비 비 Go Away, Come Again Another Day (in 21 months)
Alright, lame title (EDIT: is the new alternate title any better?) I know but it’s the best I could come up with for a subject that none of you readers are likely all that interested in. On Friday, South Korean mega-everything star 비 (Rain) announced he would finally begin his mandatory military enlistment on Oct. 11th. For those of you outside Korea, you may have seen him as Taejo in the awful Speed Racer movie, or perhaps even as Raizo in the also awful, but awful in an amusing way, Ninja Assassin. I would hope you’ve, at the very least, seen his absolutely hilariously dance-off with Steven Colbert, but if not see it here.
I would argue these appearances make Rain, by far, the most successful South Korean star to enter Western entertainment. I also believe, probably more than any other star, 비 has also been the most successful branching out in different areas of South Korean media and that said I can say I am a fan of his work. First off, he’s an absolutely incredible dancer (I would rank him right up with Michael Jackson in his prime) and very engaging as an actor. I would recommend any Korean drama newbies to watch Full House (풀하우스), really a staple of the genre and what took Rain from a popular singer to megastar status. Finally, I would literally kill for those abs (and guys out there, be honest with yourself, you would too).
It’s an unfortunate reality for 대한민국-born male musicians, TV/movie stars and athletes that they will lose almost two years of their prime to their countries mandatory military service. The news is always right on top of whoever is enlisted, such as 현빈 who immediately following his big star break on Secret Garden not only began his service, but signed up for the ROK Marines (which means an extra three months and infinitely more hazing and beat downs). Even bigger are the stories of those who try to get around it, like rapper MC Mong who may or may not have had his own teeth intentionally pulled. The biggest names get hero’s welcomes when they return, but undoubtedly mandatory service has hampered or outright derailed a large number of careers (not only for stars).
Personally, I’m of two minds on the subject of mandatory military service and could easily do a whole post outlining my views on it. I understand that the unique situation of South Korea pretty much requires the military man-power that only mandatory military service can provide and while you don’t want to be giving preferential treatment, it also seems a waste to have the most talented young men in your society lose two years of their careers. There are already exceptions to the rules, such as gold medal winners from the Olympic and Asian Games and professional footballers can possibly serve their time playing for Sangju Sangmu Phoenix, a K-League side ran by the military, so it would seem to me that other options should exist for exceptional people in all fields. It does become a slippery slope for who would qualify and who doesn’t though, so I understand the difficulties. Anyways, I will end by wishing Rain (and all those serving in the military forces here in Korea) the best and hope for a safe and successful return to the entertainment soon.