How K-drama hero Hyun Bin became a country’s obsession

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"Crash Landing on You" star Hyun Bin leads the charge with Smart’s “Simple. Smart Ako” campaign. Photo courtesy of SMART

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Amid a community quarantine that has forced people to stay at home, Filipinos got to enjoy a spot of good news: Smart Communications revealed South Korean actor Hyun Bin as the face of its newest campaign. Smart’s decision to team up with the “Crash Landing on You” star is reflective of how Korean entertainment has made a significant impact on Filipino viewers.

Hyun Bin leads the charge with Smart’s “Simple. Smart Ako” campaign, which focuses on the power of Smart’s LTE capabilities and array of Giga Promos, allowing users to access mobile data for a variety of purposes: video streaming, gaming, and social media. As more internet users work in flexible schedules due to the general community quarantine, Smart plans to ramp up its Giga Promo services to offer more data options for people working and studying from home.

During the digital press conference to officially kick off the campaign, Smart executives all agreed that Hyun Bin made the perfect fit for the telco giant — after all, it was through video streaming that Hyun Bin became a national phenomenon in the Philippines. Since it aired in mid-December 2019, the show dominated Netflix’s list of its 10 most popular shows in the country. As of writing, “Crash Landing on You” still ranks on the streaming service’s Top 10 shows.

The 16-episode drama centers around the story of star-crossed lovers: South Korean woman Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin) and North Korean soldier Ri Jeong-hyeok (Hyun Bin), whose paths cross when Yoon Se-ri accidentally paraglides into North Korean territory. It’s been praised internationally for its storytelling and characters, particularly the strong chemistry between the show’s main characters. It’s the third highest Korean drama on cable television (the all-time highest for Korean network tvN). Variety has even named it one of the best international shows on Netflix.

In the Philippines, response to the show has been equally ardent; Korean television has long been part of Philippine culture, but “Crash Landing” sets itself apart as a particular Filipino favorite. There are numerous “fan casts” on who would play the show’s characters, should it be remade in the Philippines, and has inspired hundreds of memes across social media.

Hyun Bin himself has been particularly singled out for his acting: as the dutiful and romantic Captain Ri, he’s been able to show the best qualities of a fictional drama hero. (When the Philippine government announced the enhanced community quarantine, memes circulated on Facebook about how they would not mind going through checkpoints if Captain Ri were manning them.) Just a few days before Smart unveiled its Hyun Bin-centric campaign, local retailer Bench teased that Hyun Bin will also be part of their roster of international endorsers.

As much as it was a savvy business decision to work with a Korean superstar, it’s clear among Smart’s top executives that it was also driven by genuine admiration — both for the show and Hyun Bin himself. After Hyun Bin’s contract signing last April, the Smart team had originally planned to visit South Korea to supervise the commercial shoot with the star himself, but international travel bans kept them home.

“My wife wanted to volunteer to be an assistant for the shoot,” Alfredo Panlilio said with a laugh during the press conference. Panlilio is Smart’s president and CEO, and PLDT's chief revenue officer. While the team had to work on the shoot — and the rest of the campaign — remotely, it only showed how technology bridged a lot of gaps in personal communications.

Following the highly successful launch of Hyun Bin’s campaign (after teasing the campaign in late May through their digital channels, the star’s full commercial leaked and went viral on social media), fans have wondered if this is just the start to the telco brand bringing in more South Korean idols to the Philippines.

Panlilio gave no definite answer, but hints: “It would be lonely if [Hyun Bin] is alone.”