X-Man ran from November 2003 to April 2007, which is a bit before many of us had easy access to watch Korean TV shows. It was also before many of us were fans of Kpop, so you well may ask why write something about an old show that’s no longer on the air? The answer being because it was the show that could be said to have started it all, and it was funny.
It was the show where many of our favorite variety celebrities got their ‘break’, think Yoo Jae Suk, Kang Ho Dong, HaHa, Kim Jong Kook etc.
It also introduced us to many games that have since become part of the Korean variety show lexicon.
Perhaps just as important, events that happened on the show have become part of modern Korean culture. If you watch Running Man for example you will see them still refer to the ‘loveline’ of Kim Jong Kook and Yoon Eun Hye, and this reference would be known to the vast majority of Korean people. So to be culturally literate about Korea you would need to know this reference. (To be Culturally Literate about a foreign country means that one needs to know more than just it’s language, one needs to know it’s stories, idioms, jokes, music, popular people etc. Cultural Literacy is what ‘everybody’ around you knows/knowledge in common.)
X-Man was loosely based on a show from Belgium called The Mole, and the idea of having a disruptor, or spy, on the opposing team was a new concept in Korean programmes of the time. Nowadays who among us could imagine Running Man without the spy episodes? This element gradually lost its important and it was stopped in 2006 when there was a format change. The New X-Man wasn’t as popular and the program didn’t last long after that.
There was also some problems with the games. One, called Team! Horse Riding, became so extreme that when comedian Kim Ki Wook was injured the game was finally banned. Based on a children’s traditional playground game Mal Dduk Back Gi, it became much more intense when played by players such as Kang Ho Dong.
Another popular game from X-Man was Dangyunhaji, or the ‘Of Course’ game. Basically questions would be asked to which the other player would have to reply ‘of course’. This may not work for people who have no shame or who don’t care if they hurt their friends or family, but for people who have a line they will not cross it can be an interesting game. Some of the questions were remarkably clever and astute. In the video above Running Man is playing the game, and remark on when HaHa had a ‘playboy’ persona, which you can then see in the video from X-Man below.
HaHa as a playboy! Hard to imagine I know.
Like current variety shows, members of idol groups and actors appeared on the show as guests and it is cute watching some popular idols from when they were so shiny and new. Here’s Heechul playing Dangyunhaji. That hair!
Fans of Super Junior, TVXQ, and SS501 might want to look through X-Man episodes on Youtube to see their early years. In the video above Tablo played a very strategic game of ‘push the other team off the island’, which is another game that is still seen in various forms on the variety shows of today.
‘Chicken fight’ is another game that was popular on X-Man and was also taken from the playground. Nowadays it can be seen on a lot of shows including many showcasing idols playing. Here BTS plays with more endurance than skill, but at least they seem to be having fun. You need a good sense of balance and strategy to win ‘Chicken Fight’.
Full episodes of X-Man are available to watch on YouTube, and apart from the poor quality of many of the videos, they’re a lot of fun. Watching them you can see that in some ways shows such as RunningMan have copied many of the same concepts and games. You can also see why Yoo Jae Suk has a reputation for helping out his friends. Many of the cast of X-Man have gone with him to Family Outing, Season 1, RunningMan and Infinite Challenge. I think X-Man was the last time Yoo Jae Suk and Kang Ho Dong worked together as hosts.
Have a great day everyone.
You may also enjoy Korean Variety Show Games, The Best Kdramas of 2017, Part One, & Part Two, plus Kpop Idols Who Were Athletes First.
Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation. All photo credits to original owners.
My first exposure to Asian Variety shows was when I went on vacation with my parents to Hong Kong and Taiwan (to visit family). We spent a few days in Tokyo since we left Canada for a month just to travel over seas. I was 11 years old. We stayed at what I though was the coolest hotel in Toyko! At night, before going to bed, I stayed up a bit watching Japanese variety shows. I don’t remember much of it – except that maybe it was that suitable for kids to watch. 🙂 Since then, I haven’t watched many… from time to time in my 20’s, friends of mine (I have many Asian friends) would point to be a hilarious Japanese variety show but it hasn’t been until lately with my new interest in K-pop where I’ve gotten back into it. Lately, I’ve only been watching my fave k-pop group’s own variety show but I’ve caught some like Idol Weekly, Running Man and Knowing Brothers… I don’t know if those count. They are more like talk shows with some variety games within it.
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There’s a very blurry line between a Korean variety show and a talk show. As variety shows often have talk segments about the guests, and talk shows often play games.
Weekly Idol is a great show for idol watching and I’ve been watching since the beginning, same is pretty much true for Running Man. There was a point during the ‘firing’ period when I stopped watching Running Man and I’m not a particularly a fan of the new members, but it has become an iconic show and is still well worth watching.
I’ve seen an occasional Japanese variety show but my sense of humor doesn’t seem to match theirs, so since there’s so many Korean shows to watch I tend to stick to them.
I’m glad you’re getting more into Korean entertainment. It is kinda like the rabbit hole in Alice In Wonderland. Once you go down there’s amazing things, and it’s hard to get back out.
Have a great day.
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I have a question which recently just came to my mind after reading your blog post here: I have seen similar types of ‘games/challenges’ on North American talk shows. For example James Corden’s Flinch Game (which was perfect for BTS – they looked like they had a lot of fun and the fans loved it!) or the game where Ellen DeGeneres sends celebs out in public with an earphone in their ear (they have to do/say what she tells them to the unsuspecting random people they interface with – the Bruno Mars one was my fave). Thoughts on whether such ‘games’ were influenced by these Korean Variety shows? The funny thing is I probably now know more about Korean variety shows than N. American ones. What I mean is, of what I’ve seen, it’s these mini-segments that appear during these talk shows but they take up very little of the show. Most of the show is heavily involving either a performance from a musical artist or the interview portion of their show. Or a bit of stand-up comedy from the host as most are hosted by past/current comedians.
Shy, this is a great question. I’ve often wondered about this kind of ‘cross over’ of ideas. It seems to me that physical games are not as popular in the USA as quiz, guessing, type games are. Why this should be I don’t really know.
I’m on vacation in Alaska right now, so I’ll write more once I get back.
Thanks for the thought provoking questions.
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