Over the past decade Korean culture has seen a remarkable rise in popularity in the West. Dramas, films and K-Pop have all done well, with critics and cinephiles raving about films such as Train to Busan. In the past year, though, VOD services such as Viki and Netflix have also played a huge part in the success of Korean films, dramas and television shows, and have seen the rise of one type of programme in particular: Variety Shows.
What are variety shows you might ask? Are they the equivalent of the panel shows we have here? Well, kind of, if you turned things up to 11 and made your guests do ridiculous tasks just so they could earn the right to promote their new project. “Men on a Mission” (or Knowing Brothers, as it’s known in South Korea) is one of these Variety Shows to grace Netflix UK, and it’s undoubtedly one of the country’s best. First aired on JTBC in 2015, and hosted by comedians Kang Hodong, Lee Soogeun, Kim Youngchul, musicians Kim Heechul, Min Kyunghoon, Lee Sangmin, and national sports star Seo Janghoon, no one expected the show to last for long.
With no clear format to speak of, the show was almost cancelled several times, only the hosts (or brothers, as they’re referred to) were somehow keeping it afloat. Then the show’s producers and writers struck gold when they changed the setting and transported the hosts to a classroom they dubbed the “Brother School”. The transformation proved to be one of the best decisions they could have made, as fans began to tune in every week just to see guests become transfer students and give quizzes about themselves to the brothers, as well as taking part in a variety of ‘school activities’ and improvised comedy sketches. The show has quickly become a hit, and with the fresh format and great comic timing of its hosts it’s clear to us why.
Looking for a TV show on Netflix you’ve never heard of? Here are seven reasons why you should be watching this insane variety show:
The show’s seven hosts each bring their own unique style to the show, playing a particular role to ensure that everything comes together. Soogeun is great at slapstick comedy, Heechul has a sharp tongue, Kyunghoon makes childish jokes, and Hodong likes to act cute. Even Youngchul, who has made a whole career out of being an ‘unfunny’ comedian, has managed to carve a place for himself on the show precisely because he is willing to be the butt of the jokes. They’re all funny in their own way, and their charm and humour is what makes the show so great.
Kim Heechul, the resident psycho dancing machine
We’ve already talked about the brothers but, let’s be honest, Kim Heechul is on another level. He’s quick, he’s witty and he’s not afraid to let the guests have it. He’ll be savage to anyone that walks into that classroom and that’s why he’s the best part of the show. He also has an incredible memory for film quotes, TV shows, and dance routines (for both male and female idol groups, although he clearly prefers the female group dances). He’s constantly on the ball and firing off joke after joke, and then, on the rare occasion, guests will even stump him by threatening to reveal a secret about him or his past relationships.
The ridiculous challenges
One of the main highlights of the show is when the guests challenge the brothers to a contest, confident that they can beat them at a particular skill or game. If the guests do well the brothers will keep upping the stakes, making up rules on the spot just so they can win. This is also true of recent episodes where a new segment they call the 99-second challenge has been introduced, and sees the brothers go head-to-head against their celebrity guests to compete in 4-5 absurd tasks within a 99-second window.
The guests get competitive too
Ever wondered what would happen when celebrities are teased to breaking point? Because you’re about to see it in Men on a Mission. South Korean television shows call for exaggerated reactions, hosts and guests have to overreact to make things funny and the result is actually quite brilliant. When K-Pop group SHINee guest starred on the show, for example, members Minho and Key jokingly demanded that the staff get off set and step on them if they wanted to take items away, just because they lost a game based on the sneaky tactics of the brothers — and there’s certainly more where that came from.
Janghoon and Sangmin are divorced, Soogeun had gambling problems, and Hodong used to be the country’s top entertainer before a scandal led to his temporary retirement — these are just some of the recurring jokes that you’ll witness across the seasons. While they seem like serious topics now, the way in which the brothers refer to them is remarkably funny. If you can’t make fun of yourself, how can you make jokes about anyone else?
The Netflix Dub
You might be scratching your head over this one, but it’s true there is a Netflix dub. At least, there is for the music. You see, Netflix doesn’t seem to have the rights for any of the songs that the guests are there to promote. So, what we get to hear instead is some pretty corny copyright-free dance music. Why is this one of the reasons you should watch the show, you might be asking? Well because it’s actually pretty hilarious to watch these idols dance their heart out to a song that is completely wrong for them. It’s like going to a gig and expecting a world-class DJ but instead you get your kid brother on stage.
The over-the-top edit
Ever thought you’d like to see a particularly funny moment in a show again, but once it’s happened that’s it? Well, have no fear; Men on a Mission got you covered because they repeat certain moments 2-3 times from different angles for comic effect. There’s also a whole lot of visual and sound effects to add to each joke and while it may not sound like much on paper it really does work, mainly because it means the show is so over-the-top it’s ridiculous.
Our recommended episodes:
From 2015-2016: Ep. 4 with I.O.I, Ep. 6 with Hwang Chi-yeul and SISTAR, Ep. 15 with SHINee, Ep. 14 with INFINITE, Ep. 18 with Rain and EXID’s Hani, Ep. 20 with Shin Dong and Lee Teuk of Super Junior.
From 2017: Ep. 2 with Park Seong-un and Chae Jeong-an, Ep. 4 with BTOB, Ep. 6 with Twice, Ep. 9 with Kim Ok-bin, Ep. 13 with Zico and Jung Young-hwa, Ep. 15 with EXO, Ep. 18 with Girls Generation.
Highlights of 2015-2016, as well as new episodes from 2017 and 2018 of Men on a Mission are available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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