Attention Aspiring Film Stars: Cheju CallsSIWOL-AE (2000)
Directed by Lee Hyun-seung. Starring Lee Jung-jae and Jeong Ji-hyun.
What could be more romantic than a love that transcends all time? "Siwol-ae" is a bittersweet tale of two lovers never able to meet and caught in a bizarre love triangle.
We first meet Eun-ju (Jeong) in 1999 as she moves out of a house named Il Mare. She leaves a letter in the mailbox for the next tenant with a forwarding address. She mentions that she has not had any success erasing the paw prints that were on the floor before she moved in.
We meet Seong-hyun (Lee) as he moves into a beautiful house that overlooks the sea. The house is set into the sea on stilts, so Seong-hyun names it Il Mare, the Italian word for ocean. He eventually opens the mailbox and reads the letter, dated 1999. Since Seong-hyun is Il Mare's first tenant and it is 1997, he brushes the letter aside as a joke.
A stray dog follows him home one day, spills a bucket of paint and runs into the foyer, leaving paw prints behind. Seong-hyun remembers the letter and becomes intrigued. The two begin communicating and sharing their loneliness through letters that travel through time.
The house Il Mare was built for the movie on Seokmo island in Kyonggi province. Also prominent as background throughout the movie is Udo island in Cheju province, where Eun-ju moves to after leaving Il Mare. A good place to visit is Sanhosa beach, one of the famed "10 beautiful places" on the island Udo.
The house that Seong-hyun designs for "the person he loves" was filmed on a deserted island north of the island Udo.
Directed by Park Dae-young. Starring Koh So-young and Jang Dong-gun.
If you have not been to Cheju island, watching "Yeonpung-yeonga" is the next best thing. The entire movie is set in Cheju province and the main character is an island tour guide. However, the scenes are not evocative and the love story is equally tepid.
"So much love, so little time," an English teacher tells a class of Cheju island students. One of his students is Yeong-seo (Koh), a young woman who works part-time as a tour guide. Love is almost tangible to her in the form of all the couples she meets and photographs during her tours. But love still eludes her.
She has two prerequisites for a boyfriend: He must not be a tourist and he must not be from the mainland. Tourists and mainland people eventually leave Cheju island. It is understood that Cheju people marry Cheju people. But when love creeps up on her, he is everything her mother and the neighborhood cop (who has a crush on her) warned her about.
Tae-hi (Jang) has just arrived in Cheju airport for a solo vacation when he is suddenly embroiled in helping Yeong-seo capture a thief. Afterward, he hires her for a private tour. While sightseeing, a relationship slowly develops. But his vacation is bound to end after his fifth day on the island.
Several landmarks on Cheju island and other nearby islands play a key role in this romance. Yeong-seo takes Tae-hi to Sangum crater and Abu hill. While sipping drinks under a tree in Abu, Tae-hi asks Yeong-seo why this spot is special to her. Yeong-seo reveals that her first kiss took place under the tree. They next go to Songak Mountain, famous for its 99 peaks.
The two then head to the beach in Jongdal-ri area and stop at the Dokkaebi (goblin) road. The road is reputed to be haunted by a ghost. They finally kiss at sunrise on Mara island, one of the southernmost islands in Korea.
If you are looking for a romantic break, other locations popular with couples are Sinyang beach, Gangjeong port and the trail though the cedar woods in the Songdang ranch.
Directed by Kang Je-kyu. Starring Han Suk-kyu, Choi Min-sic and Kim Yun-jin.
Mr. Kang reinvigorated the Korean movie industry with "Swiri." A tale of espionage, love and betrayal, "Swiri" exceeded all expectations and drew more than 2.5 million viewers in Seoul alone. The timing for the movie is ripe as the plot centers on tensions between North and South Korea.
North Korea sends Bang-hee (Kim) to South Korea as a covert spy trained to to kill. Over six years, she assassinates a slew of politically important South Koreans, from officials to scholars. Meanwhile, super-slick agent Jung-won (Han) and his partner and best friend Jang-gil (Song Kang-ho) are hot on the tracks of a mysterious North Korean terrorist group headed by Mu-young (Choi) and Bang-hee. Their plans are consistently foiled because someone is killing their contacts － someone close to them.
A complicated plot and plenty of explosions make for an entertaining movie that actually claims to be 49 percent a love story. But "Shiri" has been called "hollow" by critics who point out that the movie merely mimics Hollywood greats and is filled with cliches.
"Shiri" brought fame to an inconspicuous bench at the far end of the Shilla hotel garden in Jungmun Tourist Complex. Contrary to the hype surrounding the "Shiri bench," there really is not much to see except benches and three neighboring pine trees. Still, the "Shiri bench" is good spot to sit, relax and enjoy the view of the ocean while humming "When I Dream," the theme song to "Shiri."
JAGWIMO (1998) ("Ghosts in Love" )
Directed by Lee Gwang-hun. Starring Kim Hee-sun, Lee Sung-jae and Cha Seung-won.
Pale female ghosts with long black hair and a taste for killing men, water spirits and creepy beings that wander around at night. It sounds like a recipe for Korean-style suspense, but Lee's attempt to mix horror with humor and love falls flat.
A heavenly battle is going on in this spirit world. Lost souls wander among humans because of an untimely death or unfinished business. Some of these spirits are trying to swell their ranks by forcing people to commit suicide. Meanwhile, other beings are tracking down vengeful spirits to send them firmly to the afterlife.
Jin Chae-byeol (Kim), like most humans, is oblivious to the afterlife. She is busy trying to solve her own problem － a wayward fiance. Feeling betrayed by her husband-to-be, Na Han-soo (Cha), Chae-byeol is waiting in the subway when a spirit shoves her in front of a train.
In death, she is initiated into the afterworld, where as an invisible spirit on earth she watches her fiance burning her photograph and proposing marriage to his boss's daughter, Cha Hyeon-ju (Kim Si-won). Chae-byeol wants to kill him, but another spirit, Kantorates (Lee Seong-jae), tries to guide her away from revenge. While trying to protect her, Kantorates ends up falling in love with Chae-byeol.
The not-so-special special effects add a sci-fi dimension to "Ja-gwimo," but fail to create fear or a truly creative vision of the spirit world.
In one scene about redemption, Kantorates takes Chae-byeol to see her mother in Seopji-koji on the east coast of Cheju island, where she watches her mother care for horses on a beautiful stretch of land.
The beautiful scenery all around Seopji-koji is reason enough to visit. Seopji-koji forms the boundary between two different villages, Goseong-ri and Sinyang-ri. The meadow is about 2 kilometers long and famed for its stunning view of the shore and two distant mountain peaks, Seongsan-Ilchulbong and Udobong.
There is also a white lighthouse at Seopji-koji that was used in the old days. At the shore are rocks which contribute to the atmosphere of ancient days. In spring, the meadow is filled with flower blossoms.
So you've always dreamed of being a movie star, but you live in Korea － where there is a lack of Hollywood scouts, and where you are busy working a corporate job so your business card will one day say manager, partner or CEO. And, admit it, you just can't act.
It's no wonder most people's dreams of being a superstar remain just dreams. But this spring, star-struck fans have an opportunity to go "on location," albeit without a camera rolling, on the islands that form Cheju province, located off the southwest coast of Korea.
With their lush gardens, peaceful beaches and balmy summer weather, the islands of Cheju province have long been a favored local destination for honeymoons, vacations and movie sets. The Korean film industry has been booming recently, and a spate of high profile movies have been filmed on the Cheju islands. "Ja-gwimo," "Yeonpung-yeonga," "Siwol-ae" and "Swiri" used the beauty of Cheju for background scenes.
Here are synopses of the four movies － they all involve a love story, not surprisingly － followed by guides to getting on location. If you want to mimic the hustle of being followed by the paparazzi, you can even hire a local photographer to follow you around and take photos.
by Joe Yong-hee