Korean stars’ military background and their service period has always been of great curiosity. While on one hand, fans feel sad for not being able to see their favourite K-pop stars and K-drama actors when they are away for mandatory military service, it is also a matter of great pride. Admirers feel elated when some of the revered on-screen icons and global celebrities, known for their immense talent and fan following, serve the nation diligently.
South Korean law dictates that all able-bodied men between the age bracket of 18 and 28 years must go through conscription or military enlistment. Depending on where they are posted, those joining the army serve a period of 21 months, while the South Korean navy and air force take 23 and 24 months respectively.
Just recently, one of the most successful K-pop bands, BTS enlisted for military service and members — Jin, RM, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, Jungkook and V — made headlines as several speculations were rife about them being exempted. On 17 October 2022, BigHit Music, the band’s agency, announced that Jin is the first in the septet to join the Korean military. However, the agency also added that BTS members will be back as a group in 2025 to enthral ARMY.
Here are some Korean stars who have served military conscription
Military enlistment: 2011-2012
The Crash Landing On You star served in the Korean military as part of the Marine Corps. Considered an ‘exemplary soldier,’ the actor went on to be a frontline fighter at the Baengnyeong Island. This is an extremely sensitive geo-political location and was reportedly the site of an armed engagement between North and South Korea in 2010. Hyun received major applause and attention from the members of the Korean entertainment industry for choosing to join the toughest unit of the army.
He made his comeback with The Fatal Encounter in 2014, and returned to the small screen with the romantic series Hyde, Jekyll, Me the following year.
Military enlistment: 2017-2019
Lee’s conscription had to be delayed a couple of times due to the severe injuries he suffered during car accidents in 2006 and 2011. But that did not deter The King: Eternal Monarch actor from trying and he is one of the most acclaimed stars with a brilliant military background.
In March 2018, Lee started his training at the Korea Army Training in Nonsan, South Chungcheong Province. A month later, he was posted in the public service from where he was discharged in April, the next year. After returning, Lee started shooting for The King: Eternal Monarch right away which became one of his greatest all-time hits.
Military enlistment: 2021-2022
Lead dancer of the K-pop band Teen Top, Ricky is also a prolific singer and an actor. Although there were reports that said he had applied for military enlistment in 2020 and was accepted as part of the military band, it was only the next year that he formally enlisted for military service. After completing his basic conscription training, he joined the band as planned.
According to the Kpop Reporter, at the time of his service, Ricky was the second member of Teen Top to leave after Chungi.
Military enlistment: 2008-2009
Gong Yoo is another Korean star with an impeccable military background. The acclaimed actor is known for his incredible performances in Train to Busan (2016), The Suspect (2013) and Coffee Prince (2007).
He was a part of the frontline active service in Cheorwon. He then shifted to the public relations department and became a DJ for the army radio station named Korean Forces Network. Gong was discharged in 2009 and returned with an incredible career boost with releases such as Finding Mr. Destiny (2010) and Silenced (2011), which won him the Popular Star award at the 32nd Blue Dragon Awards.
Military enlistment: 2017-2019
An unavoidable name in the industry, Kim had to face a delay in his military enlistment as he was deemed unfit due to a childhood heart disease. Since in South Korea, the law states that only fit and able men can serve in the military, he was initially posted in public services instead of active duty as he had gone through heart surgery. However, Kim was determined to serve the nation and had taken re-examinations. He finally got selected for conscription at the age of 29.
Known for some phenomenal performances in It’s Okay To Not Be Okay (2020), Crash Landing On You (2019-2020) and My Love From Another Star (2013-2014), the actor was placed in a military camp in Paju in Gyeonggi Province. He was then posted in the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion where he became a Sergeant. Such was his service that Kim won the special warrior title before being discharged.
Military enlistment: 2021-2022
One of the most popular K-pop stars with a very recent Korean military background, Chanyeol is a member of the boyband EXO. After enlisting in military service, the “Growl” rapper began his four-week military training in March 2021. During his conscription, he starred as the lead actor in the army musical Blue Helmet: A Song of Meissa with fellow icons such as Jang Ki Yong and ONF’s Hyojin.
Chanyeol was discharged in September this year and he became the fifth member of the band to go for conscription.
Military enlistment: 2013-2015
Known for his role in Vincenzo (2021), Song served in the 102nd Draft camp in Chuncheon, South Korea. Reportedly, when he was discharged from service in May 2015 after nearly two years, Song was quite overwhelmed by the sight of eager fans and paparazzi. A South China Morning Post report also said that while he was on duty, he secretly stole small nibbles, albeit the star didn’t comment on that.
Song has said that conscription has taught him to be more mature and helped to gain enriching experiences and values of life. The Descendants of the Sun (2016) actor returned to the screens and portrayed a soldier in his reel life too as part of the hit K-drama.
Military enlistment: 2008-2010
The Itaewon Class (2020) actor is among the very few Korean stars who completed their military service before their debut. Park entered conscription at the age of 19, right after completing high school.
On being discharged after two years, he made his debut with Bang Yong-guk’s 2011 music video titled “I Remember” which was followed by major roles in 2015’s Kill Me Heal Me and Chronicles of Evil.
Military enlistment: 2015-2017
After serving for 21 months, Kim was discharged in February. The Korean actor, known for his roles in Boys Over Flowers (2009) and Inspiring Generation (2014), completed his five-week basic training at the Gyeonggi-do 30th Recruit Training Squadron before he was posted as a border patrol in the Korean Demilitarized Zone.
After returning, he said that he felt as if he has got a new life and shared that has learnt a lot about how to tackle any kind of obstacle.
Military enlistment: 2019-2021
The Pinocchio (2014) actor enlisted in 2019 as a public service worker due to an injured ligament. Although he couldn’t serve as a working soldier, the popular K-drama star did his bit diligently. Upon returning, he posted two monochrome photos on Instagram announcing his return.
(Main Image: Courtesy Vincenzo/ © tvN/ IMDb , Crash Landing On You/ © tvN/ IMDb; Featured image credit: Crash Landing On You/ © tvN/ IMDb)