Infinite laughter, Infinite Challenge’s photo exhibition

Written by on February 25, 2011 in Arts

Logo image from official site

Once upon a time, there was a segment of a Korean variety program that featured a group of comedians and TV talent who jumped into the most ridiculous challenges imaginable: tow truck vs towing humans, tug-of-war with an ox, swimming the doggy paddle against a rescue dog… They called it “Mumohan Dojeon” (무모한 도전, Futile Challenge).

That was 6 years ago. That segment grew to an independent TV show, lost a syllable from its name to become “Muhan Dojeon” (무한도전, Infinite Challenge) and is now one of the top variety programs on Korean TV.

From the F1 special (left to right) : Gil, Jeong HD, Yoo JS, Jeong JH, Park MS, Noh HC

Hosted by the most popular “Nation’s MC” Yoo Jae-suk, he is accompanied by Park Myungsoo, Jeong Junha, Jeong HyeongdonNoh Hongcheol, Ha-ha, and Gil. The mélange of different personalities from create funny situations as they deal with each challenge in their own way.

The challenges. It’s all about the challenges. Although the show has its lighter non-challenge themed moments, it is when the members attack challenges that the viewers really hone in. As the “futile” challenges became “infinite” ones, the challenges became more and more about determination and perseverance rather than providing comedy to the audience. The members challenged themselves by participating in a sports dance competition and an aerobics competition, learned how to bobsleigh to support the Korean national bobsleigh team, collaborated with famous music artists to create an album, held concerts and invited the viewers as the audience, made calendars with humorously themed photos since 2008, tried out cooking Korean food in the heart of New York, created commercials and ads to promote Korean cuisine internationally, and actually farmed rice for an entire year; all while making time between their busy schedules (most of them are in numerous TV and radio shows) and all profits from the album, calendar, and rice sales going to charity.

The program has become so popular not only because it provides laughter, but because it has risen above being a simple comic variety program. It sometimes offers commentary on social and environmental issues through satire, brings about tears of empathy in the portrayal of human determination (this may sound like hyperbole but if you watched the program you know what I’m talking about), and its continuous charity work. The program has received countless accolades and always wins broadcasting awards at the end of the year.

The program is followed by the professional photographer Park Jiman who takes candid snapshots as the show is being filmed, while noted photographers Oh Joong Seok, Bolee, and Kim Tae-eun joined the team for the 2011 calendar project which resulted in absolutely fabulous photos, which are all on display at the Infinite Challenge photo exhibit.

The first showing in late 2010 was at the MBC Dream Center in Ilsan. The second ended on February 20th, 2011 and took place at two venues in Seoul: the Canonplex and Seoul Animation Center.

I caught the second showing, first making a visit to the Canonplex.

An intro clip:

The exhibition starts unfolding from the top of the spiral stairway.

These are from the “Oh My Tent” episode filmed in Alaska. They did a lot of useless things there such as running in the snow barefoot; it was one of their lighter series but some members had to endure injury proving that “making comedy is through blood, sweat, and tears”!

From left to right: Yoo JS, Jeong HD, Ha-ha, Park MS, Sonstar, Gil, Noh HC, Jeong JH

One of the most popular series was their wrestling special, WM7 (Wrestling Muhan Dojeon 7). Along with the help of Sonstar, drummer for the rock band Cherry Filter and amateur wrestler, the members all learned how to pro-wrestle and later put on a show for the fans. It wasn’t a half-hearted attempt. They went through proper training for over a year, which is quite unheard of in showbiz.

The members aren’t athletes. They are all over 30 with most nearing their 40s. But they trained like professionals. Not all of them were in good shape, they sustained injuries while hard training, they fell ill, even on the day of the actual show. But they all ignored this and put on a spectacular show.

Jeong HD beats down on Jeong JH.

Their hardships were only known after the episode was aired with all the behind-the-scenes footage. Fans who had been to the event were shocked to learn that the members had put on the show under such circumstances. This is where the determination of the members shines; this is where they grab the fans’ hearts.

The calendar series were greatly popular with the public because there was an element of hilarity to it, as the members took the modeling challenges very seriously. Quite understandable, because they were being photographed by the most talented photographers in the business!

Jeong HD strikes a pose.

Jeong Hyeong-don, who is my favorite after Yoo Jae-suk (who is really everyone’s favorite, no contest), is extremely graceful and lyrical in his posing despite being on the chubby side. He was actually hanging in the air with wires; this received best photo of the month.

Bad boys, bad boys, whaddaya gonna do? I wasn’t in Korea when the movie was released but I learned that it was very popular; it’s a favorite for parody in various TV shows.

Yoo Jae-suk makes a convincing Judith, yes/no?

Comedians in drag. Nothing new. But when they emulate a personality from a famous painting? The photos are void of any comedic elements. Who knew a Korean comedian could transform into Gustav Klimt’s Judith  so easily?

Baldie Gil greets a friend.

Gil is a talented musician from the hiphop group Leessang. I was rather surprised when he joined the Infinite Challenge team in 2009 because he has intense charisma on stage – I’ve been to several Leessang concerts – and I couldn’t imagine him being on a comic variety program. It turns out that he fits right in, although I’m personally a bit mad ‘cause now I can’t help thinking of his dorky side when he’s performing music.

Who are you? Noh HC gets serious.

Noh Hong Chul’s nickname is “Mighty Mouth”. When he talks it is at the speed of 100 km/h and he never, ever shuts up. The calendar series gave him an opportunity to show off his serious side, albeit only for the seconds when the camera shutter went off.

A rare smile from Park MS.

Park Myeongsoo’s character is known for temper flares, barking and yelling at other members, trying to make the whole show about him, and generally being a grump. He is uncomfortable with showing his soft side but the calendar series helped him to do so without losing face. (Heh.)

Comrades of war from left to right: Park MS, Jeong HD, Jeong JH, Yoo JS, Noh HC, Ha-ha, Gil

Although they’re smiling in the photo, the war themed shoot they did for the calendar was full of poignant moments and all too real. It was surprising to see people used to comedic roles go for full blown seriousness in this shoot.

Yoo JS tries out traditional rope-walking.

The rope in traditional Korean rope-walking not being tight, it is quite amazing to see professional walkers dance, jump, and twirl on the rope. Yoo Jae-suk had a hard time just maintaining balance on the rope with a sogo (소고, traditional Korean hand drum) in hand.

Now off to the Seoul Animation Center in Namsan.

The Seoul Animation Center is in Namsan. Seoul Tower is visible in the background.

I huffed and I puffed up the hill towards Namsan from Myeongdong metro station and realized I need to exercise, badly.

Many fans were at the exhibition.

There were so many people!

Running barefoot in the snow in Alaska: Noh HC, Yoo JS, Jeong HD

The infamous barefoot scenes from the “Oh My Tent” episode. You can feel Noh Hong Chul’s pain.

The F1 special. Clockwise from bottom left: Yoo JS, Park MS, Gil, Jeong JH, Jeong HD, Noh HC

The members actually had the chance to drive race cars in the F1 special. Yoo Jae-suk turned out to be a brilliant driver. The pros were asking him seriously to consider joining their team while the other members looked on jealously, remarking, “What in the world can’t he do???”

Become a member of Infinite Challenge’s F1 team!

Koreans like to take photos so it’s almost mandatory that events have photo-op setups for the fans. (Fans in the photo, please contact me if you want the photos in HD.)

Program director Kim Taeho with Yoo Jae-suk.

Along with the members, program director Kim Taeho is a celebrity in his own right. His ideas and views are what makes Infinite Challenge the program that it is, and his sense of irony and satire adds a deeper meaning to even the most comic episodes. He is the one behind the hilarious yet thought-provoking captions which are analyzed and dissected in fan reviews.

If he or Yoo Jae-suk ever quit the program, it would be the end, period.

Infinite Challenge has many fans. Among them are top cartoonists, illustrators, and comic book artists who participated in the exhibition with their own interpretation of the show and its members:

Master comic book artist Lee Duho’s take on Yoo JS.

Webtoon artist Zi Kangmin depicts the F1 special.

Legendary comic book artist Shin Munsu pokes fun at Gil’s supposed predicament.

Cardboard WM7 character brick figures in photo-friendly size.

Photo-op stage. It was interesting to see fans taking photos; you could tell who their favorites were very easily. It’s not surprising that Yoo Jae-suk is in the middle, but I saw a lot of girls posing with flamboyant hair Noh Hong Chul.

Goodies to get! A temporary MBC gift shop.

Most popular TV programs have tie-in merchandise: T-shirts, mugs, tumblers, postcards, etc. And in the case of Infinite Challenge, there’s the additional calendar and photobook.

Caricature and character brick figures of the members.

Well, I’m the doll and toy geek. I already have the character brick set, the one where they’re wearing suits. They all come with the signature “Infinite Challenge hands”; a flower made with open palms.

My 2011 Infinite Challenge diary. I wrote the 2011 on the spine.

The calendars and diaries sell out rather quickly. I opted for a diary this year because it was filled with many photos and because it was red, my favorite color.

It was reported that 170 thousand people visited the Infinite Challenge photo exhibition.  The exhibition is going on the road; the next stop is Jecheon in the Chungcheongbukdo region. Future cities are to be added later on.

Definitely go check it out if you’re a fan.

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About the Author

Suzy Chung

Suzy Chung is a multilingual writer, editor, and translator with a marketing background. A coffee addict, bookworm, art junkie, foodie, oenophile, K-pop enthusiast, and occasional painter, she has been online since the mid ’90s when the internet wasn’t really the internet but a blue screen with text only discussions. She has lived in three continents but truly believes that Korea is the place to be and is willing to convince anyone who will listen!