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Cha Eun-woo’s ‘Kilig’ moments in Manila

Any average Korean with access to media is well aware of Cha Eun-woo. He’s graced numerous magazine covers, played up his goofy side on mainstream Korean variety shows, sold out concerts with his K-pop group Astro, starred in the most popular K-dramas that got us through the pandemic, and been featured on giant billboards on Edsa.

Name it, and he’s done it. The 25-year-old has carved out his place in a cutthroat industry, making it big as an idol, model and actor, and at times even as a lyricist and composer. Cha Eun-woo is, no doubt, the very definition of a Hallyu superstar.

But his fans, or Arohas (Astro’s fandom name), also know him as Lee Dong-min (his birth name). He smiles brightly with his eyes, shyly speaks great English even as he tries to downplay his skills, and deals with a temporary mic mishap during an interview with grace. He’s lovable in that boy-next-door way, easily capturing the hearts and loyalty of his many fans with his earnestness.

Of course, no one can deny his surreal looks, or his dulcet vocals that warm your heart. But when you ask his fans what they love about him, there’s a laundry list of things—he’s honest, kind, humble, hardworking, and a lot more. All of these he’s proven throughout his six years in the industry.

So it’s not hard to believe that a lot of Arohas are willing to go through great lengths just to catch a glimpse of their idol. When Cha first announced that he would be returning to Manila for a fan meet after three years, a lot of fans all over the world scrambled to make plans.

Global fans

On Aug. 6 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, fans from different parts of the globe welcomed the idol-turned-actor. There was a group of Arohas who flew in from Davao, a woman who came all the way from Guam, and a 64-year-old nurse from Miami who took a leave from work just to see the star.

Gloria the nurse first met Cha in March 2020, during the onset of the pandemic. She first watched Cha as the charming Yi Rim in “Rookie Historian Goo Hae-ryung,” and from then on found comfort in everything he did.

“He makes me so happy. Because of him, I also met a lot of people from all over the world,” Gloria said.

At 64, she, too, was surprised at what she was willing to do just to meet the idol.

“It’s my first time to travel by myself, and this is an adventure for me. I told everyone that I’m going to the Philippines to see Cha, and in the beginning they told me I was crazy,” she said.
Gloria was able to get a first glimpse of the idol at an exclusive press conference at Novotel Hotel Araneta, where he answered questions from the media and greeted fans.
Like Gloria, a lot of fans first fell in love with Cha Eun-woo as the pristine tsundere Do Kyung-seok of “My ID is Gangnam Beauty” and the brooding Lee Su-ho of the hit webtoon adaptation of “True Beauty.”

Remembering the Philippines

Different from his usual roles in K-dramas, Cha Eun-woo in the flesh had an immediately bright presence.

“Long time no see! I missed you,” he greeted a swooning crowd at the presser, shooting hearts and smiling at his fans who held up banners to show support.
The Philippines and Cha go way back, as the idol studied in the country when he was young. He happily recounted his memories as a fourth-grader studying English here, remembering a delicious kebab meal he used to have, while also sharing his newfound hobbies of golfing and tennis to fans.

He also got more comfortable, talking more about his journey with fans at the presser, saying he’s learned a lot since his debut in 2016.

“I don’t feel like I’ve achieved that much. Instead of doing something new or learning something else, what I like to do is to become better at the things I’m doing, whether that’s singing, acting or all the different things that I do. I’d rather get better at those things than do something new,” he said.

Photos from Smart Communications
Purple ocean

Cha’s constant desire to improve has made him loved by many, and the proof came at night, when he was greeted by a stunning purple ocean at the Big Dome for his solo fan meet.
Filipino Arohas cheered loudly as he opened the night with his solo song “First Love,” off Astro’s recent “Drive to the Starry Road” album. It’s a little more intimate than what people at the huge Araneta Coliseum are used to, as it’s clear that the idol and his fans share a special bond. Cha is effortlessly commanding, his adorable habits gaining cheers from his fans. He interacts with the crowd throughout the event, taking their cue when he’s asked to answer questions. There’s a back and forth built by years of companionship, something only an idol and a loyal fan base will understand.

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For many, Cha’s sincerity seeps into his work, and it’s no different in the flesh. There’s charm in his easy kindness, as he serenaded the crowd with his own solo songs. The idol has released quite a catalog, singing lovelorn original soundtracks such as “Love So Fine” and “Focus on Me.”
He also gamely covered popular hits, such as Cool’s “Aloha,” a song every K-drama lover knows by heart. To end the night, Cha even handed out roses to lucky fans, making the crowd swoon at the gesture.

Magic of ‘kilig’

Truth be told, Cha has mastered the magic of kilig. Whether it be answering questions about his plane habits or his impatience with long lines, he’s managed to make the most mundane things interesting, sprinkling in a little cheekiness here and there.

It makes sense that his loyal band of supporters would go to the ends of the earth for him if they had to, as he’s shown them through the years that he’s someone worthy of their support. After a night with him on Aug. 6, we can easily understand why.

Cha Eun-woo’s “Just One 10 Minute: Starry Caravan” fan meet in Manila was presented by Viu and Smart Philippines.

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