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Heartthrobs head for Army service

2006/01/17 Source

To the great disappointment of many female TV fans, several Korean heartthrobs are preparing to enlist in the Army this year, ready to serve their country as the "virile sons of Korea".

After the 2004 draft-dodging scandal involving several popular entertainers including Korean Wave star, Song Seung-heon, dodging the draft has become out of question even for the nation's most popular celebrities.

Following actor Won Bin of the groundbreaking box office hit "Taegukgi" and former vocalist Moon Hee-jun of pop idol group H.O.T. who joined the Army late last year, a lot more celebrities including singers Kim Jong-kook, Jo Sung-mo, Eric Mun and Sohn Ho-young, and actors Go Soo and Yang Dong-geun are to be drafted in 2006.

For these stars who are currently at the peak of popularity, putting their careers on hold for the two years of mandatory military service is naturally a great burden.

Kim Jong-kook enjoyed great success as a solo singer last year after he left the duet Turbo, Shinwa rapper Eric Mun made a brilliant debut as an actor and Go Soo is currently riding a wave of overwhelming popularity as the hero of the SBS weekend drama "To Marry a Millionaire".

But recently - especially after the 2004 scandal - many entertainers are managing to maintain their popularity and fame even after the two-year career lull, giving the public the impression that they have completed their duties and are now "fair and square".

Korea's mandatory conscription system calls on all able-bodied men over the age of 20 to serve for two years. Despite some controversy, most Koreans consider military service as a righteous duty and as a demonstration of patriotism for all men with Korean citizenship.

Actor-turned-singer Hong Kyeong-min, for example, managed to put his career back on track after completing his military service in November, earning even greater popularity by broadening his career to acting.

On the other hand, Korean-American singer Yoo Seung-jun was stamped with a scarlet letter and was banned from entering Korea after giving up his Korean citizenship in 2002. Although some stood up for the 30-year-old singer, many people accused him of deliberately dropping the Korean nationality to avoid serving in the military.

Sohn Ho-young of the popular male group god triggered a similar controversy last year, but quickly remedied the situation by announcing he would never give up his Korean nationality and would serve in the Army. Sohn is to join the Army within this year.

Actor Won Bin, who joined the military last November, chose to perform his duty with "ordinary" soldiers and is now standing guard in the Demilitarized Zone separating the Korean Peninsula.

But most other entertainers wish to make use of their talents during the two-year period by working at the Defense Agency for Public Information Services, a special promotion unit under the Ministry of Defense.

After five weeks of basic training with other draftees, entertainers selected by the agency are assigned to the unit. Dubbed "entertainment soldiers", these celebrities fulfill various duties to promote the public perception of the military service and boost the morale of soldiers.

These specially selected soldiers, however, do not receive any special treatment. Entertainment soldiers must reside in barracks within Defense Ministry grounds and keep to the same code of conduct applied to all soldiers.

While other soldiers spend their day training, they travel from one military unit to another, emceeing events organized by the agency, contribute to the production of infomercials and promotional movies, and participate in various other military cultural events.

But with a limit of 13, not all celebrities get the chance to join the exclusive group. The competition is expected to be much tougher this year, with many popular celebrities in line to join the military.

The Korean Forces Network - the military broadcaster - is anxiously waiting for the influx of star soldiers. With several entertainment soldiers participating in KFN productions, the channel's ratings are set to soar.

"This is a golden opportunity for both the celebrities and the military", said Yoon Seung-yong of the Defense Agency for Public Information Services. "We plan to make the best use of this opportunity to cheer up soldiers and effectively promote the military services".

By Shin Hae-in

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