Former U-Kiss star Alexander Lee thrilled to be in My Korean Jagiya

Inquirer Libre - Davao - - PANGUNAHING PAHINA - By Rito P. Asilo Inquirer Entertainment editor

HERE’S a tip to fans of K-pop and Koreanovelas: If you see someone who looks like former U-Kiss member and Immortal

Classic star Alexander Lee walking along Timog Avenue looking for “halohalo,” chances are, you’ve probably run into the real deal.

Yes, Xander is in town to star in what he describes as “the first Filipino K-drama” of Philippine television: My Korean Jagiya, where he’s cast opposite Heart Evangelista, is set to begin its telecast on Aug. 21 on GMA 7’s primetime block.

Xander was with the popular Korean boyband behind such hits as Neverland, Shut Up and Man Man Ha Ni for three years before he decided to go solo in 2011.

When we met Xander last Aug. 3, it wasn’t hard to see why the singer-actor has such avid fans—who call themselves Xanderettes.

Other than his good looks, his accessibility lies in his noholds-barred candor and charm, which come out even when he answers the simplest questions. The guy certainly knows how to knock your socks off.

At the time, he has only been in Manila for two weeks after taping episodes of the series in Seoul for a week. But, he’s getting the hang of being surrounded by Pinoys. In fact, his Filipino jargon now includes “’di ba?,” “talaga” and “Ang bait mo.”

Knowing that he spoke seven languages—English, Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Spanish and Portuguese—we asked Xander what fascinated him about learning Filipino.

“Tagalog has a lot of fun words!” he beamed. “I can’t imagine how one word can say so much. You can just say ‘pautang’ instead of formulating a whole sentence, ‘Can you lend me money?’ It’s so useful and easy to learn (laughs)!”

Our one-on-one chat with Xander:

How has your Manila experience

been, so far? It’s a culture shock for me, but in a good way. The Philippines has been very warm and welcoming. The Xanderettes were at the airport when I arrived here on July 22—I found it touching. I like it when my fans show me how passionate they are ... it makes me remember them.

I like it here—everybody respects each other. The work hours in Korea are very long, and they tape more sequences. It’s just as long in the Philippines, but the mood is relaxed. Here, they feed you right before they move on to the next scene.

What sets your character in Jagiya apart from your previous projects?

When I read the script, I thought my character Kim Jun-ho was tailormade for me.

He has his own problems—he’s an entertainer who has an image to protect. He looks like he’s mean, but he’s soft inside —and finding that balance was initially a struggle for me. The character made me realize there’s a hidden part of me I wasn’t conscious about.

His dilemma is similar to how I operate in show biz. In the beginning, I became very sensitive and started building walls to protect myself. The role is helping me unlock those barriers. So, you’ll see me unleash my secrets onscreen (laughs).

What did you learn from your three-year stint with U-Kiss?

That whole experience led me to who I am now, especially in terms of how I perform, emcee and do interviews. Back then, they didn’t want to invest so much in training, so I learned the hard way. We were pushed to the ocean, and we had to swim [to survive].

Making music videos is a pain in the butt—it’s 10 times worse than filming a drama overnight—but, when you see the outcome, you know it’s worth [all the hard work]. It toughened me up and made me mature a lot. That was about eight years ago, and I was too young and naive. Now I can handle anything and (sings a line from Britney Spears’ Oops! ... I Did It Again), “I’m not that innocent! (Laughs)

Do you see yourself having a Pinoy “jagiya (honey in Korean)?”

I’m single. I thought I’d be unavailable because of work. But, if I meet someone special here, why not? My preferences are random. Sometimes, I end up falling for the opposite of what I think is ideal for me. But, love has no restrictions. These days, I just follow my gut feeling and let wherever love leads me.

How similar are Filipinos to Koreans?

Filipinos are more sentimental and very open. Koreans tend to open up slowly—it’s part of Confucianism and how hierarchy and respect [come into play].

What’s your favorite U-Kiss song?

My favorite is Man Man Ha Ni, our first big hit. Another song is Binguel Binguel, because it brings back memories of my first visit to Manila (in 2010). We performed it in Party Pilipinas.

What was your initial reaction when you started taping in Manila?

In Korea, we usually wait in the car. Here, they have airconditioned tents —and a great chair, which makes me feel like a Hollywood star. I told myself, “Oh … my own chair! Now, I’m officially a Kapuso (laughs).

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ALEXANDER

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