Step by Step Guide: Running Man

Want to get into a variety show but don’t know where to start? Confused by all the in-jokes and want to know more about each of the characters and their backgrounds? Here at Beyond Hallyu we are here to help! From now on we will be giving you step by step guides to some of your favourite Korean shows. This week we are starting with a popular one amongst our writers and readers, Running Man.

“I’m going to watch Running Man!” a line many of my friends have become very used to hearing from me on a weekly basis. But I don’t mean the 80’s sci-fi action film featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, I mean SBS’s popular variety show Running Man (런닝). First aired during the summer of 2010 Running Man was showcased as an ‘urban-action variety show’ and it has been nothing less than a hit with both Korean and international fans often showing the more competitive sides of their favourite stars. The show is popular not just for living by its tagline of ‘Don’t Walk but Run!’ but also for forming lines of interest between the stars with popular groups such as the Monday Couple and Easy Brothers.

The format of the show is simple but successful, team members work as part of a team or alone with guests to play games and complete activities in a location in order to win. This winning format has seen the show travel to Vietnam, Macao and Hong Kong, gaining fans internationally and catapulting its stars into the limelight making them household names. This has been the comeback show for some, a way of coming into the limelight finally for others and the beginning to a long-lasting and successful career for all.

So let’s take a closer look at our main stars of the show:

‘Grasshopper’ Yoo Jae-Suk

yoo jae sukThe nations favourite MC and grasshopper Yoo Jae-Suk debuted in 1991 at the KBS comedian festival, spending the next decade as a relatively unknown comedian before receiving his break with Live and Enjoy Together. Following the popularity he went on to host memorable shows such as The Crash of MCs, Happy Together Friends and X-Man. Since 2005 he has maintained his name as a favourite MC amongst both Korean and international fans with highly rated shows such as Come to Play, Family Outing and Muhan Dojeon (무한도전).

His success both within and out of variety continues with a featured role in the ‘Gangnam Style’ MV and even his own chart success with music from Muhan Dojeon for consecutive years.

Role in Running Man:

Within Running Man he is portrayed as one of the top people to watch when competing as although he comes across as weak he is shown to be great in teams and alone even when he is up against tough competition, as seen when he faced Choi Min-Soo on two occasions after betraying him on his first run on the show. The game played between the two became known as ‘grasshopper hunting’.

But it’s not just guests he is considered as fierce competition against, it’s often Kim Jong-Kook for who he is seen a main competitor. This has seen him receiving many nicknames such as the popular Yooruce Willis (after Bruce Willis) as he has proved himself to be fierce when put alone against his fellow teammates, armed with a water gun! Jae-Suk continues to be a popular contender although he was once with considered to be one of the weakest often ending up in jail first alongside Suk-Jin and Kwang-Soo (Jail Trio).

Nicknames: Yoohyuk, Yooruce Willis, Yoomes Bond, Grasshopper

‘The Commander’ Kim Jong-Kook

Kim Jong KookKim Jong-Kook debuted in 1995 as half of popular duo Turbo known for catchy hit songs such as Black Cat and Decision. Following line-up changes and controversy, Turbo decided to disband in 2000, though they remained popular with strong album sales. Following this disbandment, Jong-Kook faced a few setbacks musically until his second album which featured what would become his trademark song One Man (남자) alongside the song, Loveable. Some also believe his success and popularity to be down to his scandal with Yoon Eun Hye which started during their time on the show X-Man and became a constant hot topic on the show.

Success has always followed him since both musically and via variety shows due to him being a permanent member of Family Outing (alongside Jae-Suk) as well as Running Man.

Role in Running Man:

The one man winning machine since the very first episode Jong-Kook has been down as the driving force when it comes to winning in Running Man. Often the person who guests wish to defeat he is known by many names more often The Commander, Sparta-Kook and The Tiger. Popular amongst both fans and guests he is usually top of the list of team mates they wish to have when on the show and is considered the strongest player to beat.

Nicknames: Spartakook, Commander/Capable One, Kookie

‘Haroro’ Ha Dong-Hoon

haha running manHaha debuted in 2001 not as a comedian or MC as many would presume but as a singer and rapper in short-lived hip-hop group JiKiRi. Despite this Haha progressed in the industry with the show ‘What’s Up Yo!and a part in popular sitcom Nonstop. He gained recognition for his comedic and acting skills earning roles in films such as Love in Magic and Holy Daddy. His own radio show in 2004, Haha and Mong’s Journey, would lead to another unsuccessful attempt at the music industry.

Success however came alongside X-Man and an increase in popularity would finally earn him a hit song with ‘You’re My Destiny’ in 2007. It could also be said that it was the show that would earn him his spot on Muhan Dojeon.

Role in Running Man:

Haha is one of the known betrayers on Running Man alongside Kwang-Soo. He is often put into the position of being a spy or given extra roles as he has the ability to easily convince the other runners that he is being truthful with them. Before marrying popular singer Byul in November last year he was the self-named playboy and flirt of the show, often proclaim his undying love for female guests. However his marriage led to a change and viewers have seen him instead wrestling them to the ground in order to win.

Haha is one to watch but is often marked as a weak player, as shown in a recent episode in which he was marked down as one of the ‘cheapest’ runners to defeat.

Nicknames: Harad Pitt, Haroro, Playboy Haha/Haroro (former nickname before marriage)

‘Impala’ Ji Suk-Jin

jin seok jinIt is a little known fact that Ji Suk-Jin debuted as a singer before working as a comedian and MC with the song ‘I know’ in 1992. But his popularity really came along when he worked as a main MC on the popular variety show Star Golden Bell from 2006 to 2010 before the shows official end due to low ratings.  During his time on the show he tried his success with other shows such as SBS Truth Game and KBS2 Cider but it was really with Running Man that he was able to show himself as a worthwhile talent.

Role in Running Man:

The oldest cast member of Running Man, Suk-Jin is considered the weakest member and is often the first member out. This resulted in a running joke that the game cannot start until he is out with guests and members awaiting the signal of ‘game start’ from Suk-Jin before taking it seriously. He has become one half of the popular duo the easy brothers, spawning the popular phrase ‘FEEL, TOUCH, CROSS!’ and has even started to show a new side to himself with a vast improvement in his gameplay.

His constant optimistic outlook has proven popular with fans that have supported him against those who feel he should not be on the show, but without him Running Man simply is not complete. With his new-found strength and increase in popularity could 2013 be the year of the Impala?

Nicknames: Big Nose Hyung, Yoo Jae-Suk’s Sunflower, Impala

‘Giraffe’ Lee Kwang-Soo

lee kwang sooFormer model Lee Kwang-Soo stands out amongst the crowd for both his unique looks and large stature at just over 190cm tall. In 2008, he made his acting debut in a popular CF that would have him highlighted as one to watch for his hilarious facial expressions and camera presence. He also gained roles in dramas such as The Scale of Providence but it was in 2010 with small appearances on Star Golden Bell and High Kick through the Roof and then bigger roles in popular drama City Hunter and Running Man which made him a household name.

Since Running Man he has starred in 5 movies, popular 2012 drama The Innocent Man alongside former Running Man Song Joong-Ki and fellow Runners’ music video, Busan Vacance by Haha & Skull.

Role in Running Man:

If you go way back to the first few episodes of Running Man the Kwang-Soo then and now is considerably different (and not just because of his lack of moustache!). In terms of confidence and presence in the show he has grown and become a strong and well-loved member of the show.

He started out as the quietest member barely saying anything and finding it hard to stand amongst stronger members, often missing airtime but this changed when Incriminating Kwang-Soo was introduced (accusing cast members of drinking and being out late clubbing). From there we have seen the once quiet Kwang-Soo become the master of betrayal often causing mischief to his fellow runners in hopes of coming out on top. This has seen his popularity with fans improve and even gained him the nickname of the ‘Asian Prince’ on the show after his incredible popularity with international fans in Vietnam and Macao.

Nicknames: Incriminating Kwang-Soo, Kwangvatar, Giraffe, Traitor/Betrayer

‘Ace’ Song Ji-Hyo

song ji hyoBeginning her career in 2001 Song Ji-Hyo’s first role was in the 2003 Korean horror movie Wishing Stairs in which she played the lead role. Since this time she has had numerous lead and supporting roles in hit dramas and films with 2006’s Princess Hours, 2007’s Jumong. In late 2007 she also became a host on popular music show Inkigayo alongside Kim Hee-Chul (Super Junior) until 2008 by which time she had stopped to work on 2008’s box office hit 쌍화 (A Frozen Flower).

Since the success of Running Man she has shown much versatility which led to further lead roles in dramas, films, MVs and is often used for endorsements due to her popularity.

Role in Running Man:

It is often forgotten that originally Ji-Hyo was only supposed to appear as a guest for a few episodes on the show. It was after seeing how well she worked with the cast that she was made a permanent member by episode 6.  Since joining she has gone from a quiet but very capable competitor to an ace, often outshining her fellow members. Showing a fierce streak and quick thinking she works well with anyone she is placed in a team with and has outlasted even the commander on occasion.

But it’s not just the competition she has won over by the heart of fellow cast member Gary her ‘Monday Boyfriend’, a popular and long-lasting pair. Even when news of her real life relationship hit the news fans stuck by and supported the Monday Couple making them a loveable part of the show that is loved by fans.

Nicknames: Blank Jihyo, Song Ji-yok, Ace, Miss Mong, Monday girlfriend

‘Peaceful’ Kang Hee-Gun (Garie)

kang garyOriginally starting his career in 1996 in group Smurfs, it was not until 1997 when he joined X-Teen that Garie met fellow Leessang member Gil. Leaving in 1999 to join Honey Family they formed the Leessam Trio along with fellow member Diggity and released an album 2000 Korea. However, in 2000 Diggity left the group and by 2002 Garie and Gil had become Leessang releasing their first album as a duo which quickly became a hit with music critics, gaining them awards. Although successful with Leessang and loved by fans little was known about Garie until he joined the cast of Running Man after the release of their 6th album and became to gain new fans for not only himself by Leessang in the process.

Role in Running Man:

With 8 successful albums under his belt as a member of Leessang, little was known about Garie outside of the hip-hop fan community before he joined the cast of Running Man. However, from the beginning he has shown himself to be a worthwhile member proving himself on many occasions to be a top competitor on the show. From the first few episodes Garie easily adapted to the world of variety throwing himself into the show and building up a fan base with his ‘peaceful’ ways. He soon became one half of the popular power couple of the show The Monday Couple along Song Ji-Hyo grabbing the fans attention and love by declaring him undying love to her on a weekly basis.

He proved his popularity not only amongst cast members but also with fans when last year it was announced that he would be leaving the show to focus more on his music (following controversy concerning a concert arranged by Leessang Company). However this was later retracted and he was soon back on the show joining the cast again and apologising in his own special way, with apple juice.

Nicknames: Peaceful Gary, Ga-colas Cage, Gary-sshi, Monday boyfriend

Former member Song Joong-Ki

Successful actor Song Jong-Ki was a regular member of the Running Man team from the first episode. He was known as the flower boy of the team due to his good looks and a same-age friend to Kwang-Soo, though it was a running joke whilst he was in the show that they were not close at all. For a short time he was known as the Song Song couple alongside Song Ji-Hyo as they were close friends who often worked together and shared a relationship similar to siblings.  It was announced by Jae-Suk at the end of episode 41 that it would be his final appearance as a regular member but he has since made a few appearances leaving hope for fans that he will someday re-join the cast.

We have reached the end of our step by step guide to Running Man and we hope that it has made it a little easier for people who wish to watch the show but are a little worried about ‘catching up’ or even for the people who are already fans alongside ourselves. What other shows would you like to read a step by step guide to? Leave us your suggestions below in the comment box and enjoying the running!

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Co-founder and Editor at Beyond Hallyu
Lover of Korean hip-hop and indie music...and Unicorns.
  • Lee

    Great article, really helpful to a beginner and a great read for an avid fan of variety shows!

    • sasha_BH

      Thank you for your comment and thank you for reading it. If there are
      any other shows you would like to see a step by step guide of please
      feel free to leave a suggestion.

  • ruenesia

    nice article :)

    • sasha_BH

      Thank you for the comment. Are the any other shows you would like to see a guide for?

      • ruenesia

        as a newbie in korean show, i just love running man *my friend gave me this show and this is just awesome* (and now i knew a lot of korean entertainment world, culture, etc, from RM hehe)

        actually i really interested with your article about “plastic surgery culture” – “dark side of korean wave”. Honestly i want to write that too in my language and i think it is good if i get more references. I just want to share in my blog how this pop culture have dangerous side.

        *sorry for my bad english
        thanks for your reply :)

  • Connie Toole

    Nice article I haven’t thought about watching Running man(I kinda thought it was like a comedic version of Amazing Race), but I’ll give it a shot. I don’t know if it’s still on, but if it is could you give a step by step guide on golden fish?

  • skyshredsl

    awesome article!!! already knew a lot about them by watching and catching up w/ 140+ eps but this is helpful haha

    a guide for 1N2D or Happy Together maybe…?? Thanks a lot~