Roommate (룸메이트)

Review by Jill, USA

As of this writing (Oct. 2014) I have finished Season One of the extremely popular variety show from Korea called Roommate. I didn't know what to expect from this show, how scripted vs. spontaneous it would be, but I tried it on a lark because I was familiar with some of the actors in it and loved them (especially Dong Wook Lee from Scent Of A Woman and Kang Goo's Story, in fact as the series began we see the entire cast of the show watching the latter drama together on television and cheering Dong Wook on while he looks sheepishly touched - I loved that!), and I quickly became enchanted with this variety show, therefore ... hooked! Major, big time!

Roommate was sold as a variety show where we could see the same 11 celebrities who didn't personally know each other begin to room together in a spacious, luxurious home in Seoul for a full fifty weeks, so we could see them grow to care about one another and become a big happy family. Sadly, as it neared the end of its first season, several of the celebrities announced -- for various professional reasons -- that they would not be able to stay out their full tenure of 50 weeks. This was disappointing to me because I had quickly grown attached to every single one of them, knew them by name, grew to care about them as people. New cast members are being brought in to replace them, which will mean a new adjustment to anyone who continues to watch future seasons of the show.

If you've ever wondered about the daily lives of Korean celebrities, singers, actors, even in this case a female professional fighter in the ring, then Roommate will give you an important bird's eye view to understand the stresses they live under in a high-pressured, competitive entertainment world. The home they live in had cameras in every room except bathrooms so there were few places the celebs could go for privacy. They each shared a room with others and I felt a lot of preparation must have gone into the pairing up of the people in each bedroom, for instance a young K-pop idol with an older singer who saw his musical heyday in the 1990's, who would have much to share with the younger man about competing in the music business. Mentoring the younger generation of stars seems to be an important practice in Korean entertainment professions; I feel that's sadly lacking in Hollywood. Everyone in America is only out for themselves.

The original celebrities on season one of Roommate besides actor Dong Wook Lee, include pop idol singer Park Chan Yeol (from the group EXO), actress Soo Hyun Hong (who appeared in the K-dramas Lie To Me and Temptation of An Angel, and with So Jisub in the film Rough Cut), comedian Se Ho Jo (from My Love From Another Star and Master's Sun), super model So Ra Lee, singer-dancer Nana (of the group After School), K-pop idol Park Bom (from the group 2NE1), actor Min Woo Park (from Flower Boy Ramen Shop), actor Kang Joon Seo (The Suspicious Housekeeper), singer Sung Woo Shin, and female fighter Ga Yeon Song, who goes on to win her first professional fight during the first season and we're along to watch her success).

Actor Dong Wook Lee, my favorite, sits next to his Mom in her kitchen and
laments that no one will marry him now that it's revealed he's a "mama's boy"

Roommate even showed their home lives before they joined the show; most of them lived very humbly, which was a shock to me; apparently it is extremely expensive to live in Seoul. It showed their families, their jobs, their friendships, in nice, homey, often funny, ways. Actor Dong Wook's chat with his Mom (whom he'd lived with for 34 years!) in the beginning of the show was way too adorable for words. She still didn't want to give up her "baby" and seemed concerned that there would be women living in the house he was moving to. Hee Hee. I also loved it when two of the pretty girls, Nana and Soo Hyun, had perfect hair and nails but couldn't cook a dinner, they didn't even know how to make rice! They had lived on pre-packaged food and now they all had to take turns making real dinners for the "family", and doing the dishes. Dong Wook wouldn't even eat their food! (Just goes to show you that a smart man will never marry a woman who can't cook, no matter how beautiful she is! LOL!).

From left to right, the women of Roommate: Park Bom, So Ra Lee,
Ga Yeon Song, Soo Hyun Song, and Nana

Some of my favorite moments: when Dong Wook and comedian Se Ho learned the lyrics in English to Disney's Frozen song "Love Is An Open Door" and sang it together in the car; when the cast split up and visited Japan and China and we saw the location which served as the inspiration for Miyazaki's Spirited Away, when some of the cast were brave enough to try bungee jumping (I was in awe during that episode for I could never do that for all the money in the world!), when Kang Joon in his space man costume ran around the house acting like a superhero, when Kang and Min Woo put baldy scalp masks on and pretended to be old men, Nana taking 4 hours to go to and from the grocery store that was supposedly only 10 minutes away by car! The sweet thing wasn't exactly the best driver in the world, in addition to not knowing how to make rice! LOL! Another hilarious moment: when Dong Wook tried to get friendly with some owls which were considered pets in a restaurant I laughed and laughed. Just great!

"Whooo Are You?"
I'm still not sure how much of this show was scripted, and how much spontaneous, but all I know is that I adored each episode. Even seeing their daily cosmetic routines was funny, like how they all seemed to swear by using lotion daily to stay young looking, pouring it all over their faces while sitting right up to the cameras and talking to the audience. I also enjoyed some of the more poignant moments, like when comedian Se Ho's parents came to visit for dinner one night, bringing giant octopuses for dinner, which was macabre funny since they seemed to try and slither away from their ultimate fate, but then as everyone sat around talking after dinner Se Ho's mother lets it slip that Se Ho, who always has a smile on his face, had at one point considered committing suicide when his career was at a low point. Everyone sitting around the table wiping their eyes made me tear up, too.

Nana and Se Ho quickly seemed to form a special sweet affection for one another
And even though it was difficult to watch, when actor Min Woo, who was rooming with actor Kang Joon, became jealous of the younger boy when he got a phone call for a TV host job that Min Woo desired, it was very illuminating how Korea's social structure, which teaches young people to respect anyone older, causes Kang Joon to humbly ask for Min Woo's forgiveness. This is just the way they do things in Korea - people's feelings are put at a high premium and even if you have to humble yourself you do so in order to maintain an important friendship. The end result turned out happily, for Min Woo was then asked to host the same show along with Kang Joon.

Kang Joon, Dong Wook, and Min Woo
pose for a modeling job together

Surprisingly, some of my favorite segments of all had to do, not with the actors I liked, but with female fighter Ga Yeon, who always seemed the most humble of every one of the roommates. Perhaps because her worries were not about impressing people with her looks but rather how well she would do after training for her first big professional fight, she just seemed the most grounded out of everyone in the house. Her exercise routine, her special stringent diet, her stamina and dedication to her goals, her good heart were apparent in every single episode. She was so determined to make good, to honor the memory of her father who had been a fighting coach before he passed away. I loved it when she, Se Ho, and Dong Wook hiked up a beautiful mountain together on Jeju where Ga Yeon had hiked with her father years earlier, and during a rest she begins talking about him, and how she reacted when he died. The two men were in hushed reverence listening to her talk, and I'm sure quite a few people in the audience teared up during that segment. Later the roommates cheer her on during her fight and you can see Se Ho and Dong Wook in particular sweating it out watching her in the ring, like they were watching and praying over a beloved little sister. So touching.

Roommate makes you realize that celebrities are people too. They hurt, they feel alone, they get frightened, they cry, they feel overwhelmed, they appreciate friendships just like you and I do.

There is something for everyone to enjoy about the show, even if you are not a "reality tv" watcher in general. When it comes to Korean pop culture I am an avid watcher, and this show teaches me so much about the Korean people and their society in general.