SINGAPORE - They are no K-pop stars, but the cast of Korean game show Running Man attracted throngs of fans when they were here. Life! looks at four reasons for the show's success
Another wave of Korean mania swept through Singapore recently.
Last Saturday, thousands of fans thronged Jurong Point shopping mall in the hope of catching a glimpse of their idols. The supporters eagerly flashed their handmade signs and banners and screamed their lungs out. At the packed autograph session, some fans fainted while other dehydrated ones had to be taken to the side and given water.
It is the kind of ardour people have already come to expect of fans whenever South Korean pop stars and movie idols come to town. But this time, the passion was for cast members of the Korean variety show Running Man.
Variety shows have almost never inspired the same kind of fanaticism Running Man has for its cast regulars. Not even Simon Cowell could have induced a similar stampede if he had come here during the heyday of American Idol, when he was still the star judge.
Running Man debuted in 2010. The cast members and the occasional celebrity guests undertake various physical and mental challenges known as "missions", which take them to all kinds of places, from a playground to a rice paddy field.
Since it started airing, the show has quickly become massively popular in South Korea and beyond, including Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Brunei.
In South Korea, it is broadcast on the Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) network every Sunday, and is reportedly watched by at least 12 per cent of viewers in the country.
Even if the show is not aired on local TV outside of South Korea, many viewers take to the Internet to catch the show, where diehard fans share the content and voluntarily translate the subtitles for their countrymen.
Foreign production companies have also created variety game shows that are inspired by the mechanics of Running Man, such as this year's Taiwanese show Champion Mission and Singapore's very own Finding U, now showing on Channel U on Tuesdays at 8pm.
When the show was filmed in Hanoi, Vietnam, thousands of local fans welcomed the Running Man cast at the airport, before following them to their various challenges around the city.
While Running Man has not brought its missions to Singapore, its regulars have been here.
In February this year, Kim Jong Kook's fan meet drew more than 1,500 fans, and Lee Kwang Soo's fan meet in August had 1,300 participants. Tickets to both events cost from $68 to $198.
A fan group here known as @-RunningManSG has more than 13,000 followers on Twitter.
Some fans discovered the show after watching an episode featuring their favourite celebrity guest, while others heard about the show from word of mouth.
Last week, five of the seven cast members were in town to hold an autograph session at the mall and then attended a sold-out fan meet at the Expo the same night for more than 3,000 people paying between $158 and $248.
Taking centre stage were Ji Suk Jin, 47; Haha (real name Ha Dong Hoon), 34; Gary (real name Kang Hee Gun), 35; Kim, 37; and sole female member Song Ji Hyo, 32.
Missing were Yoo Jae Suk, 41, and Lee, 28, who could not attend due to filming commitments.
Just how did a variety show become such a big deal? Even at its peak, the popular American game show The Amazing Race did not attract such passionate fans when it was filmed here in 2009.
Says assistant professor Liew Kai Khiun, who teaches at Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information: "Unlike the unpleasant stand-offs and the heated tensions in Western reality TV shows such as Survivor and Big Brother, the rather light-hearted competition of Running Man offers Asian workers and students behind their computers a sense of companionship and fraternity."
Local fans and TV experts say they love Running Man because of its unpredictability, celebrity star power, cast chemistry and comedy.
Running Man airs on Channel One (StarHub TV Channel 124, 820, 823, 876; SingTel mio TV Channel 513, 604) on Fridays at 11.45pm.
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