Freeman Cebu Entertainment

Mystery and suspense at its peak in Gianna Jun’s "JIRISAN"

Vanessa A. Balbuena - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines —  Impressing audiences a few months back as a lone survivor turned vengeful spy in “Kingdom: Ashin of the North”, South Korean superstar Gianna Jun returns in another strong female lead role via the iQiyi Original K-series “Jirisan.”

Set to premiere globally on October 23, the 16-episode mystery-thriller drama features Jun as Seo Yi-gang, Jirisan National Park’s top ranger who has vast navigation experience, making her knowledgeable in tracking down lost individuals.

One day, she becomes the partner of Kang Hyun-jo (Ju Ji-hoon), a rookie park ranger who is a military academy graduate and an ex-lieutenant, but experienced a horrific incident on Jirisan that led him to become a ranger.

The drama will revolve around a mystery surrounding the mountain’s many visitors: those who come to kill, and those who come to end their lives. Lying in wait are not only mysteries and suspense, but also heartwarming tales.

Directed by Lee Eung-bok (Descendants of the Sun, Guardian: The Lonely and Great God, Sweet Home) and written by Kim Eun-hee (Kingdom, Signal), “Jirisan” will give viewers a rare peek into the lives of national park rangers who face typhoons, fires, floods and untold dangers without fear in their search and rescue missions.

Writer Kim shared in a virtual conference that she wrote a story previously with a police officer in the lead which was focused on finding the cause of a murder. For “Jirisan”, her main characters – the park rangers – are focused on preventing incidents.

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

“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.”

Renowned for her iconic rom-com turns, Jun showcases a new side of strength and skill in the series.

“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,” said Jun, adding that contrary to what viewers may glean from the series trailer, the filming process for her was not too tough. In fact, she believes the production process improved her physical health.

“I didn’t feel exceptionally tired or cold, I was very happy throughout the filming process. I prepared well in mountaineering gear, there were not many difficulties.”

Of working for the first time with male lead Ju Ji-hoon (Princess Hours, Kingdom), the actress offered, “It was a very good partnership, we were at ease.”

“I’ve been a fan of Gianna Jun,” Ju in turn said. “Her charm has left me speechless and has always been a role model for me. In our collaboration, she was always trying to feed me, so I am very thankful to her.”

With his rookie ranger character seeming to bring the element of mystery in the series, he prepared by discussing with writer Kim and listening to her analysis. He has been a mountain climber from a young age and so expressed enthusiasm to climb Jirisan in the future.

The 39-year-old actor added that it took a lot of energy to shoot the series, especially when ascending the peak and his legs had to hold still. The shoot was more demanding than shooting on even ground, and one of the ways he kept up physically was thru running.

Aside from the onscreen chemistry between Jun and Ju, “Jirisan” has the bantering of capable actors Oh Jung-se (When the Camellia Blooms, It’s Okay Not to be Okay) and Cho Han-cheul (Vincenzo, Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha) portraying teammates of the Haidong Branch rangers to watch out for.

Jun shared of Oh, “Actually he just looks funny. There are many scenes that we had to shoot together and they were all serious ones, but he just made us laugh. And before we burst out laughing the director would shout ‘Cut!’”

“Once Gianna Jun wanted to hit my head but she burst into laughter before she could do it. After laughing though, she still hit my head,” said Oh Jung-se, adding  that Jun was very into her character.

Oh has played many memorable characters including “Stove League” and has enjoyed an increase in his stature of late with his string of successful projects. “Jirisan” is looking up to add to his list of acclaimed dramas.

“Many are anticipating ‘Jirisan.’ One can feel its charm from the show title alone. Especially with writer Kim, director Lee Eung-bok and photography director’s Choi Sang-mook behind it, I had no reason not to accept the role,” he quipped.

Cho, who has played comedic roles that brightened up many shows, will do so once again in “Jirisan” as he injects his usual humor to lighten up scenes.

“Jirisan” is just one of many premium Korean originals that iQiyi is rolling out, according to Kuek Yu-Chuang, iQiyi’s vice president for International Business. To date, the Asian streamer has already announced seven more originals, three of which are coming soon.

They’ve also unveiled four more upcoming Korean Originals launching in 2022 with some of the best production houses in South Korea such as “Crazy Love”, “Weekday Wife”, “My Oppa is an Idol” and “Us at One Point.”

“With our Korean originals contents giving extreme mainstream popularity over the past year, we are excited, to accelerate our content production come 2022 and beyond. It is clear that in 2022, one of our focus will be on producing original Korean dramas that will continue to appeal to our international audience,” Yu-Chuang said.

“This can be in the form of creating more shades of romance titles, or bringing on board some of the biggest stars in Korea for our projects. We will also continue to be a world-class partner for Korean content creators and have started to do so this year by doubling the size of our Seoul-based team to be closer to our partners on the ground.”

Outside of China, iQiyi now has a local footprints in the Middle East, North America and across Southeast Asia and content teams based in Japan and Korea to scout the next beloved Asian stories for the international audience – making it the only Asian streamer with a global footprint on the ground across APAC, EMEA and the Americas.

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