When it was announced that Running Man, the ultimate in inventive variety games, would be trying something new yet again – a masterpiece of their most famous game, the name tag elimination, involving a total of 200 players – everyone scoffed and said it would be a horrible catastrophic mess.
However, I think they managed to pull it off. Somehow, that old creative Running Man spirit has shown through and over two episodes, the 100 vs 100 match gave excitement, anticipation, intrigue and most importantly of all, laughter. It was only possible because of the reputation the show now holds, and the total experience of all the members.
The premise of the great 100 vs 100 match — set in a school gym decorated like an insane asylum — is to have the Running Man members call in 93 additional friends to make up their team of 100. Though the members have no idea why they’re there and what today’s plan is, they get seven hours to try to round up that many people. But, they are given the caveat that each person has to be searchable online. That might be difficult enough, but it’s the fear of their opponents, the strongest athletes in the country, that really makes this a challenge.
The athletes are divided into five teams: first, the top martial arts director Jung Doo-hong and his top action actors! Then the Korean pro-wrestling team, led by No Ji-sim, who put on a terrifying show of strength in front of the Running Man members! Judo Olympic Gold medalist Lee Won-hee follows with his team of Judo Heroes! Next is Kim Ki-tae and his team of ssiireum wrestlers (traditional Korean style of wrestling), followed finally by the awesome K-Tigers taekwondo team, led by Tae-mi!
My first thought here was, could the Running Man PDs possibly have cleared a bunch of celebrities schedules ahead of time? They’d been advertising some big names, like Got7, but we see that the busier celebrities didn’t stay for the whole day of filming.
Though the PDs might have secretly cleared a few schedules, it seems they just got lucky with most of the big-name celebrities. Actor Lim Hyung-jun is one who they either pre-cleared or he just had nothing to do all day because he’s the first guest to arrive and he stays until the bitter end — a topic of continuous joking.
As the guests start trickling in, and by trickling I mean entering in spectacular Running Man fashion with air cannons framing the doorway, I am struck by two things. 1) That HaHa knows everyone from everywhere and 2) that this might be the most diverse group of people I’ve ever seen on Korean television.
Right off the bat, the members start collecting people from all corners of Seoul: HaHa invites the “celebrities’ favorite photographer” Oh Joong-seok; Gary succeeds in getting both Hwang Choong-jae, 1978 Asian games boxing gold medalist, and the reverently great boxer Chang Jung-koo. Spirits start to lift as they greet the majestic elders.
Along with actors Kim Ki-bang, Heo Tae-hee and Lee Jung, Young Jun from Brown Eyed Soul, DJ Pumkin of AOMG, Australian-born comedian Sam Hammington, sports commentator Hyun Joo-yup, and Uee (of After School), they manage to get up to 20 team members. That means it’s time for a battle! If the members win this game of ‘head squash’ against the terrifying athletes, then they’ll reduce the other team’s numbers by 10.
After an overly dramatic and rather silly show-down between the small yet intense Chang Jung-koo and the overly large and adorable wrestling team leader No Ji-sim, the athlete team takes the first win! They won’t be losing any team members to Running Man yet.
With the arrival of a mass of new guests, the first episode wraps up in an unfortunately awkward fashion. The show cuts from introductions to the next entrance of the athlete team for the 40 vs 40 mission, and it’s obvious we missed something because there’s a new group of guests suddenly standing on the side. Yet, Running Man doesn’t give any explanations and they move to a preview of the 40 vs. 40 mission and the final mission for the next episode. It’s horribly clear that everything was moving too quickly and there was no easy place to cut the footage in between episodes.
Part 2 starts off with the introductions of those newcomers we barely saw at the end of the previous episode along with new faces like Got7, actor Kim Min-kyo, and a few comedians including legend Lee Sung-mi.
One thing that the Running Man staff does a really wonderful job with for these two episodes is making sure every single person who came on the show is credited. Yoo Jae-suk personally introduces each and every one of them, and in the second episode they try to show as many of their faces as they can in the first few minutes, with their names written on the screen as well.
The second episode starts to feel like a festival, as the new arrivals do more and more to introduce themselves. Comedienne Park Na-rae shows off her “krumping dance,” but not before she has to change into shorts in front of 50 men and the cameras — she nonchalantly pulls them on under her skirt locker-room style while the back row of guests crane their necks to see.
Got7’s Jackson has an awkward moment when he tries to hold a conversation in Chinese with Ji Suk-jin’s comedian friend Byun Seung-yoon. He said he’d been taking lessons and Jackson, as a Hong Konger, steps forward to test him. But apparently when Byun Seung-yoon speaks, he’s just saying gibberish.
Jackson starts off very encouraging, “If you can’t do it, don’t force yourself,” but it just goes from bad to worse when, after trying three times to start a conversation, Jackson bursts out, “He’s just copying me!” Everyone is laughing hysterically at the gibberish Chinese, but Jackson is clearly not amused, and it was really the worst kind of racist joke at his expense. Luckily, karma comes back around when Byun Seung-yoon tries to rap in his gibberish Chinese and suddenly, “oh!” Jackson jumps up, “That was swearing!” And everyone’s laughing again.
Next follows one of my favorite moments, in which Got7 have a tumbling battle with the comedian twins from Gag Concert, Lee Sang-ho and Lee Sang-min. This is perfect comedy, and so refreshing after the horrible language joke from before.
We finally get to see the 40 vs 40 and 60 vs 60 mission games. The first one is Paper Curling (throwing rolls of toilet paper and trying to hit a designated line on the floor) which is a game clearly built for the Running Man members. The athletes have too much strength and often end up over shooting. No Ji-sim is adorable yet again: “I’m strong so it’ll fly all the way over there,” he whines.
The 60 vs 60 game is dodge ball! It starts off vicious as the athletes manage to get two or three people out with one throw. Luckily, the Running Man team can hold their own. The action director, Jung Doo-hong, has a spectacular running jump throw which takes people out with great accuracy. But the greatest play is when actor Im Joo-hwan saves Uee by catching the ball that hit her. He tries to imitate that great majestic running jump shot, but ends up overshooting and landing smack in the middle of the other team.
Amazingly, the athletes have all dodged the ball he threw and it rolls to the edge of the court as Joo-hwan is frantically back-pedalling. Before any of the athletes can attack, fellow actor Lim Hyung-jun dramatically dives in from the edge, sacrificing himself to kick the ball out and save Joo-hwan. A fantastic scene of teamwork, friendship, over-acting and editing. And finally, Running Man wins the dodgeball game!
A performance by new girl group GFriend perks every one up and of course all the male guests are overjoyed. Gfriend is surrounded by fans as soon as they enter the room and, though they put on smiles to perform perfectly, they look a bit shocked and nervous after they finish dancing. The other idols mostly hang back and chat amongst themselves while GFriend performs, and it’s clearly the male actors and comedians who are the most excited, even going so far as to attempt to rush the girls on stage. A bit off-putting to say the least.
Finally, the last influx of guests arrives, and it’s quite obviously the busiest friends. Jinu, of Jinusean, is part of HaHa’s cycling team. Muzie arrives with Roy Kim (who we now know was probably busy preparing for his comeback). The entirety of Seventeen was apparently called in by Uee, and N.Flying was invited by Ji Suk-jin.
Three new actors from Kwang-soo’s company, King Kong Entertainment, introduce themselves briefly and the last guest to stumble in is the rising star of idol-variety, Kwang-hee. It’s now been seven hours since the Running Man members started calling friends, and Lim Hyung-jun, the first one to arrive, asks again whether they’re going to get paid by the hour.
The Running Man team succeeds in getting 91 friends to join them over the day, but unfortunately some of them had to sneak out early; so they only have 85 friends to add to the seven cast members, making 92 all up for Team Running Man. Luckily, they’ve also won two games already and have cut 40 people from the athletes team. Whether that will actually make a difference is debatable. It’s finally Name Tag Elimination time!
It’s wonderfully exciting to see so many different people playing a game I’ve already watched hundreds of times. They each have a different style (Lee Sung-mi plays the stealthy assassin role perfectly) and are able to show it because the game is such madness with so many bodies. They split the game into three rounds, with each team winning a round necessitating round 3 to be a tiebreaker.
It’s the athlete team that has the unbreakable strategy, linking hands and catching the friends in their terrifying human net, taking down 6 or 7 all at once.The Seventeen boys at least show off their speed: Seung-kwan and Do-kyeom wriggle out of the net and sprint across the room. The last one left, Seung-kwan, has a great moment cutely taunting the athletes with dance moves and his teammates start chanting “1v1, 1v1!” He’d be fine if his opponent weren’t Judo star Lee Won-hee, and even then he manages to wiggle away once before, with a firm grab of his shirt, he’s out.
While I would have liked to see the Running Man team of ruffians overtake the athletes in the end, both teams put up a very good fight. The suspense and hilarity of both episodes was well worth the almost four hours of airing time. I also very much appreciated both the diversity, and therefore interesting nature of the invited friends, and how the show credited each and every one of them, as I mentioned before.
Overall, Running Man pulled off the insanity that the 100 v. 100 battle could have been; and with Yoo Jae-suk displaying his full MCing prowess, did so with (mostly) grace and poise. And the guests were wonderful as well: I would love to see many of them back on Running Man in the future.