The deafening “fan-demonium” that swept the cavernous Fashion Hall of SM Megamall early this month was a vivid indication of the continually evolving popularity of Hallyu luminaries like K-drama superstar Gong Yoo and Billboard-charting K-pop sensations like BTS.
This week, for instance, SuperM, the K-pop supergroup led by Baekhyun composed of seven members from EXO, Shinee and NCT, follows in the footsteps of BTS on the Billboard 200 chart, where it seizes the No. 1 spot with its seven-track Extended Play collection, “SuperM: The First Mini Album.”
Elsewhere on the World Albums chart, the 1-year-old, eight-member group Ateez is also making its presence felt, with multiple songs charting at the same time.
However, at the #LoveKorea Culture and Travel Fiesta spearheaded by the Korea Tourism Organization on Oct. 5, all eyes were on heartthrob Lee Dong-wook, the dashing 37-year-old actor who’s known for his swoon-worthy turns in K-dramas like 2005’s “My Girl,” 2011’s “Scent of a Woman,” 2018’s “Life” and the immensely popular TV series “Goblin,” where he portrayed the Grim Reaper opposite Gong Yoo in the titular role.
The Pinoy Hallyu fans were in for a massive treat because they didn’t have to spend a single cent at the meet-and-greet to see Dong-wook in the flesh.
With Filipino actress Sue Ramirez, honorary ambassador for Korea tourism, and the seven-member K-pop group Target in attendance, the fans were more than eager to cheer as a way to commemorate 70 years of friendship between Korea and the Philippines.
Target, composed of Seulchan, G.I., Zeth, Hyun, Roi, Boun and Woojin, started the ball rolling with song-and-dance renditions of its signature hits, like the pounding “Baby Come Back Home” and the gorgeous R&B ballad, “Is It True?”
For her part, Sue shared her experience shooting Kim Tai-sik’s screen “dramedy” “Sunshine Family” in Seoul, and admitted how starstruck she was of finally meeting the 6-foot tall Dong-wook. “Hindi ako makahinga (I can’t breathe),” she half-jested.
While looking genuinely flattered about the “ruckus” he created at Megamall, Dong-wook later admitted that, prior to coming here, he wasn’t sure if fans would still remember him 13 years after his previous Manila visit, when he flew over to promote “My Girl.”
A mere smile or a simple nod of acknowledgment sent his fans on a riotous tizzy, prompting the Korean star to politely shush them or ask them to listen to his answers.
The fan meet was longer than usual, with portions allotted to give Dong-wook enough time to answer preapproved questions from the press and his fans, as well as react to a couple of photos that were flashed on a screen.
The audience found it charming to hear the actor convincingly say words in Tagalog, like “Ang galing mo” (You’re great), “Ang ganda mo” (You’re beautiful) and “Mahal kita” (I love you).
You can imagine how hearing Dong-wook deliver those lines were greeted by his fans, who sounded like they were in danger of damaging their vocal cords for good. Tee-hee.
Asked what he thought would be the best time to visit and bask in the beauty of South Korea, he said that now would be ideal. “The Philippines is a tropical country, so the best way to experience its (Korea’s) cool weather is during fall,” he told Philippine-based Korean host Sam Oh.
The Philippines was just starting to appreciate K-pop music and K-dramas the first time he came here in 2006.
Asked what he thought was the secret behind their popularity, he said, “I think the secret behind that is that they don’t stagnate.
“The interest remains high because of the constant innovation of the singers and actors of the Korean wave.
“As time goes by, they get better and better at what they do—which is probably why fans can’t get enough of them.”
If he could take Filipino fans on a trip to a place in South Korea, he said he’d recommend visiting the city of Gongju.
“I’d love to take them to Gongju because it’s rich in culture,” he explained. “The whole city is a heritage site, so they’ll get a good grasp of Korean culture in it.”
Does he have advice to aspiring artists? While he admitted that he isn’t much of a singer or dancer, he said that it’s crucial to believe in what one can do. “For artists in the audience, the most important thing is for you to believe in yourself and trust in your capabilities,” he said.
Another question: In what way are Koreans and Filipinos alike? “The answer to that question probably explains why Koreans and Filipinos are celebrating this friendship now,” he said. “It’s not so much the culture, but Koreans are very passionate people—a characteristic that Filipinos can easily relate to.”
When he was shown a couple of photos and clips from his previous TV shows, he recalled a scene on the set of “Goblin” when he arrived late for the shoot. “I was so embarrassed about being tardy because I made him (Gong Yoo) wait,” he admitted with a laugh.
Asked to enumerate three things he would consider achievements in his successful career, Dong-wook said, “The fact that I debuted in this industry was an achievement.
“Another thing was that I have continually challenged myself to get better through the years. And lastly, I’m still here—and you’re still around to support me. That in itself is a milestone.”