The Korea Herald


South Korean celebrities grilled over drug use

Entertainment industry anxious over fallout from stars' drug scandals

By Lee Si-jin

Published : Oct. 26, 2023 - 15:33

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After yet another Korean star came under investigation for suspected drug use, the South Korean entertainment industry is feeling increasingly anxious over the possible fallout from multiple entertainment personalities being investigated for suspected drug use.

Rapper G-Dragon, the leader of Big Bang whose real name is Kwon Ji-yong, was booked without detention Wednesday for suspected violation of the Narcotics Control Act, making him the latest celebrity to be investigated for illegal drug use following actors Lee Sun-kyun and Yoo Ah-in.

“I believe not a lot of people expected to see Lee in the news with room salons and drug use. It is his personal life. But I think some of the staff are worried about the possibility of the stars being arrested on drug-related charges," a production company official told The Korea Herald on Thursday.

Another entertainment industry insider, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke of fast-growing concerns and the possibility that the latest cases may not be the last.

“TV stars involved in drug-related arrests are not new, but the numbers evidently have grown over the last several years,” the insider said. "I also see such incidents as alarming situations."

The country was startled by media reports Monday evening of the booking of Lee, 48, on suspicions of the illegal use of drugs. It was especially shocking after Yoo had been booked without detention for drug charges on Oct. 19. The first court hearing for Yoo's case is scheduled for Nov. 14.

Lee Sun-kyun (Hodu&U Entertainment) Lee Sun-kyun (Hodu&U Entertainment)

Lee, part of the ensemble of the Oscar-winning "Parasite," is reported to have used unspecified illicit substances at "room salons" and homes in southern Seoul’s Gangnam area on several occasions this year.

Lee was one of eight people under investigation concurrently. Others include former K-pop trainee Han Seo-hee and Hwang Ha-na, the granddaughter of the founder of Namyang Dairy Products.

Meanwhile, Incheon Metropolitan Police announced on Thursday that it has booked without detection a doctor who is alleged to have provided free drugs to both Lee and Kwon. Police said the doctor's motive for providing free drugs remains unknown.

Earlier, the Incheon Metropolitan Police, which is investigating Lee and Kwon, had said that the two cases were unrelated.

Kwon was at a center of drug scandal in 2011, in which he admitted to the use of marijuana at a club in Japan. Prosecutors dropped the case.

Kwon Ji-yong (Herald DB) Kwon Ji-yong (Herald DB)
Yoo Ah-in (UAA) Yoo Ah-in (UAA)

With multiple drug-related investigations of actors and musicians this year, tensions are running high across various business sectors.

Local retail companies rushed to cut ties with Yoo after the actor was grilled over illegal use of propofol, terminating brand model contracts with the movie and television star in the first half of this year.

Netflix’s hit dystopian series “Hellbound,” which was scheduled to shoot its second season with Yoo in June, replaced him with Kim Sung-cheol. The release date of another Netflix series starring Yoo, “Goodbye Earth,” was also adjusted after the investigation began.

Lee dropped out from the new mystery thriller series “No Way Out,” which was set to start shooting this month.

SK Telecom, SK Broadband and health and functional food brand CellMed erased the actor from their ads as well.

"The laws governing narcotics-related matters are strict. However, lenient Korean viewers and fans may be responsible for the multiple drug-related charges of TV stars as well. There are a number of celebrities, like T.O.P of Big Bang, Ju Ji-hoon and Ha Jung-woo, who returned to the screens after a few years of silence. And the public reacts as if nothing has happened if their comeback is successful,” one person commented in the local online community FMKorea.

“Korea needs to take stricter measures against drug abuse,” the online commenter added.