FAREWELL TO (BEAR) ARMS
Korea film industry fears dearth of talent as top actors go for national service
BYE bye Gong Yoo.
So runs a sad farewell on a discussion thread on the popular K-pop forum Popseoul.com. Netizens are groaning and moaning over the temporary departure of this hunkalious star of the hugely popular drama Coffee Prince.
Where is he going?
To serve his country, it turns out.
Come 14 Jan, the 29-year-old actor will enlist for mandatory national service, reported TheKorea Times.
That's barely two weeks after Coffee Prince gets telecast outside Korea - first on Channel U on Monday and then in Taiwan tomorrow.
What a pity, many fans say.
After all, it has only been sixmonths since Gong Yoo shot to mega fame for playing a dashing cafe owner and won fans all over Asia.
He even snagged the Outstanding Actor award for his role during the MBC Awards held on Sunday.
Soon he will give all this up. Still, many are supportive of his decision and pledge their continued loyalty to him.
One of them, known as Pinklover, wrote on the Popseoul forum: 'I admire him for not dragging it.
'It's better to go when he's at the peak of his career, cos people will anticipate his comeback more. I'll miss this hottie!'
Moe Moe wrote that 'I will be waiting for you, my dear', while LKVM said two years will pass quickly and asked Gong Yoo to 'come back safe and sexy'.
Gong Yoo is not the first to shave his head for his country.
As you read this, boyish-faced actor Cheon Jung Myung (of Foxy Lady fame) will be enlisting for national service today.
He is the first of a slew of popular Korean leading men who are slated to say 'Goodbye showbiz, hello army' this year.
The list includes Cho In Sung, Lee Dong Gun, Cho Hyun Jae and Kim Rae Won, as well as singer-actor Kang Ta and boy band Shinhwa members Eric Mun, Lee Min Woo and Kim Dong Wan, all of whom dabble in acting.
All Korean men above the age of 20 are required to serve the army for two years.
But with so many of them gone, industry sources fear that a drought of leading men would create casting problems.
In 2004, the same scenario surfaced after a massive celebrity draft-dodging expose forced A-listers who reportedly forged documents to postpone national service, like Song Seung Hun, Jang Hyuk and So Ji Sub, to finally report for military training.
TRAINING NEW ACTORS
To cope with the shrinking supply of charismatic hunks, the industry is training new actors and encouraging singers and models to cross over to acting.
Shinhwa members embarked on solo acting projects, while the boys from newer groups like TVXQ and Super Junior also made sure to make their mark in a few dramas or films.
Some models, such as Joo Ji Hoon of Princess Hours fame and Seo Do Young from Spring Waltz, walked off the catwalk to instant stardom on TV.
Still, some critics feel that few newbies have managed to make a strong impression so far.
China-based news portal Tom.com quoted one insider saying that there have not been any 'especially shiny' new faces yet, so it is more possible that the 2004 batch of celebrity army guys would 'spark a new trend'.
Some of them have yet to make a comeback despite being discharged from the army more than a year ago, so it is likely they would do it this year.
Meanwhile, those who are enlisting this year seem to be quite happy to serve their country - quite a contrast to the bitterness that surrounded the 2004 batch who were harshly criticised for draft-dodging.
Jung Myung, for one, recently told Edaily SPN that he hopes to become a scout and looks forward to the tough training ahead.
The 28-year-old sports fanatic even compared army enlistment to acting in his new horror movie Hansel & Gretal - his last project to date.
'Even though I don't like horror films, I decided to take on the challenge because it's something I've never tried before.
'I think going to the army will be like my new film - a special experience in my life.'
Kang Ta, who is slated to enlist in the first half of the year, said the army is a 'must' for guys. He even joked that girls will not like guys who have not gone through army.
GIVES UP US CITIZENSHIP
Shinhwa's Eric, 29, probably agrees, since he reportedly gave up his US citizenship to serve the Korean army.
He and his Shinhwa pals are expected to enlist after they complete their ongoing world tour.
Actors In Sung, Rae Won and Hyun Jae are also set to enlist by the end of the year, after they complete their new celluloid projects.
As for Gong Yoo, China Times reported that he said he would treat his two-year break like a vacation.
Although given his age, he was worried he might not be able to keep up with the younger guys during training.
To his fans, he said, 'I am grateful for my fans, and I will do my best to successfully complete my service and return to make better films.'
They're out, but not back
WHEN are they coming back?
That is the question that many fans of popular Korean actors Song Seung Hun, Won Bin and So Ji Sub have been asking.
The trio were discharged from army in 2006, but none have officially returned to the screen so far.
That's why all eyes are on them this year.
All three have made hints of a comeback.
Seung Hun, whose enlistment in 2004 included a public apology for draft-dodging, is reportedly starring in the upcoming action movie Destiny.
He plays a guy with split personality, opposite his good friend Kwon Sang Woo.
Ji Sub has a new drama lined up, which co-stars Jung Ryeo Won.
Won Bin, who was discharged early after six months in mid-2006 due to a kneecap injury, has yet to announce his new project.
But he did emerge last September to be appointed the new goodwill ambassador for Unicef.
Of the 2004 batch who enlisted for army, only actor Jang Hyuk, 32, has managed to successfully make a comeback last year.
His new drama Thank You, which is centred on a 8-year-old girl who has Aids, won raves reviews for its heart-rending theme and his matured acting. He plays, of course, the genius of a doctor.
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