The mega-popular South Korean military drama Descendants Of The Sun has ended its run on the small screen, but the popularity of its lead actor Song Joong Ki is far from over.
The 30-year-old was reported last week to have landed a record-breaking endorsement deal with Chinese beauty brand Proya.
Estimated by insiders to be worth $4.7 million, the deal tops those of popular South Korean stars Kim Soo Hyun and Lee Min Ho.
Fans, some of whom call themselves "Mrs Song", have also jumped at the chance to see their "husband" in the flesh - regardless of the cost, it seems.
Illegal ticket brokers are selling Song's South Korea fan meet tickets for almost 1 million won (S$1,200). The original price is 22,000 won.
Song kicked off his Asian fan meet tour on April 17 in Seoul.
His fans were also treated to a photo spread of the actor in this month's issue of fashion magazine Harper's Bazaar Korea.
Titled "Exclusive, Song Joong-ki's Very Private Moment", the spread included a shot of Song bare-chested and wrapped in white bedsheets.
The magazine also later released extra photos on its Facebook page, eliciting frenzied gushing from Song's online fan base. Song does not have any social media accounts.
But fame comes at a price, with everything connected to Song coming under scrutiny...
The past will always haunt you - and that applies not just to Song but to his younger sister Seulgi as well.
Fans who could not get enough of the actor started digging into footage of his past TV appearances, including one of Seulgi supporting him at a celebrity athletic event in 2012.
First a victim of comments such as "all the good genes had (gone) to Joong Ki", Seulgi has since become a talking point after recent photos of her showed a dramatic transformation into a slimmer and more feminine woman, fuelling rumours of her having done plastic surgery.
Pictures of Song hugging his ex-girlfriend were leaked last month and fans were quick to critique her looks.
Lamenting his loss of privacy, Song said during an interview: "To be honest, I'm a little upset these days. My family has been exposed to the media. Some people break into our house. My ex-girlfriend's photos are circulating online.
"To say that these are things I need to endure for the sake of celebrity... that's sad. I want to respectfully request that my private life remain private."
It turns out the A-lister was an A-student, as fans found out after his impressive academic records were revealed online.
The business graduate from Sungkyunkwan University was also a competitive short-track skater during his middle-school days, and was the vice-president of his high school's student council.
Song received an extremely high score in his college entrance examination and a teacher said of him: "He was definitely a very smart student.
"He had the potential to enter the best university in Korea."
Benefitting from Song's soaring popularity is fellow actor Lee Kwang Soo, who has been making headlines whenever Song talks about him.
Their "bromance" started when the duo met as cast members for variety show Running Man in 2010. They also co-starred in the 2012 drama The Innocent Man.
Lee was said by Song to be his biggest source of strength while he was in the army.
He also made a cameo appearance in the first episode of the drama.
Termed a "landmark", the home of Song's parents has become a tourist attraction after it was rumoured that he visited regularly.
They live in South Korea's Daejeon city, 140km south of capital Seoul, and it is part of a village housing about 20 families.
Tourists also flock to a tree that he is said to drop by every time he visits his parents.
From dots to dollars
It is estimated that drama Descendants Of The Sun (DOTS) has contributed more than $3.5 billion to the South Korean economy.
Here are the industries benefitting from the craze:
Thanks to enterprising tour agencies, fans can now visit the drama's filming sites - from Paju city in South Korea to the Ionian Islands and Navagio beach in Greece.
South Korea's Taebaek city, where the military barracks in the drama were located, has announced plans to rebuild the set.
It was torn down after shooting ended in November to make way for reforestation plans.
South Korea's Hyundai motor company has received more inquires from Chinese consumers after its cars appeared in the drama.
Supporting actors Jin Goo and Kim Ji Won shared a kiss in a Genesis sedan while the car continued moving with its lane-keeping and cruise control functions.
Hyundai said in a statement: "It is too early to say the show immediately helped boost our sales, (but) our dealers are getting increasing interest and inquiries about products shown in the soap opera."
Popular south korean beauty brand laneige strikes gold again, as women rushed to get their hands on make-up products worn by its ambassador, the drama's female lead Song Hye-kyo.
The number of times the so-called Song Hye Kyo lipstick, Laneige's Two-tone Lip Bar, was searched on the Internet surged 11 times after the drama started airing. It promptly became a bestseller and was sold out in some stores.
THE HEALTH PRODUCTS
Sales of Cheong Kwan Jang red ginseng extract everytime grew by 176 per cent from a year ago, said company Korea Ginseng.
Its spokesman said an increasing number of Chinese tourists are visiting its retailers and website to order its red ginseng products - all because characters in the drama were seen consuming the extract.
Perhaps capitalising on how Song Joong-ki's name sounds like "Papers for the Departed" in mandarin, merchants in China have started selling hell notes with Song's face printed on them.
While the design has been slammed by some as "uncivil", such gimmicks are no surprise, given that the drama has been watched more than a billion times in China alone. It is fitting, too, that Song is worth top dollar - hell notes with his face are in denominations of 50,000 Korean won (S$59), the highest in South Korea's paper currency.
This article was first published on May 2, 2016.
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