months for the Army and 20 months for the Navy. Also, the rapidly changing entertainment market trend made the return of popular celebrities after military service difficult.

Hence, several top celebrities, most notably superstar Steve Yoo from the 1990s, sought ways to avoid military service. The public outrage that followed such incidents, however, made their entertainment careers untenable.

The cases of Yoo and singer MC Mong, who faced controversy over avoiding military service in the early 2010s, left a strong impression that male celebrities who dodge military service cannot hope to set foot in the entertainment industry again. Having seen stars stumble, male celebrities joined the military service and worked hard to return after being discharged.

In the process, the long-held perception that the mandatory military service is detrimental to the stars’ career has been replaced by one that now sees the service as a way to enhance the celebrities’ image.

One star who managed to turn crisis into opportunity is Psy of “Gangnam Style” fame, who went through military training twice for a total of five years.

His first round in 2003 was canceled after he held concerts during his service term. He then rejoined the service in 2007, and when he was finished, the public’s perception of Psy had turned positive, allowing Psy to experience renewed fame. Now, the Ministry of National Defense calls on him to perform concerts for soldiers and at major military events.

Military service has acted as a reset button for celebrities in trouble. Male celebrities were punished for various wrongdoings – drug use and drunk driving, among other offenses – managed to turn things around by transforming themselves into exemplary soldiers.

For example, actor Ju Ji-hoon of “Kingdom” and “Along With the Gods,” who was caught using drugs in 2009, went to the Army the following year. After completing his service, he was able to return to the screen in 2013. Kangin, from Super Junior, went to the Army after a hit-and-run accident while drunk driving and returned to the group after completing his service.

Military service has also been exploited as a way for the stars to further boost their image by signing up for difficult posts.

Serving in the special forces, Lee Seung-gi was able to reinforce his model image, as Lee Chan-hyuk of AKMU similarly served in the Marine Corps.

For some top celebrities, the military is one of the few places they can have a fixed, healthy schedule.

“Personally, I gained much from the military service, so the break in my career didn’t feel too long. As I entered the Army late, I was able to look back on my 20s,” said one celebrity on his military service experience to The Korea Herald. “I am glad I went. I don’t want to go twice, but there is much to take away from going once,” he said.

“When will I ever have such a systematic and healthy life? Being an actor, that sort of lifestyle is especially difficult.”

By Lim Jang-won (