“Running Man” and “Infinite Challenge”: A Comparison

Table of Contents

Introduction

The film industry has for many years been considered as a platform for introducing a particular culture to the world or getting local citizens to appreciate and celebrate their own culture depending on the context. The Koreans have not been any different when it comes to using their film industry as a way of expressing their culture. However, films and TV shows are created for a specific audience and the local Korean audience is not always the same as the international audience. This explains why one would find vast differences between two Korean shows with each show sticking to constructs and expectations of their targeted audience. The most impressive thing about Korean productions would be their emphasis on relevant subjects with some recurring themes that tend to change with account for the local context. The Korean film industry started gaining popularity within Asia in the 1990s and it has continued attracting foreign attention since then to a point when the Korean context is no longer alien in Hollywood. However, not all Korean directors have been able to conform to the demands of the international audience, thus creating the disparity between some of the region’s greatest films and TV shows. Some are loyal to the Korean context and only attract a local following, while others are more international with a higher global following as compared to the local following. At this point, it is important to appreciate that most people would only follow a TV show that has some relevance to their specific contexts in terms of values, history, perspective, or even social construct among other issues. The common ground is what makes it possible for the audience to relate to and understand the film in question. This paper focuses on two Korean TV shows, namely Running Man and Infinite Challenge, in order to establish their differences and similarities as a way of explaining their performance within the film industry both locally and internationally.

Running Man

Running Man is a Korean variety show that is often unpredictable and unintentionally funny. The show features a cast of about seven permanent members and occasional guest participants who could be anyone depending on the show’s theme. This show is known for its unpredictability with the cast being taken to numerous locations both within Korea and abroad. This means that the audience always has some level of anticipation as they wait to find out what the next challenge will be, who guest players will be, and where the show will be filmed.

Generally, there is a lot of excitement around this show, thus explaining a large and growing following, especially in the international context. The seven permanent cast members of the show include Ji Suk Jin, Yoo Jae Suk, Kang Gary, Lee Kwang Soo, Song Ji Hyo, Haha, and Kim Jong Kook (Running Man). Each one of these individuals has a specific appeal that makes them suitable for the show and adds value to the entire experience not only for the cast, but for the audience and guests as well. The show has a very high following internationally with most of their audience watching them online whenever an episode is released. It must be appreciated that the team is often divided into two with one side being the mission team and the other side being responsible for finding the mission team and taking their name tags in order to win the mission. The mission in this case could be anything from a race to a number of smaller challenges, depending on the applied theme for the show. Winners in some cases have a prize to take home, but this is not always the case. Essentially, Running Man is action-packed with no specific story or direction. The cast and guests are simply there to have a good time while working together and the audience seems to enjoy this very much. This is a part of what makes the show popular. 

Infinite Challenge

Similarly, Infinite Challenge is a Korean show that is known to hold the position of the most popular TV entertainment within its timeslot. The show has a market share of between 13% and 17% and it falls into the non-drama category. This is considerably rare within the Korean film industry. It can also be noted that this particular TV show is one of rare Korean reality TV shows with an unscripted flow that ensures as much reality as possible. The show is designed to be funny, thus explaining the need for limited scripting and a lot of authentic footage to ensure that the humor is as entertaining as possible (Infinite Challenge). One of the most amazing things about this show is that it has been successful within the Korean film industry for more than ten years and, yet, it is still going strong. The Korean audience particularly identifies with random realities that the cast members have to deal with in their challenges each time. These struggles are the main source of entertainment considering that each cast member has a trait that they bring in to add value to the entire experience. Primarily, TV entertainment has been doing exceptionally well within the Korean industry, but internationally it remains relatively unknown. It can be appreciated that on the surface this show seems to be very similar to Running Man, yet it has not been able to enjoy as much success within the international context. This can only be explained by exploring pivotal differences between the two shows to determine what makes each show successful only within a given market.   

Similarities

Running Man and Infinite Challenge both fall under a new category in the Korean TV industry. This category is called the urban variety although the shows have an undefined inclination towards reality TV. It is important to note that both shows have been created based on reality TV with some elements of sports and other non-physical challenges that would generally require an impressive set of skills within a team or individual context. The first major similarity that can be noted would be in relation to the structure of the shows. Both Running Man and Infinite Challenge thrive on their ability to surprise their audiences with new games and challenges as well as new guest casts more often than not. The randomness in either shows allows for an interested following despite the fact that the storyline is often the same. A number of people, especially within Korea, cannot miss either show simply because they are both spontaneous and captivating. These producers have perfected the art of appealing to their audiences and they use their choice of guests and challenges to achieve this goal. Each guest presenter brings a new dimension into the existing team.

Therefore, with a new challenge or race to win the excitement is often indescribable. This explains the fact that these shows are both followed very closely by their loyal fans. The ability to keep the audience guessing both before and during the show is one of the most effective aspects shared by the shows. Neither can be considered as predictable except for a few incidences when Running Man was accused of having plagiarized a game from Infinite Challenge. It can be appreciated that Infinite Challenge is older than Running Man and has thus run more games and challenges. This increases the chances of borrowed concepts for Running Man.   

Games and Challenges

Both shows are interested in the same types of games and challenges where people work in teams or as individuals to solve a challenge or to win a race. Both shows focus on abilities of the cast members to deal with a real-life situation or a scripted challenge as the audience gets to live through the experience with the cast members. The members of the audience in this case are often considered as spectators and they are forced to pick a side to support within a given challenge. These spectators literally live through the challenge with their favorite teams and they get to root for them and cheer them on all through the show. A competitive concept with the possibility of a prize at the end is also shared by both shows. While they may not be consistent in their prizes, they both are exciting for winning teams and their supporting audience owing to the experience and thrill of the games. Both shows like to combine active sports and mental challenges in order to create an action-packed experience although they also seem to depend on the kind of guests that they are hosting. The stronger the guests, the tougher the games and challenges would be for either show.  

 

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Guests

While both shows have a permanent cast, they also feature guest cast members from time to time as a way of making the show more interesting. These guest casts are usually popular individuals within the society and they could be anything from athletes to intellects and artists. Games are often challenges that are designed around the skill sets of teams in the show and, thus, directors always try to ensure that they do not over-exert their guests and the permanent cast. It can be appreciated that in both Running Man and Infinite Challenge the guest cast members are usually known by the audience. This means that members of the audience often either like or do not like the guest. This makes the game more interesting as they get to see what these celebrities can do on the show.

The Popularity of the Permanent Cast

The permanent cast in either show comprises of talented individuals who are celebrities in various fields. There are singers, MCs, as well as male and female actors among others. Moreover, while the shows are responsible for these individuals’ current popularity, most of the cast members were successful in their careers before the show. For example, Song Ji-Hyo is a successful actress with a great history in the film industry while Kang Hee-Gun also has about eight successful albums to show for his singing career. These shows seem to have been molded in the format of most Western reality TV shows with a star host. The major difference is that the shows are hosted by a group of celebrities who get to learn to work together and entertain their audience as a team. Using celebrities as the cast members is important because the shows get to use the popularity of the cast to attract an audience and generate excitement for the show. These celebrities have both fans and haters who love and hate them in equal measures, thus generating interest in events and outcomes of each challenge. In addition, the talents of these celebrities often come in handy within the game as they get to make people laugh and use their skills and experience in solving challenges that they are presented with.  

Teamwork

This seems like a key concept in both shows. Running Man has seven permanent cast members and a guest cast member and they are usually expected to work as teams in order to complete a challenge. Moreover, although some games require individuals to work on their own, winners often have to be able to work well with others or understand what others are doing in order to complete their part of the challenge. In Infinite Challenge, the six permanent cast members also have to work often as a team. The audience in both shows thus gets to experience the team concept where after many years on the cast the members get to look like a bunch of friends who understand each other and can work together seamlessly. These friendship and consistency involve the audience since they also get to learn characters of the cast members and they can even anticipate their performance in certain situations.   

Theme and Purpose

Considering that both shows are in the category of urban-reality TV, their main purpose would be to entertain the audience with as little scripting as possible. The whole idea behind both shows however is to indulge the audience in action-packed shows that will keep them entertained within a Korean context. The shows are meant to be a lot of fun with the comedy aspect that each presenter seems to have perfected. These shows are driven by their ability to entertain, surprise, and indulge the audiences, thus creating a very strong similarity for the shows. People who watch Running Man are always likely to enjoy Infinite Challenge just as much.     

Differences

Target Audience

As Korean shows, it is understandable that both Running Man and Infinite Challenge are originally shot in Korean. One of the greatest differences between these shows is that Running Man has English subtitles and can be watched by a wider target audience. Infinite Challenge does not usually have subtitles and when it does, they are always in Chinese. This means that the show targets the Korean and Chinese audience unlike Running Man’s global audience.

Frequency of Guest Cast Members

Infinite Challenge seems to have limited guests in its shows, thus allowing the audience to get to see more of the permanent cast members. This means that the main stars in the show are six individuals that the audience has come to love and appreciate over the years. The monotony may seem exhaustive, but it is also endearing as the audience usually knows what to expect. Running Man, on the other contrary, features different guests who frequent the show on numerous occasions. This makes it impossible for a viewer to predict the direction in which the show is headed. While the audience may know how each of the permanent cast members is likely to act within a given challenge, guests are often an unknown variable and they determine the outcome and intensity of games and challenges in these shows. This is an impressive difference between the shows. Infinite Challenge is more consistent in the intensity and complexity of games and challenges, whereas Running Man is more flexible as they try to accommodate guests in each show.

 

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Reality Aspect

Infinite Challenge seems to be more authentic and unscripted than Running Man. Both shows are actually based on the reality concept, but there are things about Running Man that seem to be very choreographed, especially in terms of the way challenges are created and approached, as well as the humor.

Originality

Infinite Challenge started out earlier in 2005 and Running Man was only aired about five years later. The 5-year difference means that the creativity at Running Man is mostly shadowing concepts that have already been explored by Infinite Challenge. There have actually been a few cases when Running Man was accused of plagiarizing a game from an earlier Infinite Challenge show. The originality therefore differs not because Running Man’s team is less creative, but because the Infinite Challenge’s team has been in the industry for longer. Their experience means that they have explored most of the concepts and there is rarely a game idea that they have not tried or thought of after over ten years in the industry.  

Conclusion

In order to appeal to a larger audience, most international producers learn the importance of language in their shows. Running Man is, for example, less superior to Infinite Challenge within the local industry, but abroad the show has been able to attract a larger audience simply because the producers understand the significance of language in their productions. Having English subtitles allows the show to attract a larger audience from non-Korean speaking and non-Chinese speaking societies. Infinite Challenge may be considerably more interesting, but it can only be understood by people who speak either Korean or Chinese. These two shows are very similar and they should have the same ratings both locally and internationally. However, Infinite Challenge is the older and more consistent show, thus having a larger following locally. Its only limitation with respect to the international audience is the absence of an internationally recognized language in the show’s subtitle options. This means that while language is an important part of a country’s culture as expressed in a film or TV show, producers must consider the international audience if they intend to be popular overseas.