South Korea enforces mandatory conscription on all able-bodied men between the ages of 18-28 to complete 18 months of military service. While the rule applies to all regular South Korean citizens, it does not exempt Korean celebrities from this rule.
Compulsory conscription has always been a topic of controversy, especially among Korean celebrities who would have to take time off from the public eye to complete their military service. For many Korean celebrities, this could be no less than a career suicide as they would have to give up their lucrative jobs at their peak to enlist. Moreover, they usually aren’t able to reach their pre-enlistment era fame once they return.
Many companies were counting on BTS’ exemption as an entry point into changing the law for K-pop idols regarding exemptions. In 2018, high-ranking officials from various major companies such as SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, and others gathered with the Korea Management Association to discuss the enlistment period and possible alternative services for Korean celebrities who are popular cultural assets.
The meeting was not attended by BTS or their agency, HYBE. However, it was attended by Jellyfish Entertainment, the former agency of VIXX’s Ravi, who is currently under fire for having tried to evade military enlistment and has been booked under these charges. Along with him, Mr. Gu, a well-known broker for Korean celebrities to evade enlistment, has also been apprehended.
Draft Dodgers: Korean celebrities who tried to get out of military service
1) Steve Yoo
One of the most well-known cases of draft dodging in South Korean history has to be that of Steve Yoo, a K-pop idol who gave up his Korean citizenship in lieu of American citizenship to avoid military service.
This was followed by a huge outcry from the netizens as Yoo had previously stated that he would complete his mandatory conscription. However, as the date came closer, he chose to take extreme measures to ensure the cancelation of his enlistment.
The incident led to his popularity going down in South Korea. In addition, this was followed by his banishment from his homeland as the government took his actions as a form of desertion and betrayal.
2) MC Mong
In 2010, MC Mong was accused of deliberately trying to evade mandatory military service. Following which, he was investigated by the South Korean Military Manpower Administration for the same.
He was accused of purposely getting his teeth pulled out to avoid his military service. Dental issues, including braces, implants, or cavities, are some of the grounds on which military service can be postponed or waived.
Although he was cleared on charges of pulling out healthy teeth to avoid conscription, he was jailed for six months for trying to delay his enlistment purposely. Despite making a comeback in the entertainment industry, his public image has not improved as people continue to be suspicious of his actions.
3) Song Seung-heon
Model and actor Song Seung-heon came under fire in 2004 when it was revealed that he tried to evade military service by submitting tainted urine samples to show that he was unfit for military service since he suffers from diabetes.
As the scandal grew bigger, Seung-heon immediately enlisted in the army to avoid further criticism. He was discharged in 2006 and kept a low profile for two years before making his comeback in 2008 with the drama East of Eden.
4) Kim Mu-yeol
Actor Kim Mu-yeol came under public scrutiny when his final enlistment call came in 2009, but he asked for that to be postponed due to a knee injury that he had suffered. The public grew agitated as Kim had been postponing his military service ever since 2007 for various reasons, such as taking civil service examinations or being admitted to a work training facility, but neither of these claims were found to be true.
However, he was granted an exemption in 2010 due to his low-income background and being the sole provider for his family. The Korean Board of Audit and Inspection argued that his income was above the poverty line because of his fame as an actor and that the disqualification should not be provided in his case.
In 2012, his public image suffered a lot of damage. Following this, the actor decided to enter the army to recover his lost reputation while claiming that he had never lied or tried to evade enlistment illegally.
While some Korean celebrities try to evade their enlistment, many Korean celebrities, who have been embroiled in scandals as civilians, try to join the army to escape the aftermath of the scandal. This is also done to ensure that they can better their public image by serving the nation, as could be seen in the case of BIGBANG’s Seungri.