“Running Man (런닝맨)”

Running Man

By Jae-Ha Kim
jaehakim.com
October 1, 2016

3 stars

Yoo Jae-Suk (aka Yoo-ames Bond, Yoo-rce Willis, Grasshopper)
Song Joong-Ki (aka Brain/Active Young Man)
Song Ji-Hyo (aka Ace, Mung Ji-Hyo, Blank Ji)
Kim Jong-Kook (aka Sparta, Commander)
Ji Suk-Jin (aka Big Nose Hyung)
Lee Kwang-Su (aka Giraffe)
Gary (aka Peaceful Gary)
Ha Ha (aka Hararo)

To many Westerners, Yoo Jae-Suk is the guy in the yellow suit in PSY‘s video for “Gangnam Style.” To be honest, I didn’t recognize him right away and told my husband that he must be a K-Pop star, since he danced so well.

yoo-jae-suk

Yoo is actually Korea’s most famous comedian and the host of the popular weekly variety show, “Running Man.” It is a show that I am addicted to, because it never fails to make me laugh out loud.

In each episode, the cast members compete with (and against) celebrities such as actors Kim Soo-Hyun, So Ji-Sub and Park Shin-Hye) or members of popular K-Pop groups like Big Bang, Girls Generation and 2PM.

The show’s combination of slapstick humor and witty banter make it a fun viewing experience, even for those who don’t understand Korean. For instance, there is a recurring game where participants will stand in front of mike stands that are rigged to blast air in their faces if they answer incorrectly. My son, now 8, has no comprehension of what’s being asked, but he will seek out these episodes to watch the slo-motion expressions on the cast members faces when they are “punished.”

Even though the regulars are most likely contractually obligated to fawn over all the guests — especially the pretty starlets — the show’s format is a great equalizer. The most debonair actor looks more like the average guy next door after his shirt is drenched in sweat. The most beautiful K-Pop star will look ridiculous in some of the uniforms they are forced to wear. Their coiffed hair will get dunked in ice water, their makeup will fade and their inability to answer simple quiz questions will be mocked — all in the name of good fun.

When we were in Korea, we saw this cutout touting the show. The spot where my son is in was once occupied by actor Song Joong-Ki, who was a cast member for the first 41 episodes. He left in 2012, due to his burgeoning acting career, which would culminate (as of this writing) in 2016’s hit series, “Descendants of the Sun.”

kyle_running-man

When he was a regular on the show, Song and Lee Kwang-Soo (his real-life best friend) were pitted against each other: Song as the smart, handsome young actor, and Lee as the tall, gangly and awkward wannabe. (Song made sure Lee got a cameo in “Descendants of the Sun.”)

Though Lee has built a career out of the bumbling version of himself that he portrays on the show, it is sometimes uncomfortable to watch when the guest stars jump in on mistreating him. For instance, soccer star Park Ji-Sung greeted everyone warmly with a hug, but when it came to Lee’s turn, Park pushed him out of the way.

This is played for laughs, of course, but this is how bullying plays out in real life. On some episodes, even some of the children spectators join in on “hitting” him. When is it ever acceptable for kids to do that to an adult? It reminded me of Kim Soo-Hyun’s role in “Secretly Greatly,” where his character pretended to be mentally challenged. The neighborhood kids took that as a license to throw rocks at him and call him cruel names.

Children soak up what adults do and what they see on television. In the 101st episode (that aired on July 12, 2012), the cast members ran into young fans while filming. They asked one of the kindergarten-aged children if he recognized Kwang-Soo. The child did. He referred to Lee as “babo ajusshi” (stupid man).

That said, the others aren’t immune to being made the butt of jokes, either. Everyone’s picked apart (rail-thin Ji-Hyo lying about her weight, Ha Ha’s height, Gary’s lack of intelligence, Suk-Jin’s physical weakness, Jae-Suk’s creepy face when he takes off his glasses, Jong-Kook’s obsession with the gym etc.).

And when they have older female guests (i.e. in their late 30s and up), the male cast members — who currently range in age from 31 to 50 — go to extreme measures to try to not be paired up with them for that day’s competition.

Conversely, it’s a little unsettling how enthusiastic they get when their guests are teenagers. Miss A singer Suzy Bae (“Dream High“) was just 17 during her first guest appearance. The youngest cast member was Kwang-Soo, who was 27 at the time. When gags included flirting nonstop or giving her piggyback rides, there was a bit of the dirty old man vibe going on.

All that aside, the thing I enjoy the most about the show is the camaraderie between the cast members. One of the running gags is the onscreen relationship between Ji-Hyo and Gary. Haha dubbed them as the “Monday Couple,” because they film the show on Mondays and are usually paired together. They share such good chemistry that many fans wish they would couple up in real life.

Here’s one of my favorite episodes of “Running Man,” when Kim Soo-Hyun appeared to promote his 2013 film “Secretly, Greatly“:

@2016 Jae-Ha Kim | All Rights Reserved

Comments (13)

  1. Robin says:

    I, too, love Running Man. But I couldn’t enjoy it week after week if I didn’t know that the members all truly love and respect each other in real life. It bothers me to see all the negative ribbing, and often wonder if it isn’t just my Western mind that cannot enjoy that type of teasing– mainly because I’m sensitive to bullying: anything that even slightly resembles bullying bothers me- a lot.

    I’ve watched RM since its first episode and understand that their ratings have dropped. There are even complaints that the games have changed too much and there isn’t enough “running” to the show. The members are all aging, and I’ve even watched an interview with Kim Jong Kook who said that even though he is in really good shape, the running/physical aspect is getting harder for him – especially because of the fan’s expectations.

    I kind of dread when this show will come to an end, because I selfishly want these people to stay together in order for them to “visit” my life each week.

    Now I’m off to finish watching the episode that you have linked. It was a good one!

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      I agree. I just watched an episode from 2013 with baseball player Ryu Hyun-Jin. They were calling him Chubby as a nickname throughout the show, and it didn’t sound mean-spirited. That said, the word for chubby is much more mild that the word for fat… But I also remember watching them making fun of an older actress’ weight, because she was clearly heavier than Ji-Hyo …. but she wasn’t fat by any means. They were all laughing about it. They make fun of Suk-Jin’s age, cackle about how ugly Jae-Suk is (especially without his glasses)… they’re pretty much even about insulting each other. 😛 But the mistreatment of Kwang-Soo extends to the public… where they feel OK telling him he’s a fool. (That said, he has one of the strongest fan bases in Korea and Asia, which is why they refer to him as the Asian Prince.)

      Now, I also remember an interview with So Ji-Sub — they were interacting with the crowd gathered outside, and a young girl (maybe late teens) had her face partially obscured and So asked her to remove her hoodie (or scarf or whatever it was). And when she did, he told her to put it back on — the implication being that she wasn’t attractive enough — and everyone laughed. That must’ve embarrassed the poor girl. It’s one thing to behave that way with fellow celebrities — when they’re “in” on the joke. But to fans — especially young fans … I don’t like that at all.

  2. It’s global =( Monkey see Monkey do. By the way I LOVE Lee Kwang Soo!

  3. Kristen Geyer says:

    I love Lee Kwang Soo and he good heartedly takes all of the jibes at him. Running Man is in my opinion one of the best shows on television and I’m slightly obsessed with it. My understanding of Korean culture is they are very blunt and have no qualms about commenting on your physical appearance. I may be wrong as I’ve never lived there. I admit in my group of friends we make fun of each other and ourselves. I’m not an advocate of bullying but I’m not very PC either amongst my friends and I feel like they are all close enough on the show to cross some lines. I do agree though – hitting and throwing rocks is definitely crossing the line.

  4. Jae-Ha Kim says:

    This past winter, there was a bit of drama surrounding the Korean series, “런닝맨 RunningMan.” The producers, apparently, were set to fire two of its long-time cast members (Song JiHyo and Kim JongKook). Song, apparently, heard about it when it was reported on the news. There was a huge public outcry, with fans outraged at how the pair were treated. The showrunner and network released statements saying that Song and Kim would remain on the series, but that they all decided together as a team to end the series in February 2017. That wasn’t surprising, because the show’s ratings had been sinking.
    But here’s the thing: The series didn’t end last month. The network released another statement saying that due to the popularity of the series, it would remain on the air.
    That is what I had predicted all along. It is more likely that in order to offset the sinking ratings, they plotted this drama to increase interest in the show.
    Or not. 🙂 But that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it. Happy Friday, everyone!

    • If they did, they pulled it on JiHyo and JungKook, too. I’m really happy it’s still around. 🙂

      • Jae-Ha Kim says:

        In my conspiracy theory addled mind, I think JiHyo and Sparta were in on it, too, as was Yoo Jae-Suk. I find it hard to believe that the series would fire the former two without Yoo Jae-Suk’s input. The latter is the star of the show and the reason many people tune in every week. And I doubt that he would’ve agreed to fire JiHyo and JongKook. That’s why when all the news was buzzing around, I somehow thought that this was all a publicity stunt.

        • Jessica Walker Daniel says:

          lol… I think I like your conspiracy addled mind. 😂😂😂😂 Just seemed to me that JiHyo’s distress was real….

    • Kristen Geyer says:

      I had similar thoughts too. I can’t imagine professionally the producers would let that information slip out if it were true. JongKook and JiHyo are both popular and I can’t imagine the show without them.

  5. Kathy Hewett Tsudama says:

    All I know is when I’m in a funk I just watch an episode of Running Man and I’m all good. =)

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