Playing cat and mouse

Playing cat and mouse

Why is the South Korean TV show Running Man so successful across Asia? A co-host and top competitor shares some of the secrets with John Kang

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Ji Suk-jin, Haha, Kim Jong-kook and Gary are proving popular hosts of Running Man.
Ji Suk-jin, Haha, Kim Jong-kook and Gary are proving popular hosts of Running Man.
Photo: Jonathan Wong/SCMP
To give you an idea of how popular the South Korean television show Running Man is, when four members of the cast came to AsiaWorld-Expo on July 13 for a concert and to meet fans, they filled the place from wall to wall with screaming supporters.

If you're unfamiliar with the show, which is broadcast across Asia, it's basically a variety show combined with games played at various international venues. The regular cast includes actors, singers and comedians. Yoo Jae-suk is the main presenter and organiser of the show's regular competition held between two teams. Running Man has never failed to create a few laughs, which is why it has won SBS Viewers' Most Popular Programme Awards for the past two years.

The four cast members - Ji Suk-jin, Haha, Kim Jong-kook and Gary - joined together to go on the show's first tour to neighbouring Asian countries to meet their fans. The concert at AsiaWorld-Expo displayed the chemistry among the cast members, which is one reason for the programme's popularity in South Korea's ultra-competitive industry.

The singing cast members got a chance to do some songs and they played competitive puzzle-solving games.

The biggest and perhaps the best player on the show is Kim, 37, also known by the nicknames "Sparta-Kooks" and "Commander", among others. When you get to meet him in person, the first impression is of his physical presence. He's buff, almost to the point of being a bodybuilder, but that's not all there is to him. In the cat-and-mouse game often featured on the show, the object is for one team to find assigned items at the landmark where the show is being shot, before members of the other team catch them and rip their nametags off their backs. Kim is often the last member of the pursuit team still playing, so there are some brains with that brawn. Also, he came into the South Korean entertainment industry as a pop singer before switching to ballads and winning three awards in that genre.

He's been to Hong Kong before, to record episodes 72 and 73, so where would he like to play the cat-and-mouse game?

"Hong Kong has so many beautiful places, so it's really hard to pick just one," he replies in his trademark soft voice. "I really wanted to film at Langham Place, because we were originally supposed to play there. But because there were so many fans - which I was pleasantly surprised by - we could not film because there was a risk of the venue becoming overcrowded."

He admits that, because being the last player in the game can be tiring, he is tempted to take a dive.

"Sometimes I think that, especially if the mission is too hard, all the other members want to get out quickly so they can rest," he says.

But he can't give in. His fans would never believe he couldn't handle the physical challenge. "My image ... is being buff, so I do always try to meet the standard portrayed, so I work out," he says.

And as long as Kim stays in shape, the question of leaving the business hasn't even entered his mind: "I have some obligation to keep physically fit, but I can't simply pick a date now and decide when to retire."


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- Magic and spirits clash with church authorities over control of a sword in the anime TV series Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East (Hakkenden Touhou Hakken Ibunin in Japanese).

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