Boring lives of K-celebs

Boring lives of K-celebs
Actors Lee Dong Wook (centre) and Shin Sung Woo (left) share a house with other entertainers in Roommate, in which actor Lee Deok Hwa (far left) appears as a guest in one of the episodes.

In the dead of night, actor Lee Dong Wook moves into a handsome five-room house in Seongbuk-dong, an affluent neighbourhood in Seoul, for the South Korean variety show Roommate - and he's baffled.

Why are the lights out? Where are the 10 other celebrities - 2NE1 singer Bom, After School singer Nana, Exo singer Chanyeol, actor Seo Kang Jun and everyone else - who will be his new housemates?

Finding comic Jo Se Ho asleep in the twin room he has been assigned, Lee shakes him awake and lets out a barrage of questions: "We can just sleep like this? I can just unpack my stuff? I can do whatever?"

Yeah. Uh-huh. More or less? Welcome to the new show about nothing.

The extraordinary thing about the programme, which airs in South Korea on broadcaster SBS' variety Sundays with the high-energy Running Man, is how willing it is to be a low-key, fly-on- the-wall record of the crazy yet ordinary lives of active entertainers.

Less sexy and more honest than a similar show, We Got Married, which pairs off celebrities and has them play house together, Roommate shows you what it might really be like to live with stars such as Lee and Bom - that, actually, you won't see them much.

For Bom, an early night may be coming home at 1am on Sunday, chatting and snacking with Jo and Nana, then going out at 4am to prepare for her afternoon performance.

For celebrities such as model Lee So Ra and actress Hong Soo Hyun, it is one thing to be home and another to be seen by their housemates. Lee, when she doesn't get the beauty sleep she needs, shields her face with sunglasses before emerging from her room for breakfast. Hong hides in her room at bedtime after washing off her warpaint, although she does sneak out to collect a late-night order of fried chicken.

Much of the show is mundane and inane, except - or even - when it segues into variety-programme-style games in the living room, where the entertainers have, for instance, a sit-up contest to decide who will exchange rooms.

The stars are like you and me, mostly. They have jobs and they do chores, although they do have better or stricter beauty regimens.

Here's Bom spraying a mist that she swears will make her face smaller. There's Lee Dong Wook starving himself so that he and his abs will look good on screen.

To be exact, he sits at the dining table and stares at the others eating high-carb Korean food, which is sad and totally unsexy. For my money, he is the show's most amusing housemate, however. The more aware he is of how bad he looks, the more entertaining it is.

An early episode has his mother declaring he can't move out for real till he marries. Wryly, he replies: "No one will want to marry me once this airs on TV."

Such moments are fun, but far and few between.

Often, the show brings the stars back down to earth, but holds back. It doesn't want to be nasty. It wants the stars to be a happy family. In effect, it appears to be hoping you will stay and be fascinated by them even after you stop fantasising about them.

Yet I find myself feeling hopeful. I'm waiting for a rich Chinese broadcaster to buy the Korean format and do it better.

woeiwan@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Sep 18, 2014.
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