Talented, beautiful, and yes, maybe still a little (playfully) krung-krung, Sandara Park charms the world over with her unique and assured sense of self.
As an adolescent navigating about the mostly memorable but potentially treacherous world of high school, there are many things one does not quite understand. While algebraic formulas, trigonometry functions and even the laborious language of Shakespeare’s old English were eventually conquered; there was one gnawing construct that I personally couldn’t wrap my curious mind around—hallyu, a neologism of the popular Korean wave and its fanatic derivatives.
At the heels of the fanaticism of Filipinos over Asian dramas (see: Taiwan’s Meteor Garden), the rise of the Korean wave wildly washed over Philippine shores in 2003, sending local fandoms into an alarming frenzy. From kimchi to K-pop, everything was obsessed—pledging allegiance to love teams, singing and dancing to their bouncy music, passionately discussing which entertainment group was better and even going as far as learning the language to understand the K-dramas better. I only went as far as learning how to spell out my name in Korean.
It shouldn’t be so hard to figure out why the Filipinos embraced this phenomenon wholeheartedly and expedited it into a rabid craze. Master storytellers and visualists in their own right, their brand of pop culture brought about a lightness, humor and finesse compared to our penchant for hysterionics and drama (not that there is something wrong with that, it is entertaining—most of the time). A growing aspiration on the local forefront then, one of the unknowing beneficiaries of the time was a young Korean hopeful trying out her luck in Star Circle Quest, ABS-CBN’s televised star search in 2004.
Amongst the throng of screaming, shouting and crying auditionees, practically throwing themselves at the judges, a 19-year old Sandara Park stood out. Finding her impressive and cute, the judges were subsequently blown away by her dynamics and how well she took directions. Despite finding herself in tears, she endeared herself to audiences and eventual fans for her lack of pretense and her charming personality.
Her antics later on in the show earned her the nickname Krung-Krung, a coloquial term that loosely translates to crazy. While yes, she may have been a little (playfully) crazy, she proved to be a lot talented, which in turn made people go crazy for her. Sandara Park didn’t win the show but she ran away with something much better and irreplacable, the hearts of the Filipinos.
Wait, scratch that. We were obsessed.
However, contrary to popular belief, she wasn’t always as confident as she appears today. “Dati pa super shy type ako. Sa school hindi ako nagsasalita. Kung nagha-hi ang mga friends ko, shy ako magha-hi. Ganun lang ako lagi,” she recalls. “When I joined SCQ, parang hindi ako naniwala sa sarili ko na kakayanin ko ‘yan, pero nandyan ‘yung mga fans ko, and they gave me so much energy. Nagbago ako little by little, wala na ‘yung fear of [the] stage. So, one day, I found myself having really having fun on stage.”
Fueled by the unmatched love of her fans, she went on to dominate the local showbiz landscape where she starred in TV shows such as SCQ Reload: Ok Ako, Krystala and Crazy For You as well as film roles in Bcuz of U, Can This Be Love and D Lucky Ones. “Hindi na ako [naging] nervous. It’s like magic. I think ‘yun ‘yung binigay sa akin ng mga fans ko, a miracle. Hindi ko alam kung anong nangyari sa akin pero ‘yun nga, ngayon nagbago na ako.”
With newfound confidence, her career skyrocketed to great heights, Korean broadcaster KBS took notice of her and presented a documentary on her aptly titled, My Name Is Sandara Park, which gave more insight to Sandara and her fame. As luck would have it, this documentary caught the eye of Yang Hyun-Suk of the famed YG Entertainment who took notice of Sandara and found a potential for her in the Korean plane of show business.
And before we knew it, our pambansang krung-krung was off to her native South Korea where a new world of possibilities awaited her.
NOW, THE WORLD
It was a painful decision for her, in as much as we felt a dent in local entertainment. “I think I wrote a long letter for Philippine fans who felt sad about the news,” Sandara reminisces of the time she decided to leave the country for good. “I cannot remember the sentences, but definitely I felt like I was leaving my home. I remember I was crying in the plane heading to Seoul. After then, I spent a long time missing friends and fans in Philippines, but now I am happy to see you again in these smiling faces.”
In the extremely rare case that you have been living under a rock, Sandara Park soon gained widespread popularity as one part of the Kpop group, 2NE1. Disrupting the Korean music scene with their addicting hit Fire, the group spawned worldwide fame through their evocative videos, intricate fashion and with other pop hits such as I Don’t Care, Lonely, Missing You and I Am The Best. “I never knew it was going to be like this. The fact that we can travel around and meet fans from different parts of the world is just amazing and surreal. I want to do more of that. Wait for me! Clearly, she was meant for greater things and her success in Korea is a clear realization of that. We wouldn’t need to wait any more because it was and still is unraveling at a pace that still catches her by surprise.
To date, she is not only a Korean superstar, she is also a fashion muse and darling, often seen wearing the latest and the best, and when it was still possible, sitting front-row in Paris Fashion Week. And let’s not forget of her television and film moments across the pond in The Return of Iljimae, Style, My Love from the Star, What’s Eating Steven Yeun?, Dr. Ian, We Broke Up, The Producers, Missing Korea, One More Happy Ending, Dinner Mate, Two Yoo Project Sugar Man, Get It Beauty, Living Together in Empty Room Relationship Appeal, All Broadcasting In The World, Mimi Shop, Borrow Trouble, Real Man 300, Video Star, and Stage K. But despite an enviable success that one only dreams of, Sandara Park remains to be the same soft-spoken and unassuming woman she was back then. Her fluency in tagalog is still as sharp and her Filipino humor is still intact. And yes, she is still krung-krung. “I really like that nickname,” she chides.
“I was such a kid when I worked in Philippines,” she opens up, explaining where she changed and why it matters. “You guys probably know, but I cried a lot of times on TV shows.” A laugh portrays her delicate doll-like features, toughened up by painted eyebrows and skin that is seemingly lit-from-within. In a blink of an eye, the memorable image of Sandara Park in tears, waving at the camera as the words “Mahal ko kayo” stumbles out of her lips, is gone. What we have sitting in front of us is a brighter, cooler, and more confident Sandara.
If there is anything Sandara Park is truly and constantly grateful for, it is her fans. In fact, she never claimed the fame for herself. She always, always made sure that her fans were as involved because it is because of them that she is who she has become today. “I would like to say thank you for fans who always trust me and waiting for me.”
“Whenever I perform on a stage or when I arrive at an airport or an event venue, I imagine how many fans will be there to greet us and it makes me super excited,” she says, a child-like excitement laced through her words. “I cannot forget every moment meeting fans waiting us. That is a really happy and thankful moment.”
With a stronghold in Korea, Sandara Park is able to maintain and strengthen a connection with the Philippines because, at least prior to the pandemic, she would regularly come home to visit. Aside from once-upon-a-time clothing endorsements, a stint as a reality TV show judge, and larger-than-life billboards (“Actually parang after [so many] years, first time ko nakita ang billboard na ganun kalaki. On the way, Parang feeling ko nakita ko ‘yung sarili ko and it was really big, so na-touch ako,” she recalls, pausing only to take a breath. “And the driver slowed down the car and said, ‘You can take pictures,’ so nag-picture ako. Sobrang saya!”), she features the beauty of the country as much as she can on her YouTube channel, Dara TV. Remember when she took her “VIP client” CL to witness the wonders of Palawan? Every opportunity she gets, it seems Sandara Park never fails to give a nod back to the Philippines such as the time she went to a Filipino market in Korea and when she and JAY from iKON covered Inigo Pascual’s Dahil Sa’yo.
“I’m still the same Sandara,” she said in an interview with Boy Abunda, and as clichéd as this sounds to many who have gone through the glitz and glamour of show business, it holds very true to for Sandara Park. In fact despite her fame and fortune, she was “super happy” when she found a Filipino restaurant in Seoul serving Sisig, kangkong, garlic rice, and Red Horse beer.
Oh, a woman after our own heart indeed.
Who would have thought that the young girl miming the words to Kailangan Ko’y Ikaw by Regine Velasquez would command the world over as a bonafide Kpop sensation? People cried with her, laughed with her and now they are singing and dancing with her, it is a turn of the tides that is reserved for soaring underdog stories in literature. But Sandara Park was always that underdog, inspiring everyone that despite hindrances, setbacks, and disappointments, one will always pull through—with a steely tenacity, a smile, and a wave of a hand.
At the beginning of her career, she was at the mercy of an audience who would vote if she was in or out in her quest to be a star. It may have taken a little time, but the universe smiled at her and gave her a resounding yes, because today, her star shines the brightest.
(Interview via MEGA magazine May 2016; Images courtesy of Meg.)