New Journey to the West Revives the Variety Genre
If you grew up in an Asian household, you might have also grown up watching many drama and movie adaptations of the classic novel “Journey to the West.” For Na PD (of 1N2D, 3 Meals A Day, and Grandpas Over Flowers fame), this translated into his latest hit travel-reality series New Journey to the West. The show features the same character roles: Xuanzang, Sun Wukong, Zhu Bajie, and Sha Wujing. Each season has featured fixed cast members Lee Sugeun, Kang Hodong, and Eun Jiwon. Later on, Ahn Jaehyun replaced Lee Seunggi after season 1, and since then, the show has added two more members: Kyuhyun and Song Mino. The premise of the show is seemingly simple: take a journey to the West while competing in games in hopes of winning the seven dragon balls in order to grant your wish. This season has two new characters: Krillin and Piccolo (both from manga/anime adaptation Dragon Ball). Each season focuses on a different location, and this season finds the cast traveling to Vietnam for nine days, seven nights of stifling humidity, finger-licking good food, and, of course, tummyache-inducing laughter.
It All Started with Song Mino...
It all began at a company dinner on April 18 at a K-BBQ restaurant in Seoul. Lee Sugeun is the first to arrive on scene. Shortly afterwards, Kyuhyun is welcomed to the dinner, although not after suffering affectionate teasing by Sugeun about his drunken festivities the night before. In the middle of this teasing, Kang Hodong arrives and immediately tells Kyuhyun he heard he drank till early morning last night. Rumors sure travel fast. Maknae of the cast, Song Mino breezes into the restaurant with the most celebrity air of them all, but that image is shattered as the show flashes previous montages of the rapper’s fool persona. Last to arrive is Eun Jiwon, freshly make-uped from his performance at a music broadcast. As the night grows darker, the empty alcohol containers start piling up, and tongues become looser. After a few drinks, Song Mino declares that his table tennis skills are no joke. He could probably even beat Jiwon or Hodong at this rate. All riled up and ruddy-faced from alcohol and hurt pride, Hodong wagers a bet on who would lose. If he loses, he vows to shave everything. He means everything. If Mino loses, off with his green mullet. Even Yang Hyunsuk is phoned in to officiate the bet. Judging from the pitying looks other fellow cast members give Mino, it looks like we already know what lies ahead in Mino’s future.
The day of reckoning arrives faster than we think when members gather at their aptly-named “Sacred Land of Shaved Heads.”
First person to reach 11 points wins the match, and the bald loser will be assigned the “Krillin” character as their role. In a blink of an eye, Mino finds himself facing defeat at 0:10. It is then that he vocalizes his dire situation, and Sugeun couldn’t help but ask when Mino realized this. Sugeun and his one-liners really know how to bust a gut with laughter. In a valiant but ultimately useless attempt to smash the ball across the table, Mino stands in utter defeat 0:11. Before he knows it, he finds himself sitting in a barber chair. Lucky for him, the cast was lenient on his idol status and allowed him to get away with just a significantly short hairstyle.
Playing with Fire
The next game they play determines the roles each cast member assumes for the rest of the season. Members must try to guess which foods Hodong will pick. If your food is picked and actually eaten by Hodong first, you will earn 10 points, 8 points, or 6 points, respectively. However, a point is deducted every time Hodong calls your name for whatever reason. The member with the most points at the end of the game will get assigned a character based on its desirability. Each character has its weaknesses (cons when playing games) and strengths (advantageous when needed to win), so the cast minus Mino/Krillin is anxious to play Xuanzhan. After a while, the cast casts their bets with Na PD.
Seasoned variety veterans Jiwon and Sugeun lead the charge with racking up points out the get-go. As the game continues, Hodong catches on to the fact that something is going on whenever he calls a name, but, for the life of him, he just can’t figure it out. Jiwon decides to gamble all or nothing. He stands up to go get coffee in hopes that “out of sight, out of mind” rings true, but it backfires on him!
Na PD rounds up the points, and Jaehyun wins first place with 1 point. He’s crowned the character Xuanzhan, while Jiwon is Sun Wukong, Kyuhyun is Sha Wujing, Sugeun is Piccolo, and Hodong himself is aptly Zhu Bajie.
To varying hilarious results, the members must also wear the costumes to the airport. Sugeun’s green-faced, waterproof, white bodysuit earns him the biggest laugh, but the extreme shoulder pads get in the way in more than one way. Jiwon worries that, as Sun Wukong, his inhibitor vest will trigger off alarms as it looks like a bomb vest. Ironically, Mino looks the most normal with just six black dots adorning his forehead while he really rocks his newly shortened mullet.
Once the members step off the flight, they are blasted with a face of steaming hot air. Vietnam’s blistering humidity is no joke to the Koreans who are used to a different level of humidity in their homeland. Na PD informs them that their first destination is to visit the restaurant famous for their charcoal-grilled pork and rice noodles that President Obama ate on his trip in Vietnam. Unfortunately for Hodong, because of Zhu Bajie’s weakness, he’s forbidden from eating his own kind a.k.a. pork.
When members ask what they have to do to eat the whole meal, Na PD tells them to raise their hands up so everyone can see them and march straight out of the restaurant. Once everyone is on the bus, Na PD tells them that because the tourist bus could not be parked in front of the restaurant, they had to drive off. However, he’s giving the cast a chance to go back and eat the rest of their meal only if they collectively answer six questions correctly. For every second they take, the bus will drive further and further away from the restaurant towards their dorm. Evil genius Na PD lives up to his name!
After three unsuccessful attempts, the cast finally halts the bus and runs back to the restaurant. Seeing six fully-grown costumed men running back just to eat noodles is too funny of a sight to see!
As an avid watcher of Korean variety shows since the early 2000s, it saddened me as a fan to see the decreasingly variety of variety shows broadcasted. What does a fan have to do to get the belly-busting laughter or moments where stars put down their celebrity persona and just let loose? The answer comes in the form of Na PD. What sets apart New Journey to the West from other travel-reality programs is the way it’s edited and formatted. The results? Unhindered by television broadcast rules, you get zany interjections of the staff or silly cut scenes for the purpose of emphasizing cast members’ not-so-bright moments. The show is a breath of fresh air for audiences, and the viewership ratings reflect it. What started as word-of-mouth, raving reviews for the show gave the producers a Season 4. Viewers clamored for more as they couldn’t get enough of the zippy, zany pace of the show. This show just gained an avid watcher in me. Like the netizens say: In Na PD, We Trust.