Nathalie Tomada – The Philippine Star

October 20, 2021 | 12:00am

K-drama superstars Gianna Jun and Ju Ji-hoon recently talked about their “senior-junior” team-up in the iQiyi Original K-series Jirisan.

Gianna and Ji-hoon play Jirisan National Park’s top ranger and rookie ranger, respectively, in the next big K-drama about the mystery surrounding the Jiri Mountain National Park in the southern region of South Korea, including “those who come to kill, and those who come to end their lives.” As rangers, they deal with typhoons, fires, floods and other unforeseen dangers in their search and rescue missions. The iQiyi Original K-series will exclusively simulcast with Korea on Oct. 23 on the iQiyi International app and worldwide.

During a virtual presscon, the lead stars offered the media a glimpse of their onscreen chemistry. “It was a very good partnership, we were at ease,” said Gianna.

Ji-hoon, on the other hand, mused that he has been a fan of Gianna “since (I was) young.”

“Her charm has left me speechless and (she) has always been a role model for me,” he further praised his co-star. “In our collaboration, she was always trying to feed me, so I am very thankful to her.”

Both Gianna and Ji-hoon were first and last seen together in the tail-end of the second season of the zombie period drama Kingdom. They spend more screen time together in a series that was also written by Kingdom and Signal writer Kim Eun-hee.

According to Gianna, “Few actors have worked with writer Kim consecutively. I am very thankful for that. The charm in her scripts is that details that seem unimportant at the start, turn out to be crucial at the end.”

Ji-hoon, who has a longer work experience with the writer, shared: “I’ve worked with writer Kim for five years. She’s like a relative, someone who I will greet during a festival, and we meet often. Her scripts are extremely detailed.”

Going by the official trailer alone, Gianna, who’s known as a rom-com queen to her international fans, is expected to showcase a mentally and physically strong and skilled female character in Jirisan.

Her character is described in the synopsis as an expert in navigation and in tracking down lost individuals. Gianna noted that the reason she accepted this role was because it was her first time to portray a ranger. “Actually, I didn’t accept the role because I wished to play a strong woman. Females today are stronger in character. I never thought I would play a park ranger. To me, this is a brand-new experience.”

The actress said she also came prepared on the set that she didn’t find the filming process overly difficult. “I didn’t feel exceptionally tired or cold, I was very happy throughout the filming process. As I prepared well in mountaineering gear, there were not many difficulties,” she said, further noting that it even improved her physical wellbeing. 

Screenwriter Eun-hee praised the actress for taking on increasingly tough female characters since her now-iconic titular role in the box-office hit film from 20 years ago, My Sassy Girl. In response, Gianna said, “Thank you to everyone for your praises, I think there are some humorous parts in there.”

As for Ji-hoon, in essaying the part to an ex-military lieutenant who becomes a ranger after a horrific incident, he frequently consulted the writer Eun-hee.

He shared that it required a lot of energy to shoot the series and it was tough, especially when ascending the peak and his legs had to hold still. “The shoot was about three to four times more demanding than shooting on even ground,” he said. “That’s why I run to keep fit.”

Nevertheless, the actor disclosed that from a young age, he’s been a mountain climbing enthusiast and hoped to conquer Jirisan, the second-tallest peak in South Korea, in the future.

Meanwhile, Kuek Yu-Chuang, iQiyi’s vice president for International Business credited Korean content as one of the main reasons behind the “rapid expansion” of iQiyi to become one of the “fastest-growing streaming services in Asia.”

As of second quarter, iQiyi has over 106 million subscribers with over 350 million viewing hours a day. “On iQiyi, fans love K-drama, in fact 38 percent of the total drama watch time was contributed by K-drama, as of the end of 2020. And in 2021, in response to that positive signal from our international audience, iQiyi launched 30-percent more Korean titles this year as compared to last year.”

“This included significant investments in bringing Korean originals,” Yu-Chuang added, including My Roommate is a Gumiho, iQiyi’s first self-produced Korean original that became the platform’s No. 1 title during the course of its launch. Streaming Jirisan is in-keeping with iQiyi’s goals to become “one of the Asian streaming leaders that brings the most top class, premium Korean originals to the world,” the iQiyi executive added.

Jirisan is directed by Lee Eung-bok (Descendants of The Sun, Guardian: The Lonely and Great God) and also stars Oh Jung-se and Cho Han-Cheul.

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