Rui En battles ageism and single women insecurities in a new series parodying K-dramas
The actress, who stars in lighthearted new drama Oppa, Saranghae! about a career woman whose favourite Korean drama character comes to life, talks about how she relates to the “fear” and “insecurity” about growing older that women may face, a topic the show addresses.
As someone who doesn’t watch any Korean dramas at all, it’s pretty ironic that Rui En is starring in a show that gives the genre a bit of a loving send-up.
The actress leads the action in Oppa, Saranghae!, a new series that also stars Tasha Low, Meixin and Korea’s Kim Jae-hoon, also known as KimKim, an actor who’s worked in Taiwan for the last decade in dramas like My Hero, My Daddy and My Tooth Your Love.
Rui En plays a highly achieving career woman who, stressed out from contending with someone younger threatening to outshine her at work (played by Low), has a bit too much to drink and somehow manages to pull the main character from her favourite K-drama (played by Kim) out of the television; the two begin a Hallyu-esque romance. But, things get complicated because the actor who plays him happens to be in Singapore, too. Hey, it’s fantasy – lean into it.
“A lot of the comedy is in, ‘How do you live with a K-drama character who comes to life in front of you and who literally only knows how to survive within the boundaries of that drama?’” she told CNA Lifestyle.
Underneath the requisite hijinks, though, is a story that explores the psyche of a woman “dealing with ageism and feeling insecure because there’s younger competition coming up,” Rui En said. “And I thought, dude, come on – it’s so relatable not only as an artist but as a woman. There’s so much fear about growing old. There’s so much insecurity about, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m getting fat, I’m getting old.’ And it just really spoke to me.”
The character, from production house Wawa Pictures, was written for her to play, and she received a phone call from executive director Molby Low before there was even a script, inviting her to take the project on.
She said yes immediately because “there’s so much that’s relatable… At this point in my career, I’m not so much interested in ‘popular’ or ‘likeable’ (characters). I think it’s important for me to do ‘complex’ and ‘real’,” the 42-year-old said.
She continued: “I think that in local TV, there has been a lack of representation of maybe a particular age group… It’s also rare that you have a drama that deals with female issues that aren’t about giving birth and getting married. I always appreciate when there’s storytelling that has more than just being a mother or being a wife.”
One thing she made it a point to give input about was, “‘Let’s not laugh at single women who are older and facing all the, ‘When is your turn?’ and ’Is it because your standards are too high?’” she said. “And I think there were certain scenes about which I felt, ‘Let’s not make it so comical. Let’s not be laughing at her – let’s make it laughing with her.'”
She also found the character interesting in that “at work, she’s so serious and no-nonsense. But she’s actually a softie who relieves stress by watching this K-drama that aired 10 years ago.”
Much like Rui En in real life? “I’m a super softie, yeah, I am,” she laughed.
However, K-dramas aren’t her thing at all. “Whenever my friends are like, ‘Oh, gosh, you have to watch this’, I don’t normally get past half an episode. I’m not really into romance,” she admitted. “I’m more into older Korean cinema like Old Boy and Lady Vengeance – very violent, very graphic. I went through this phase when I was like, ‘I’m going to watch the best cinema in the world.’”
In Oppa, Saranghae!, “they do parody some K-drama cliches, which some people told me they found very funny.”
Okay, but if she could pull anyone from any TV show out of her television, who would it be?
“I would pull Idris Elba from Luther out. I have such a big crush on him,” she guffawed. “I just fell in love with him after Luther. He kind of blew up in Hollywood after that, but it was Luther first. Someone was like, ‘Hey, watch this police show’ and I was like, gasp – edgy and dark, the way I like it. It’s one of the best procedurals I’ve ever watched.”
And what would she do with him? “I would be his personal assistant, helping him solve crimes,” she giggled, adding, “I might be too overwhelmed with my adulation!”
Catch Oppa, Saranghae! from Mar 31 on demand for free on mewatch, and from Apr 12 at 9pm on Channel 8.