Witty cast of Running Man not allowed to answer spontaneous questions at press event

Cast members of popular Korean variety show Running Man, (from left) Jee Seok Jin, Kim Jong Kook, Song Ji Hyo, Lee Kwang Soo and Haha (Ha Dong Hoon), at a media conference held prior to a fan meeting in Singapore. -- ST PHOTO: MELISSA HENG
Cast members of popular Korean variety show Running Man, (from left) Jee Seok Jin, Kim Jong Kook, Song Ji Hyo, Lee Kwang Soo and Haha (Ha Dong Hoon), at a media conference held prior to a fan meeting in Singapore. -- ST PHOTO: MELISSA HENG

South Korean variety TV show Running Man is extremely popular across Asia because of its cast, whose seven members are witty, charming, spontaneous and unpredictable in all kinds of situations.

Yet organisers of the show's Singapore press conference and subsequent small-group interviews were quick to squash those very qualities, micro-managing and controlling every bit of the events as closely as they could, as if the cast members were nothing more than young children unable to fend for themselves.

In town this weekend for a fan meet are Running Man's Song Ji Hyo, Haha, Kim Jong Kook, Lee Kwang Soo and Ji Suk Jin.

Long before the press conference kicked off at Pan Pacific Hotel on Friday evening, members of the media were asked to submit a list of questions for vetting. While this is quite common for most South Korean celebrity interviews, the exercise this time also came with several restrictions.

The usual clauses forbidding questions on their personal life and romantic relationships are understandable.

But the organisers also stipulated that no questions would be allowed of anyone about their "co-stars' physical appearance". Neither would questions on "their positioning and "ranking or comparison with other members" be entertained. This was unexpected, given that the entire show is, in fact, a fun-spirited competition between all the members, who actually make fun of one another's physical appearance.

After submitting five questions for vetting, the management approved only one for The Straits Times for the press conference and five for the subsequent small group interviews.

At the small-group interview The Straits Times had with Kim, the Singapore minder also stopped this reporter whenever a question was not on the pre-approved list - even when Kim himself was more than happy to answer it.

When The Straits Times asked him how much longer he would like to continue being on Running Man, which has been airing since 2010, the 38-year-old host-singer readily started answering the question in fluent English: "Yes, a long time - 10, 20 years..."

Then the Singapore minder intervened, saying that the question was not allowed because it was not on the list of approved queries.

Another newspaper reporter was in the midst of asking her approved question, except that she wanted to explain the context of it, so she started giving her question a preamble. But the minder did not allow this, telling the reporter, "No, this should be your question."

The minders' inflexibility is a huge pity, given how much fun the stars themselves seemed to be having at the press conference.

When asked if any of them treat Lee, 29, differently now that he is an Excellence Award (Actor) winner for the drama It's Okay, That's Love (2014), Kim immediately piped up and said with a grin: "Oh, Kwang Soo is super cocky now."

Haha, 35, said in Korean that he can no longer eat at the same table with Lee, because "his shoulders are higher now". He added: "Now, there are probably a lot more people following Kwang Soo around - you know, five extra people doing his hair, and five extra people doing his make-up."

He and Song, 33, then pretended to wait on him, and Lee played along, looking haughty as if he were a king.

Kim then said: "Nah, don't worry, Kwang Soo is still the same guy. We're just joking."

If only the event minders had the same sense of humour.