Ji Chang Wook as Dong Kyu in the souvenir program of the musical, Shinheung Military Academy; the authors only got to see his eyes as he was wearing a face mask, a cap, and a hoodie
Culture Spotlight

That ‘Oppa’ Love: In Busan to tail Ji Chang Wook

On a break from their respective careers, a journo and real estate exec flew to the land of kimchi and K-pop to give in to their fan urges. The trip, filled with noona hijinks, proved to be equal parts manic and exhilarating. 
Nikko Dizon and Trina Cipriano | Feb 10 2019

What was the craziest thing you’ve done for love—the kind where he doesn’t even know you exist, and you have to share him with a million other girls around the world?

Being recent inductees to the world of Korean dramas and the Korean wave, we are obsessed with Hallyu god, Ji Chang Wook. So much so that, last December, we packed our winter clothes and embarked on the quintessential trip to the motherland, with the end goal of seeing him in the flesh in an army-staged musical in Busan. (Hallyu, by the way, means Korean wave, that phenomenon where Korean pop culture took the world by storm.)

Ji Chang Wook in the middle, giving a salute, at the curtain call of Shinheung Military Academy, the army-produced musical where he starred with two other Hallyu stars, Kang Ha Neul and Sung Kyu. Photograph by Nikko Dizon

We know what you're thinking: nothing new there. Everyone knows someone who’s forever been obsessed with those telenovelas and jets off to Korea every chance she gets. And heck, they won’t admit it, but half the girls in the office can probably name a favorite kilig moment from a K-drama or two.

But, this is us. And we’ve never been ones to do things in half measure. Ji is an extremely talented actor and singer and adorably handsome he could be the 8th wonder of the world. We couldn’t pass up the chance to see him in a live production.

Lost in translation

The moment we saw him onstage at the Busan Cultural Center, he took our breaths away.

Truth be told, we understood maybe around five Korean words in the entire two and half hour production. But the nationalistic musical was excellent, we actually enjoyed it and mused about our own country. And we saw first-hand how gifted a performer Ji is.

A fan- shared photo of Ji Chang Wook on Instagram of him performing in the army musical, Shinheung Military Academy. 

We honestly didn’t even know who Ji Chang Wook was a year ago, being K-drama virgins until the fateful day we each clicked “Play” because Netflix said Something in the Rain was Now Trending, and Descendants of the Sun (DOTS) was Recommended for You.

Since both of us were coincidentally on sabbatical from our careers, it was all too easy to be drawn into the fictional worlds of the dramas. They provided respite, relief, and escape from the fast-paced, stressful, albeit rewarding life we both lived for the last 20 years.

Our top two favorite actors are Ji and Song Joong Ki,  the lead star of DOTS. But Song is now married to Song Hye Kyo, his gorgeous co-star in that drama. Aasa pa ba kami?

Not that we have illusions that Ji, 31, would give these two Filipino noona (“Ate”) a second look. In fact, we are “shipping” him with the effervescent Park Min Young. (“Shipping” is a term among fandoms of wanting a reel romance to be real between stars.)

Ji Chang Wook posted this photo of him with co-star, Park Min Young, while filming their drama, Healer, in 2014. Photograph from Ji Chang Wook's Instagram account

We first saw Ji and his leading lady, Park, in the action-romance drama, Healer, followed by K-2, Suspicious Partner, and his first and so far, only movie, Fabricated City, an action-thriller which exceeded our expectations.  

Ji’s got a huge following not just in Asia, but also in the Middle East and Europe. To date, he has 8 million followers on his personal Instagram account, despite it being dormant for over a year while he’s on mandatory military service. Ji is set to be discharged in April.

Soldier Wook: The Hallyu star is wrapping up his two-year mandatory military service on April 27. Fans have begun their countdown. Photo credit to owner

Noona adventures

Friends wondered if we wasted money being unable to tour historic Busan in the three days we were there. See, we spent most of our time at the Busan Cultural Center hoping against hope to have a picture with Ji. We didn’t even think of checking out the Busan Museum which was just across the street. Crazy, ’di ba?

But the money we spent was worth it. We saw Ji twice onstage because aside from the tickets we bought for Saturday, a kind Korean gentleman gave us his tickets for the Friday show. We saw Ji three times more while we waited in the freezing cold, along with a hundred other fans, outside the cultural center. Fangirling, we learned as our fingernails turned blue while trying to pictures of Ji, requires a lot of commitment.

On our first night in Busan, one of us tried to have her souvenir program signed by Ji as he walked briskly to the cast’s bus while fans screamed like crazy. But she was stopped by the star’s assistant, so much so that the latter’s force pushed Ji, who kept a smile on his face, to the wall. This incident is now immortalized in an Instagram fan video we saw by chance.

Then imagine these two noona at 9am the next day, huffing and puffing up the steps of the cultural center because we almost missed the cast’s arrival. Like a journalist who’s late for an important coverage, one of us deftly thrust the Ji Chang Wook Philippine (JCWPH) Fans’ Club gift by the actor’s head with her left hand while taking a video of him with her right.

As we watched this video for the hundredth time, we realized that Ji looked up at the heavy bag (which had caps, shirts, and a tarp that said “Filipinos love Ji Chang Wook” inside) not because he liked it, as we initially thought. It was because we almost hit him with it in the face, if not for the visor of the cap he was wearing. Well, we did warn then Philippine Ambassador to Korea, Raul Hernandez, when we met him in Seoul: If he gets a call from Busan…

In the two mornings we saw Ji, he was actually less than a foot away from us. In fact, one of our videos even caught his deep, sexy voice saying 고마워요 (gomawayo or thank you in Korean) as he received gifts from fans, as is customary in Korea.

It would have been the most profound experience for any fan—except that he wore a face mask, a cap, and a hoodie that left only his beautiful eyes for us to see. Bitin! We drowned our frustration in Korean food and beer.

The famous yellow VIP bus that transported Ji Chang Wook, fellow Hallyu stars Kang Ha Neul, and Sung Kyu and the rest of the cast to the musical's venues. Photograph by Nikko Dizon

Fangirling is serious business

JCWPH admin, Anne Francisco, asked us why we sounded so calm after we sent her a message that we just saw Ji Chang Wook. The one who had the brilliant idea to watch the musical and fangirl for the first time in our lives kept her emotions in check. It’s probably the training in news. Hide your feelings.

But that’s a façade. Our friends are now used to hearing us talk about Ji and other oppa (brother in Korean but now refers to the Korean actors) loves like giddy teenagers talking about their crushes.

Fangirling, we also learned, is a sisterhood. We update each other about Ji. His fans regularly post pictures and videos of him on social media especially while he’s in the military because we’re all together in missing him. Sometimes, we chat with Anne online about Ji, his work, his personal life, and just about anything about him.

Both of us are unlikely to go out this Valentine’s Day for our own reasons. But we won’t be sulking for sure.  

We’ll most likely watch Healer again, or maybe just visit Ji’s IG account and like his posts we haven’t liked yet. We might also re-watch his interviews and behind the scenes clips of his dramas. It’s like having a long distance relationship with him, only he doesn’t know it.

But we can also watch Song Joong Ki in Descendants of the Sun again, or even What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim, or She Was Pretty because Park Seo Joon would make such a cute date. Or how about Oh My Venus? So Ji Sub is coming here to Manila for a fan meet next month!

We’ve got a long oppa and drama list. Our hearts are full.