With his hunky physique, boyish features and megawatt smile, it is no wonder fans go crazy when South Korean star Kim Jong-kook takes the stage. They burst into a screaming frenzy and dash towards the stage with banners and cameras in hand. The 41-year-old singer and goggle box personality was in Singapore earlier this month to attend the Asian Television Awards. At the event, he performed two Korean songs – Today More Than Yesterday and One Man – to some of the loudest cheers of the night.
But the heartthrob, best known as one of the hosts of the popular South Korean variety show Running Man, has his feet firmly on the ground. “I will keep on running. Keep supporting me. Thank you, guys,” he said to the 3,500-strong audience. For him, success was no overnight sprint, but a long marathon.
A former vocalist in a high school band, Jong-kook rose to prominence as a member of the K-pop group Turbo, together with former DJ Kim Jung-nam, in the 1990s. Despite its catchy music, its popularity was short-lived when Jung-nam left the group in 1997, reportedly due to conflict with its management.
Singer Cho Myung-ik then joined the group, but it disbanded in 2001 after Jong-kook’s contract expired. Jong-kook then became a solo singer, focusing mainly on ballads. Even so, success did not come instantly. It was only after he joined the cast of Running Man in the early 2010s that he gained fame across Asia.
On the ongoing show, he is known for his strength and chiselled body, which have earned him the nickname “Sparta-Kook”. Fansites say the bachelor has an older brother and his father works in the military. Jong-kook is also the uncle of South Korean singer Soya. Last year, he released his debut Chinese single Hate That Happiness Came, which was produced by Singaporean singer JJ Lin. Earlier this year, he joined the South Korean reality show Dragon Club – Childish Bromance, which features a group of celebrity friends taking a trip together.
The show’s name refers to the fact that five of the show’s stars – actors Jang Hyuk, Cha Tae-hyun and Hong Kyung-in, and singers Hong Kyung-min and Jong-kook – were born in 1976, the Year of the Dragon.
Among your dragon club members, who has the weirdest travel habits?
Those kids are all very generous and kind. But some of them snore very loudly. Cha Tae-hyun – he is the loudest one. But there is no weird guy. They are all very kind, generous and very good guys.
They say they cannot stand the fact that you talk a lot. How do you feel about that?
After I did a lot of TV shows and hosting – especially Running Man – I learnt a lot of things about speaking. Some of my friends say I have a “TV show disease”. I don’t know what that is. I speak a lot, so people think I am nagging? I don’t know. I just try to get other people to have fun.
They are all married. Are you envious of them?
Yes, I always envy them. I want my own family, I really want kids. I am kind of old, but I don’t want to be in a rush because I need to find the right woman first.
What is your ideal type?
A woman who can be a good mum for my kids. It is fine if she does not like doing exercise, but she has to be OK with me working out at any time.
If you had drama opportunities, who would you like to work with?
I get a lot of offers for dramas and movies, but that is not my real job.
How would you like to be remembered?
As a very friendly person. I just want to be a good man. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network