The 24-year-old model, radio disc jockey and now multimedia celebrity first made a splash posing in a bikini for FHM magazine a couple of years back.
Since then she’s ridden the so-called Hanryu or “Korean wave” through the local mediasphere, gathering momentum and (mostly male) fans along the way.
Last year, Jinri was voted 21st in FHM’s annual survey of the “100 Sexiest Women,” a considerable leap from 79th place the previous year. The launch of “The Jinri Experience,” a full-length “gravure” folio of sexy photographs portraying her as the ultimate fantasy girlfriend, might have had something to do with that.
In any case, it solidified her small but hardcore cult following of adolescent boys (and not a few pervy older men).
But she’s not just a pretty face (and an amply-proportioned bod): For the last year and a half, she’s also been on the air as a radio disc jockey. Jinri hosts “Quick Fix,” a daily pop music show for RX93.1 FM, thanks to her excellent English and a mini-trend for Korean jocks that saw rival FM stations hiring the likes of Grace Lee and Sam Oh to host radio programs. Apart from playing top 40 and OPM, she also spins K-pop and hosts a Korean language spot called “Korean 101.”
Jinri has also appeared in music videos and Internet promotional spots as-surprise, surprise-a “hot Korean babe.” One such spot even went viral on YouTube not too long ago.
Now she’s poised on the brink of a real showbiz career.
Last month, she made her mainstream television debut on the new GMA 7 sitcom “Vampire Ang Daddy Ko,” starring father-and-son comedy team Vic and Oyo Boy Sotto, as “Jinri,” the Korean love interest of the Oyo Boy character.
Jinri has already established a toehold on television as one of the anchors of “May Tamang Balita,” GMA News TV’s spoof show. But “Vampire” is slotted right in the sweet spot of primetime TV programming-Saturday night-reflecting the network’s high hopes for the show, which might be described as a mash-up of “Vampires Suck” and “Okay Ka, Fairy Ko.”
The increased attention from such a high-profile program just might catapult Jinri into the kind of celebrity we haven’t seen since, well, Sandara Park (who’s not a relation, in case you were wondering).
“I don’t really plan most of the things I do,” says Jinri. “They just happen. I just look for opportunities. That’s what happened with my modeling, the radio show, and now TV. I just go with the flow.”
We are sequestered in a hotel suite, which has been converted into a makeshift dressing room and hair and make-up studio for SIM’s summer swimsuit pictorial, for which Jinri was the natural choice.
Showing up for the shoot in a black T-shirt and Daisy Dukes, Jinri is clearly in her element. She’s much taller in person than she appears on film, slim-hipped and broad-shouldered, a peculiar Asian body type that allows her to seem slender and voluptuous at the same time, although it’s hard to ignore the famous cleavage.
“Modeling is really fun for me,” she says. “I don’t stress out too much about it.”
In contrast, “Vampire” is her first time to really act.
“At first I was pretty intimidated, because we have an all-star cast,” she reveals. “For ‘May Tamang Balita,’ I can do whatever and the audience likes it. But here I have to get into character and memorize my lines.”
Since the script is in Filipino, she’s now taking Filipino classes twice a week to improve her language skills.
“It’s a bit more stressful, but I actually enjoy that more. After the first taping, it was OK. Everyone was really nice. It’s a fun environment.”
Jinri was only 6 years old when her family moved from Korea to Cebu where her father, a physician, worked at the Cebu Doctors Hospital. She attended international schools in Cebu until she finished high school, after which her family moved back to Korea.
In Korea she enrolled in a pre-med course, mostly to please her parents. It wasn’t really to her taste. After two years, she dropped out, and moved in with a sister for a while.
“I actually didn’t know what I wanted,” she recalls. “I just quit without knowing what I was going to do. And I wasn’t really doing anything, I was waiting tables in Korea. My parents said I had to at least finish college, so they sent me back to Manila.”
On hindsight, these years of teenage rebellion might have been symptomatic of Jinri’s emerging identity crisis.
“I didn’t want to go to college in Korea because I wasn’t used to the culture there,” she says. “It was really hard, because I grew up here, but I’m a Korean. When I go to Korea, people are like ’You’re not a Korean.’ When I’m here, they say ’You’re not a Filipino.’ I’m kind of lost in my identity and I feel like I don’t really fit in anywhere.”
Unlike other Korean talents who were older when their families came to the Philippines, Jinri remembers little of her early childhood in Korea.
“I can look at it in a positive way,” she says. “But when you see it in a negative way, you don’t really fit in anywhere. I’ve been here since kindergarten. At home, my parents spoke to me in Korean. But I only have a few memories of Korea, so it’s kind of hard for me to know which culture I come from.”
Ironically, this cultural ambiguity is what seems to have made it possible for Jinri to emerge as a media personality. While she was still finishing her hotel management course at Enderun, FHM came knocking at her door, and the rest followed soon after.
With her looks, smarts (she was reportedly on the dean’s list in college, and not because the dean had the hots for her), you’d think Jinri was beating off hordes of men with a stick.
But apart from the occasional cyber-stalker and love-smitten fan, she lives quietly, alone.
“When I’m not working, most of the time I just stay home and watch TV,” she says. “I don’t have a boyfriend. I don’t have a pet. When I have free time, I usually just sleep.”
Occasionally, she’ll go to a rock concert, because since becoming a DJ, Jinri’s become a huge OPM fan, with her tastes leaning toward indie rock. She lists among her current favorites the Eraserheads, Sandwich, Calla Lily, Parokya ni Edgar, Typecast, Chicosci, Franco and Urbandub.
“I listen to CDs,” she says. “I’m old-school, I don’t use an iPod. I like listening to the whole album—you can relate more to what they’re trying to say.”
Of course, she plays K-pop on her show, but her tastes in Korean music run a little deeper.
“I love Korean R and B,” she says. “Koreans do really good sad lyrics. Korean ballads are really good.”
For now, Jinri is happy to wait and see what the future brings. A second gravure folio is in the works, scheduled for publication later this year, which should reassure her legions of fans that, despite mainstream success beckoning, Jinri is not turning her back on her roots.
“I don’t really plan anything, but I really want to do more comedy,” she says. “Just go with the flow.” •