From The Straits Times    |

Credits: Instagram/@wilderseas29

Over the years, local actress-singer Rui En has played a gamut of roles – from tough cop to grief-stricken widow to a psychiatrist who turns evil. She was last seen on the small screen as a reformed Ah Lian in Channel 8 drama The Heartland Hero (2021).

Her latest on-screen persona, however, hits especially close to home.

In the upcoming Mediacorp drama, fantasy romance Oppa, Saranghae! – her first television project in two years – she plays Qi Qi, a single career woman on the cusp of 40 who consistently puts her love life on hold for work, but faces ageism in the workplace and grapples with loneliness in her life.

In a fantastical twist, she pulls her favourite K-drama leading man (Kim Jae-hoon) out of the television. Meanwhile, the heart-throb portraying this character (also played by Kim) is in Singapore and in a relationship with Qi Qi’s colleague (Tasha Low).

Oppa, Saranghae! premieres on April 12 and airs on Channel 8 at 9pm on weekdays. It is also available on demand for free on mewatch from Friday. 

Rui En, 42, who is not married, told The Straits Times after a private screening session of the show at KAP Mall’s EagleWings Cinematics on Monday that she was drawn to the role as she felt it was a complex character.

She said: “For many women my age, I feel ageism is a topic that is very relatable and real.”

She can relate to how others have certain opinions of women past a certain age.

“If you are not married, you kind of do not fit into that mould – there are certain assumptions made, or conclusions arrived at, that are not actually (based on) fact.”

Rui En declined to reveal her relationship status, but added: “I have never seen value in doing things for the sake of it. So, I am not about to go out there and force something that might not be right because I am 40-something and I need to get married and have kids.”

One key difference is that Rui En, unlike Qi Qi, is not lonely.

She said: “If you have to rely on another human being to not feel lonely, I think that is a losing proposition. People are always going to let you down.

Singaporean actress Rui En plays Qi Qi (left), a career woman on the cusp of 40 who consistently puts her love life on hold for work.
Credit: MEDIACORP

“I think I have managed to have a full enough life without a husband. I did enough inner work and asked myself the difficult questions, and it (loneliness) somehow has gone away from me.

“I have realised that even though society might think, ‘She’s probably lonely’, it does not matter what people think.”

While Oppa, Saranghae! is inspired by K-dramas, its South Korean aspect is not at all important to the home-grown star.

For one thing, she has never visited South Korea, nor is she a fan of K-dramas or K-pop. In fact, she did not do any research on South Korea for this project.

Instead, to portray her character’s on-screen obsession with her beloved K-drama idol, she tapped her interest in books.

Mediacorp drama Oppa, Saranghae! stars (from left) Kim Jae-hoon, Rui En, Tasha Low and Meixin.
Credit: LIANHE ZAOBAO

“I think fangirling can be over anything, such as an author or podcaster. What K-drama is for people, books are for me. I disappear into them and escape into the page.”

For a while, the voracious reader was hooked on mountaineering books, such as Into Thin Air: A Personal Account Of The Mt Everest Disaster (1997) by American author Jon Krakauer. She said: “Although I have no intention of climbing a mountain, there was something about these people climbing mountains which I found relatable.”

Singaporean actress Rui En stars in Oppa, Saranghae! with South Korean actor Kim Jae-hoon.
Credit: MEDIACORP

Recently, she has also had her nose in thrillers, such as The Golden Couple (2022), a novel by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. “I know people who need to watch K-dramas to decompress. For me, it is reading.”

Rui En wishes Qi Qi would not idealise a starry-eyed vision of love, often perpetuated by K-dramas.

“She is trying to get to that point where she does not feel lonely. And I had to go through that as well, so I do not feel sorry for her. I think that there is always a journey, and that journey is painful but necessary.”

Rui En (left) and South Korean actor Kim Jae-hoon (right) in Oppa, Saranghae!
Credit: MEDIACORP

In any case, she acknowledged that escapism does have a place in people’s lives. “As an actress and public figure, I hope people can put on a drama I am in, or a song I sang, and escape into it.

“As a woman in her 40s and whose passion is mental health, I hope to be someone others can look to and who makes them feel less alone.”

Oppa, Saranghae! premieres on April 12 and airs on Channel 8 at 9pm on weekdays. It is also available on demand for free on mewatch from Friday.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.