Monday, April 25, 2016

Behind the Smiles: An Honest Look at Running Man

Running Man is approaching their landmark 300th episode soon, but after 6 years on air, the ratings haven't exactly been kind. Many have pointed out that this slump in both ratings and the quality is due to that fact that Running Man has lost its spark. In the few episodes since Taek PD left, there have been complaints that Running Man is no longer as exciting or as "athletic" as before. There are a whole lot more talking than doing actual running.

I believe that Running Man is slowly, but surely reinventing the cast and the show to bring about a sense of newness. This is a change that is inevitable, a much needed revamp in either the format of the show, or the reinvention of the roles that each member plays. 

Many times, we do not see what happens behind the camera; especially the personal struggles faced by each member of the cast. In every episode, the members entertain us, putting on a smile as they go through each of the missions to bring about laughs. Episode 295 was an eye opener, not only for me but also for the fans of Running Man. The frank and open thoughts expressed by the members about their age, their declining strength to partake in the more challenging missions, really gave an insight into the world of Running Man and how it operates behind the camera.

Episode 295 also pointed out the many, many times that each member considered quitting the show at one point of time. Song Ji-hyo considered quitting because she felt left out.

Ji Suk-jin considered quitting because he felt he was too weak.

Gary considered quitting because he felt lost over his direction. Even Kim Jong-kook considered quitting because of the enormous strain it was causing for his personal health. If any of these members quit the show, would we have seen the hilarity of Go Straight Gary, the tenderness of the Monday Couple, the Race Starter at his best, or even the amazingness of Ace Ji-hyo?

The answer is no.

Kim Jong-kook's thoughts during the episode were perhaps the most telling one of all. His role on the show is to always be ostracized by the other members; the bad guy, the villain that everyone bands around to oust. This, coupled with his growing muscle and back problems that comes with age, led him to doubt his own abilities and role on the show. The bar was set too high for the Commander, and while he managed to avoid a complete breakdown, it was still a huge burden for him to shoulder.

For Kim Jong-kook, his role on the show has always been the capable Commander. But somewhere along the line, he also became the anti-hero character that all the members and guests try to band together to defeat.

You wouldn't have noticed it on the show because of the way he carries himself, but Jong-kook has mentioned frankly that its a role that may not net him as many fans. He's the member that people love to hate, and that in itself is a huge burden. Yet, he crinkles his eyes and puts on his brightest smile on every episode for the viewers, even though they don't see his turmoil.

Running Man needs to change. Some people say that the new format is boring, stale and "not as exciting as the past". But as the years roll on by, we as the fans have to accept that the members have grown old and make more realistic demands for the show. Kim Jong-kook may look young, but he's already touching 40 years old. Suk-jin, the oldest member, is going to be 50 years old this year! The other members aren't much younger as well. Sure, they could have rumbled and ripped nametags in a flash when they were 6 years younger, but you surely cannot expect a 50 year old ajusshi to be standing toe to toe against the young idol guests.

Yoo Jae-suk, the Nation's MC, probably put it best. "You can't play on the same part of the playground all the time'.

Running Man is trying its hardest to come up with new things every week. It's not easy. There's coordination, planning, logistics, name it. Yes, there will be haters, dissenters, people who try to bring negativity to the members even as they work their hardest to bring out the laughter. But as long as Running Man is willing to try their best, I'm willing to lay down my full support for the show I've been following for the better part of four years.

As much as I wouldn't like the show to end, change is inevitable. One day, the Running Man members will be unable to continue on with the show. There will be an end eventually, and we should all be prepared for that possibility. If Running Man were to end, I would prefer it if the show ends trying its best to be what it can be rather than pretending to be what it cannot be any longer.

For now, as fans of Running Man, we should all stand behind the new PDs and the staffs and the seven Running Man members as they continue to bring us more happiness every week. The ratings might be at its lowest but if we continue to support them whole heartedly, I believe that Running Man will continue to surprise us for many more episodes to come.

What do you think? Leave a comment below with your own thoughts, or maybe even a wish for the future of Running Man.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Buggers Travel Taiwan 2016: The Skinny

Every year or so, me and my bestest buddies in the world, collectively known as the Buggers, will sit down in front of a map and blindly point at a random spot. In 2012, we flew to the Land of the Morning Calm; Seoul, Korea. In 2013, our fingers landed on Bangkok, the City of Angels. In 2014, we jetted off to The Land of the Rising Sun, Japan. 2015 was sort of a break time for all of us, but we still managed to witness Bugger Seah propose in Langkawi. Then, adult life took over; with a healthy juggle of work, love, commitments.

It was a very strange time for us. 

But this year, after almost 9 months of planning prior, the Buggers gathered together to travel again. This time, we were joined by the entire gang; something unprecedented in the history of our travels. For the first time ever, all five of us Buggers were travelling together, bringing along all their significant others as well. 

So with a motley group of 8, we traversed Taiwan with the gusto that only the Buggers could bring. If you've been following my social media postings, you may have gotten a tinge of what happened in Taiwan. And man, I can tell you, it was amazing. It was like something out of a Taiwanese coming-of-age movie, which I do believe it was because of the underlying themes of growing up and entering adulthood prevalent in our group.

Man, that was deep. Is this the tendrils of adulthood clutching at my chest?

I digress. As with all my other travel blog posts, I will start with a skinny post, both in reference to my skinny frame and my laziness to write more than 200 words. So yeah, WARNING: Picture deluge ahead. 

We arrived in Taiwan just off the back of a week's worth of rainfall. The weather was amazingly cooling, and more often than not, we had to put on a few more layers than usual.

Of course, with the weather comes a kind of fashion that we cannot pull off in the hot Malaysian weather. So it was basically 8 days of mixing and matching the best outfit that also helps to keep us warm. 

The food was fantastic.

You know everything they told you about Taiwanese snacks? It's all true. We literally ate our way through Taiwan, trying out almost all of the delicacies available on offer.

We had Taiwanese hot pot (perfect for the cold weather), a BBQ meat and seafood buffet (perfect for everything),

and all the Taiwanese delicacies you could find at the night markets.

The most prevalent street food ever.

My personal favorite was everything I ever ate there.

My face says it all.

The sights were something to behold as well. From the narrow alleys of Jiufen, also known as the place that inspired the designs of Spirited Away,

to the rolling lavender fields of Xinshe,

the hopeful train tracks of Shifen,

the tranquil forests of Alisan,

and the bustling night market scene,

Taiwan was amazingly picturesque. It was like being in a postcard; y'know, if postcards included a bunch of Buggers all vying for the camera.

Speaking of cameras, all of us spent the majority of our pictures trying to look away from the camera. It was because we wanted to be cool and hipster.

"Everyone look there!"

The 不望镜头 format of our pictures (there were plenty) was so carefully planned, that we probably looked like a huge group of celebrities to passers-by. But it was, on hindsight, something very silly to do.

Shopping played another huge part in the trip. From the hip and happening Ximending Square, to the nooks and crannies of the Shilin night market, there was something to buy all the time.

 Although, it must be age catching up with me, because I found none of the fashion sense appealing at all. It was all too; and I hardly get to say this word often without it sounding condescending, childish for me.

Pictured: Condescendingly childish.

So yes, that was basically my Taiwan trip in a skinny, low-fat post. I'll be feeding it and fleshing out the rest of my Taiwan trip in future blog posts, y'know, once I manage to find some time to do so.


Monday, April 11, 2016

5 Best Song Joong-ki Moments on Running Man

As the lead for one of the hottest K-Dramas airing now, Song Joong-ki has come a long way since his pretty boy days on Running Man. His turn as the self assured romantic soldier Yoo Si-jin in Descendants of the Sun has made him one of the most sought after actors now. On Running Man, he was given the role of a Flower Boy, a genius and an overactive youngster; roles he played to perfection in his short stint on the show.

His schedule, which included acting in films and dramas as well as the long gruelling hours of filming for Running Man took a toll on him. So in episode 41, he put on his nametag for the final time as he made his decision to quit the show to focus on his acting career. After seeing his success in both films (Wolf Boy) and dramas (Sungkyunkwan Scandal, Nice Guy, Descendants of the Sun), it's not a bad decision at all.

So why not take a looooong trip back down memory lane and look at some of Joong-ki's best moments on Running Man, from the time he first appeared on the rainy set to his sad farewell.

Ep 15: Kissing Noona

There's a reason why Joong-ki has managed to woo Song Hye-kyo on Descendants of the Sun. He's been doing it to Ji-hyo since the Running Man days. Joong-ki's confession on the train, with classic lines like: "I want to become the guy who understands Noona the most" and "I won't call you Noona from now on. Can I call you "you" instead?" and his subsequent "whisper" and surprise peck on the cheek would be enough to melt any woman.


Ep 22: Bait and Switch

Joong-ki's main variety character was the Brain, the smart one among the members. So when he was faced with the prospect of tricking Kim Min-jong in an "acting competition", he relishes the opportunity and uses his quick wittedness to change his shirt right in front of the person he's supposed to trick. Moments before, he had also saved Song Ji-hyo from the "thuggery" of Gary and Kim Jong-kook, AND flirted with amazing ease.

What can this guy NOT do?

Ep 66: Waking Up Prince Charming

Joong-ki's first guest appearance on the show, a few months after he left, was rather surprising to the members, and especially to Kim Sun-ah who was expecting the other guest Joo-won. The wake up mission was amazingly executed as well, with Kwang-soo pushing his best friend's head down underwater to speed up the mission.

What struck out in this episode was how well Joong-ki just blended back into the Running Man family despite already having left the show.

Ep 283: Dressing Room Reunion

There is nothing more touching than an emotional reunion between a former member with the current members. To see Joong-ki interacting so warmly with the rest of the members; including joking around with Jae-suk, and even touching his Noona's face affectionately, is legit an exciting moment for the fans.

Ep 41: Joong-ki's Promise

Joong-ki's farewell is possibly one of the most heartwarming moments on the show to date. His emotional breakdown as he said his farewells to the show that had nurtured him for the better part of 10 months, and the close relationship that had formed between him and the members were all shown out in this episode.

It's especially hard to see him say he'll come back to the show when "he's in a better condition". You're in a good condition now Joong-ki. Come back on the show please.

Watch the video here:

Which one of these Joong-ki moments on Running Man did you enjoy the most? Leave a comment below!

Don't forget to catch Descendants of the Sun on DramaFever here, with new episodes every Wednesday and Thursday.