[Opinion] What’s the Deal With the SpartAce Mania?

The dating rumors between singer Kim Jong-kook and actress Song Ji-hyo have only gotten stronger and more widespread, even after they both denied having any romantic relationship. The high level of speculating and growing number of supporters, coupled with the increasing strength of these rumors has practically reached a level of mania, but why? What’s the deal with the SpartAce mania?

When strongman Kim Jong-kook, the “Sparta,” and “Ace” Song Ji-hyo pair up on the variety show “Running Man” my anticipation rises. The two worked seamlessly together — balancing their strengths and weaknesses to form one of the strongest pairs on the show.

With that said, I’ve always been excited when they work with each other. However, this was more for the entertainment value and expectation of the extraordinary rather than sly glances or possible veiled flirting. The fact that rumors surrounded the “SpartAce” couple was a surprise to me when I discovered them earlier this year. More so than the rumors, the huge amount of supporters, fan accounts, and videos was even more unexpected, yet fascinating. 

Sure, I had seen some badly photoshopped images and seen some social media tags, but that happens across all forms of media and entertainment. “Running Man” itself has at least a dozen different couples with the “easy brothers,” “Song siblings,” “traitors circle,” and the much-loved “Monday couple” being just a few. However, these pairs and groups are almost entirely exclusive to the show. On the other hand, SpartAce has expanded beyond it.

The Cross-over

Song Ji-hyo has been making the standard media rounds to promote her new movie “What A Man Wants” (directed by ). On every single show and in every interview these two topics always come up: her new film and Kim Jong-kook. 

Ji-hyo’s guesting on the 118th episode of “Knowing Bros” was immensely entertaining, but marked by repeated references to Jong-kook. More, on “My Little Old Boy” where she appeared as a special MC, Ji-hyo is seen captioned with the words “Kim Jong-kook’s lady Ji-hyo arrives.”

Song Ji-hyo appears on SBS’s show “My little Old Boy” – SBS

These are big show with huge audiences. The fact that their speculated romance even affected her interaction with the cast and influenced the editors of these programs is significant. Further, it also indicated the pervasiveness of SpartAce romance into pop-culture.

It seems that everyone has at least heard of their rumor and some actively capitalize and engage with it, as was demonstrated in these episodes. SpartAce has captivated so many people, but why?

Celebrity Romance

Just a few weeks ago Choi Tae-joo and Park Shin-Hye confirmed their relationship after multiple reports from entertainment official emerged. The initial reports claimed the two had been going out for more than a year, probably speculation based on a rumored romantic encounter in early 2017. However, their respective agency quickly confirmed the relationship and specified that the two actors had only made it official a few months prior. 

Conversely, the rumors about AOA Hyejeon and the magician Choi Hyun-woo dating in late March were denied. AOA’s agency FNC Entertainment clarified that at one time they had been close friends since they appeared in TV Chosun’s ‘Magic Control’ together. As a result of the denial, the rumor was permanently put to rest.

These two accounts are representative of the two polarities of celebrity romance in South Korea. On one end, a relationship is confirmed, and on the other, it is denied. People will likely never hear the rumor again, and the two parties who were involved are careful to restrict interaction. Consequently, the middle ground is rarely if ever occupied. And right now, the middle ground is exactly where SpartAce is.


In every single interview that Ji-hyo has had, the media have asked her about her relationship with Jong-kook, she has denied that there is anything between them. Additionally, she has mentioned that while they are able to deal with rumors surrounding them, that it can also be burdensome for both.

Further, on April 4, Song Ji-Hyo had an interview (link in Korean) on the MBC FM4U radio show “2 o’clock Date with Ji Suk-jin.” With Suk-jin being another member of “Running Man,” many expected that the interview would yield additional information, but this was not to be. Ji-hyo reiterated her stance on a non-romance with any of her “Running Man” colleagues, including Jong-kook.

Interestingly, Ji Suk-jin did not directly address the rumors between the actress and Jong-kook. Instead, he expands the context and askes if she thinks any of the members would or could make a good husband for her. In response, Ji-hyo says, “Never, not at all.” She explains that she has “spent nine years running and sharing blood like they (the members) were my brothers. In the future too, I won’t think about it.”

Overall, the two — especially Ji-hyo — have for the most part refuted that they were, are, or might be in a relationship in the future. Sure, there have been times where there is room for speculation, like in that “Knowing Bros” clip above, or the one from “My Little Old Boy” below. Additionally, there is also this interview of Jong-kook where he explains that he will deny being in a relationship even if he is.

However, what little evidence that can be produced from such clips, is certainly not enough evidence to sustain the SpartAce obsession. Instead, what keeps these two firmly in the middle ground are the reactions of those around them. Hosts, guests, colleagues, and friends continually point out any interaction between them and motivate a continues relevance of SpartAce. Check out the clips below.

“Knowing Bros” episode 118
“My Little Old Boy” Episode 79

Even their colleagues have apparently wondered about the two as seen in episode 385.

Indeed, even the production director of “Running Man” has talked about the validity of the SpartAce love-line. “Truthfully, the two are on the same wavelength and are very close privately. However, we did not push to create a love-line between them on the show. If something is going on during filming, subtle as it may be, I will only let it run its course and capture the reactions of the cast” the director explained.

The director’s comment’s lead to another point: the two work together on the same variety show. As mentioned earlier, when a rumor is denied the involved parties tend to carefully monitor and restrict their interaction. Given that Ji-hyo and Jong-kook work together, this is not necessarily an option for them. To maintain their professionalism and the integrity of the show they must interact with one another and it must be entertaining.

Variety shows rely on the strength of the individual cast member and their interactions to be entertaining. Beyond the hyperbole used for entertainment is the genuine personality of the cast, which goes back around to the director’s comment.

Ultimately, with each new episode of “Running Man” or social media post were the two are together, is just more fuel and evidence for the rumors and SpartAce supporters.

The Mania

The SpartAce situation is like the longest romance drama that has not yet made it to the first kiss scene if it ever will. In that sense, I can understand why the SpartAce coupling draws so much attention; it is very entertaining. The constant speculation, the push and pull, the delicate game that just keeps one door of possibility open is tantalizing, riveting, funny and exciting.

Nonetheless, I have no expectations and honestly, do not care if I ever find out if they are dating. They are adult and what they do with their love life is their business. That said, the mania surrounding Song Ji-hyo and Kim Jong-kook will probably continue until “Running Man” ends, or one of them leaves the show.

Until then, why not enjoy the show? I don’t believe anything is going on between them, but there is nothing wrong with going to the dock and sailing this ship out to sea for a bit.



By O.C

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