They were five rookie actors cast to play five ordinary teens in Reply 1988, the 2015 K-drama depicting life in a sleepy Seoul neighbourhood in the 1980s.
The gang of five comprises bumbling genius Choi Taek (Park Bo Gum), A-star student Sung Sun Woo (Ko Kyung Pyo), resident joker Ryu Dong Ryong (Lee Dong Hwi), underachieving middle child Sung Duk Seon (Lee Hye Ri) and soft-hearted grouch Kim Jung Hwan (Ryu Jun Yeol).
The nostalgic drama was an instant ratings hit in South Korea. Now the alumni of Reply 1988 have gone on to bigger things. They are headlining prime-time K-dramas, scoring commercial deals and travelling abroad to meet foreign fans.
The Straits Times speaks to three of the Reply 1988 graduates, Park, who will be holding a fan meet here next month, Lee Dong Hwi and Ko.
BOOK IT / 2016-2017 PARK BOGUM ASIA TOUR FAN MEETING IN SINGAPORE
WHERE: The Star Theatre, 04-01 The Star Performing Arts Centre, 1 Vista Exchange Green
WHEN: Feb 18, 6pm (doors open at 5pm)
ADMISSION: $158, $198 and$228 from Apactix (call 3158-8588 or go to www.apactix.com). Tickets are also available at Singapore Indoor Stadium Box Office, The Star Performing Arts Centre Box Office and all SingPost outlets
•Catch Reply 1988 on Mondays and Tuesdays at 9.30pm on tvN (Singtel TV Channel 518 & Channel 619, StarHub TV Channel 824).
Free food one of the perks of being famous
Lee Dong Hwi, one of the breakout stars of K-drama Reply 1988, cannot escape the fact that he is famous now.
It is not that he has to evade the paparazzi so much as he gets free food at eateries.
I'm alone in my home having my own party.
LEE DONG HWI, on his preference of being alone when he is not working
"If I go to a noodle shop, even if I don't order dim sum, they will still give me dim sum. Those were really happy moments," Lee, 31, says with a glint in his eye reminiscent of his joker teen character Ryu Dong Ryong on Reply 1988.
He was in town recently to promote his new series, Entourage.
Incidentally, Lee got a chance to experience celebrity perks in the Korean remake of the HBO show Entourage (2004 to 2011). As the freeloading pal of an A-list actor, Lee's character Turtle tags along to lavish parties packed with booze and babes.
Offscreen, the actor prefers to be by himself.
"I'm alone in my home having my own party," he tells The Straits Times with a wide grin.
"The entertainment industry is very competitive. For my work, I have to meet a lot of people, talk a lot and have fun. Outside of work hours, I like to be alone - play computer games or go for long walks to recharge myself."
Lee, who is reportedly dating Korean model Jung Ho Yeon, 22, certainly needs to rest and recharge - he has a packed schedule this year with three movies lined up.
Although he still gets cast in supporting roles, his resume is not too shabby. His works include debut film Cold Eyes (2013), Park Chan Wook's critically acclaimed movie The Handmaiden (2015), and upcoming action flick Cooperation, alongside actor Hyun Bin and Yoona of pop group Girls' Generation.
Sounding content with his lot, he says: "What I think is more important in life is doing whatever that is given to you well."
From stand-in to bona fide star
South Korean actor Ko Kyung Pyo, 26, was once a stand-in for Choi Si Won of boyband Super Junior on live sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live (SNL) Korea.
Sporting similarly bright eyes and a towering frame of more than 1.8m, he was so convincing that foreign fans thought he was the real deal.
"They made a card for Super Junior with a screengrab taken from that SNL Korea episode. But I was in the group photo, not Si Won," he says, recounting the incident to local media recently.
The success of the film or TV drama is not important to me. What I value is the process of filming where I create memories.
KO KYUNG PYO
Five years on, Ko has gone from masquerading as a K-star to becoming one himself and his fan base has gone regional. Last year, he held fan meets in South Korea as well as Japan.
Last Saturday, he held his first meet with 150 fans in Singapore at the Suntec Convention Centre. It was organised by cable TV channel KMTV Asia.
Locals fans likely got to know Ko through the 2015 drama hit Reply 1988, where he was the A-star student among the teens growing up in a sleepy Seoul neighbourhood in the 1980s.
Reply 1988 proved to be the breakthrough in his career, opening doors to more jobs, including a meaty supporting role in romcom drama Jealousy Incarnate (2016) as a rich man's son wooing a weathercaster played by A-list actress Gong Hyo Jin.
Fame does not seem to have gone to his head - he answered questions from local reporters in a welcome change from the usual South Korean practice of accepting only pre-approved media questions.
Neither does he seem to be caught up in the race to the top.
The bachelor, who debuted in drama Jungle Fish 2 (2010), says: "The success of the film or TV drama is not important to me. What I value is the process of filming where I create memories. The good experiences are what energises me."
Keen on student roles before age catches up
South Korean actor Park Bo Gum, the most-searched entertainer among Internet users in his country last year, is grateful to Descendants Of The Sun star Song Joong Ki for his current hot streak.
Park, 23, says of his senior colleague at the agency Blossom Entertainment: "I once told Joong Ki that I don't know how I can do well in Love In The Moonlight. He told me to be confident and be myself. I am so thankful for the advice and encouragement."
The period drama series, in which he plays a playful prince, was one of the top-rated TV shows in South Korea last year, along with Descendants.
When it won him a top honour - Male Top Excellence Award - at last month's KBS Drama Awards, his bromance with Song made headlines: Song, 31, was moved to tears as he watched an equally emotional Park receive the award.
Park had earlier showed support for Song by turning up at the latter's fan meets last year.
The younger man is now busy with his own fan meets.
The one to be held here next month sold out its 2,000 tickets within three hours of its launch last month, prompting local organiser Unusual Entertainment to release another 1,500 tickets.
Park's burgeoning following has translated into more than 10 endorsement deals and a regional tour with stops in places such as Hong Kong and Malaysia.
His popularity was on the rise after he starred in Reply 1988, a hit drama in 2015.
Calling the chance to be part of the drama a "blessing", he credits his role as the innocent neighbourhood kid Choi Taek for getting him more recognition.
"The number of fans in my fan club has increased significantly," he tells The Straits Times in an e-mail interview.
While the prince he plays in Moonlight is a charming character, he says he can better relate to his down-to-earth, introverted genius role in Reply 1988.
"I'm closer to Taek in Reply 1988, who is kind and possesses inner strength. I can also identify with how he is able to concentrate fully while working," says Park, who reveals that he still keeps in close contact with the cast of Reply 1988.
Although he has not decided on his next role, he hopes to make use of his youthful looks by playing another student before age catches up with him.
"I was fortunate to wear a vast array of beautiful traditional, royal attire in Love In The Moonlight. So I thought I should show off the beauty of Korean school uniforms in my next project," he says.
Park, who is a musical theatre major at a university in Seoul, would also love to portray a character who "connects and grows through music", such as those in Begin Again (2013), which starred Keira Knightley, and Sing Street (2016).
A music-themed project would allow him to reconnect with his first love, music. He revealed that his initial dream was to become a singer- songwriter and he had sent vocal demos to talent agencies.
"I sent videos of myself singing and playing the piano and my current management was the first one to call," says Park, who was later advised by the company to go into acting for greater exposure.
There are no plans for him to release an album yet, but he says he is up for the challenge when the opportunity arises.