There are many things I love about Korean Entertainment, specifically K-dramas. I’m less into K-pop or its variety shows.
As an ardent female fan, I gotta admit to going gooey-eyed over handsome and charismatic Korean actors: from Hyun Bin’s dimples and So Ji Sub’s furrowed brow to Song Joong Ki’s sweet looks.
But unless these hunks are already in their mid thirties, many of us will dread that day when he has to enlist in South Korea’s compulsory national service. This post does not debate the merit of conscription. That remains a passionate issue in a country that is still technically at war; the Korean War ended with a cease fire, not a peace treaty.
Giving up two years of one’s youth at the prime of a young man’s life is something many Korean men would likely loath to sacrifice, let alone a rising star where absence may not necessarily make the heart grow fonder. In an industry where fandom is so fleeting, where you are only as good as your last blockbuster drama or billboard hit, enlisting at the height or cusp of a breakout career can be tricky business.
It is a conundrum for many in the entertainment business. The public has no sympathy for the wealthy or celebrities that purposely dodge the service, and nor should they. A law is a law and no one should be above it.
Therefore timing is everything and when to enlist is carefully orchestrated to ensure maximum exposure and popularity before and after conscription. Here’s a quick look at the pre and post career of two of my favourite kdrama actors whose post service lives took a slightly different turn.
How could I forget 2010? It was the year I discovered kdrama and Hyun Bin. If there was such a thing as first kdrama crush, Hyun Bin was it.
With the massive success of Secret Garden, the Hallyu crown was his for the taking. Secret Garden averaged 25% in the ratings game during its run and his stock was rising. Even the breakup news with Song Hye Kyo did not dent his image. His departure for the Marine Corps, considered one of the toughest division in the military service, drew insane crowds. We all waited with bated breath for his return and as expected, Hyun Bin finished his duty with accolades, and most importantly, with no scandal. His popularity had not waned but fans were getting antsy for his next big move.
He took his time and chose the big screen rather than the drama route. Fatal Encounter was Hyun Bin’s first period project. It smashed box office record on opening day as fans hurried to see their idol return to screen. But was it the right move for Hyun Bin? Only time will tell. It took him another few months to make his return to a TV series. Wanting to challenge himself artistically, his next project, Hyde, Jekyll and Me was a flop and a ratings nightmare. He and his team gambled and lost. Despite his popularity, the fierce competition from Ji Sung’s hit drama Kill Me Heal Me did the show in. As much as I cherish Hyun Bin, I could not get myself to finish the show. It was hard to watch. I dropped it after episode 5.
So how popular is Hyun Bin today? He’s not mentioned in the same breath as some of the big Hallyu stars of today but perhaps that’s not important to him anymore. Who knows. His next big project, Cooperation, is reportedly another action blockbuster movie. Maybe it will sell, maybe it will not. Though my crush on Hyun Bin has not waned, I’ve since added a few other Hyun Bins to my list of desirable Korean actors to watch. On that note, he’s no longer irreplaceable in the role of my dreamy kdrama leading man.
But, for the time being, Hyun Bin diehards (me included) will have to wait another day for his next Secret Garden.
Song Joong Ki
By the looks of the overwhelming success of his post-service debut drama, it seems that Song Joong Ki can do no wrong. The currently airing Descendants of the Sun is averaging (at the time of this post at episode 10) an eye-popping 27% in ratings, an incredible feat for today’s weekday drama. It is a first on many levels: first KBS pre-produced kdrama in its entirety, first TV series for NEXT Entertainment World, a film production company, first kdrama to air simultaneously in South Korea and China.
It is as if Song Joong Ki never left! His pre-military service melodrama, Innocent Man was also considered a hit though not at the same hype as Secret Garden, garnering an average of 15% ratings. If there were any nay-sayers of the show, it was mostly about the plot, and not attributed to Song Joong Ki’s superb acting as the antihero Kang Maru. By most accounts, he was what made the show even though Moon Chae Won and the rest of the cast were equally stellar.
A high achiever throughout his life, Song Joong Ki was a scholar with an equally impressive athletic resume. Based on his track record, it is no surprise he has a knack for timing, and for picking his projects. At this rate, he is poised to take over the helm of South Korea’s top Hallyu star. Asia is swooning over his boyish good looks and thanks to his impeccable acting skills, that cute face has not diminished the believable factor. Song Joong Ki as the bold and tough Captain Yoo, leader of the Special Forces on peacekeeping mission in a fictitious war zone country called Urk has won smiles and praises from millions.
Even though Descendants of the Sun was highly anticipated by many and expected to do well, it outperformed all expectations. So is it the Song Joong Ki’s magic or is Song the beneficiary of good luck and good timing? Maybe both.
Regardless, Song Joong Ki deserves it. He is not just a handsome face. He is the total package and he has, indeed, arrived.
Two capable actors, each in his own right a mega-star with pre military service hits. Hyun Bin gave it time before pursuing his comeback project while Song Joong Ki went right to work. Both had fans waiting patiently for their return but to date with very different outcomes.
- Screenwriter Kim Eun Sook wrote both men’s hit dramas: Secret Garden and Descendants of the Sun.
- Actress Song Hye Kyo was Hyun Bin’s real life love interest before he left for military service and is now Song Joong Ki’s on screen love interest in Descendants of the Sun.