Lee Sun-kyun booked for questioning, Korean film industry braces for impact

Actor Lee Sun-kyun, who has been booked by the police for questioning regarding illegal drug use Monday, poses for a photo during the Cannes International Film Festival at Cannes, France, on May 21. [NEWS1]

Allegations of "Parasite" (2019) actor Lee Sun-kyun's illegal drug use has the film industry on high alert, with possible boycotts against his upcoming film shoots still in the air as Lee gets summoned for questioning.

News broke last Friday that a high-profile actor surnamed "L" was involved in an illegal drug use case, currently under internal investigation by the Incheon Police Agency. Rumors quickly circulated that it was Lee, the 48-year-old actor famed for his roles in multiple Korean films and dramas, such as "All About My Wife" (2012), "A Hard Day" (2014), "My Mister" (2018), "Kingmaker" (2022) and "Parasite."

The police confirmed Monday evening that they had booked Lee for questioning in relation to a drug case. On Friday, Lee's agency Hodu&U Entertainment had only said that Lee "will diligently comply with any investigations," without further acknowledging the details of the rumors.

Lee’s lawyer, in a phone call with the Korea JoongAng Daily earlier Monday, said, “The media reports pouring out right now that speculate that Lee is closely connected with chaebol scions’ and young aspiring actors’ drug use is not true.”

Lee will soon be summoned by the Incheon Police Agency for questioning, according to the police Monday. Two other people have been booked for questioning in relation to the same case, with five others being internally investigated.

The film industry is already on high alert and getting itself prepared for impact. Korea, highly conservative when it comes to crimes involving illegal drugs, has seen multiple actors and singers boycotted after being accused of such crimes, as in the cases of Yoo Ah-in, Nam Tae-hyun and Don Spike.

Boycotts surrounding actors found to have been involved in drug use have led to films, for which billions of won were spent to make, being dropped altogether, leading to huge losses for production companies and streaming services, such as Netflix in the case of Yoo Ah-in.

″Parasite″ director Bong Joon-ho arrives with cast members Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, third from left, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-Shik, Park So-Dam, Chang Hyae-Jin and Lee Jung-Eun at the 72nd Cannes International Film Festival on May 22, 2

Lee has four upcoming projects lined up — two films, “Project Silence” and “The Land of Happiness,” and two dramas, “No Way Out” and the second season of Apple TV original series “Dr. Brain.” The official release dates of these works may have to be pushed, should his involvement with the drug case become more apparent.

“Project Silence” and “The Land of Happiness” have already wrapped up filming, with the former even having been screened at this year’s Cannes International Film Festival, receiving a standing ovation. “Project Silence” was produced by CJ ENM Studios and reportedly took 20 billion won ($14.8 million) to make. CJ ENM is also distributing the film.

“We are seriously discussing this issue internally,” a spokesperson for CJ ENM said. “It is a very pressing issue, and we are watching the progress of what is happening with the investigation. We have not yet reached a point of starting discussions for the release date of ‘Project Silence,’ and will respond when more details are made public by the police.”

The distributor of “The Land of Happiness,” Next Entertainment World, responded similarly, saying “the film is in the post-production stage, and we have yet to discuss release dates” and that the company is “closely watching the results of the police investigation.”

“No Way Out,” a drama series produced by Studio X+U and Twin Films, is trying to dodge the bullet completely by dropping Lee from the initial cast.

“The script for ‘No Way Out’ is already being handed over to other actors who could potentially be cast,” an entertainment industry insider said on the condition of anonymity. “The overall sentiment shared by the film and drama producers is that we cannot risk going forward with a cast member who has been embroiled in this kind of scandal.”

Season two of Apple TV’s original series “Dr. Brain" is also likely to face difficulties, as Lee is the lead actor in the series. Neither production company Kakao Entertainment nor Apple TV could be reached for comments on the matter as of Monday evening.

As the film industry responds to Lee’s possible involvement in the drug case, the advertising industry at large has already made quick decisions to slash the actor from various advertisements and promotions. SK Telecom and SK Broadband, which had Lee and his spouse and fellow actor Jeon Hye-jin as the faces of their broadband service for children under 12, have deleted their content and videos of the star from various platforms. CellMed, a pharmaceutical company, also deleted their advertisement video featuring Lee.