The reel thingThe quintessential 1980s television show “Dallas” not only made J.R. Ewing a household name, it turned the Southfork Ranch in Texas into a tourist attraction far after the series ended. The Boston saloon that was used as the model for “Cheers,” another celebrated and long-running TV series, continues to draw numerous sightseers long after all the barflies on the show entered the seemingly endless world of syndication.
Curiously, “Dallas” and “Cheers” were not filmed at those well-trod sites, but in Hollywood studios.
In Korea, three much-watched TV series are set in actual places on the peninsula. The three shows are not only set there each week, they are filmed there. Little wonder then that huge numbers of fans of the three series go to the locations regularly to look around, sniff the ground, touch buildings and try to imagine where an actor walked, talked, kissed and slept.
Seopjikoji, Jeju Island ― The cliffs plunging into the sea here never lacked a reputation among the islanders, but due to the spot’s inconvenient access the precipice stayed off the main track. Until now.
The village of Sinyang, where Seopjikoji sits, has been flooded with tourists during the past two months not so much for its scenery but because the touching scenes between two main characters of SBS-TV’s prime-time drama “All In” are shot there. The show has also led to an upsurge of visitors elsewhere on Jeju Island, where the bulk of production takes place.
The hit series, which centers around a love triangle between a gambler, a casino heir and a mutual love, led Lee Hyuk-seung of Seoul to visit the area a few weeks ago with some friends. The area’s beauty left him open-mouthed.
“In travel brochures, the Motion Picture Museum was a must-see site and afterward we dropped by Seopjikoji by chance,” says Mr. Lee. “The view of the sea from the cliff was truly magnificent and the color of the sea was also quite striking.”
There is little hope of solitude here anymore: During the March 1st holiday weekend, upwards of 6,000 people swarmed over the cliffs and strolled along the hillside, according to a local tourism official.
Seopjikoji refers to the bluffs above the waves where a cathedral and orphanage stand, not far from a working lighthouse. Legend has it that a feng shui scholar passing through noted that the location would beget many scholars. Hence the Korean name, which means a “cove where scholars are born” in the Jeju dialect. For islanders, the cliffs are the spot to delight in the New Year’s Day sunrise.
The Jeju government agreed to pick up half of the TV show’s 200 million won ($161,000) set construction costs in the area. And for good reason: The payoff has been large.
Since February, more than 500 people have visited the out-of-way locale each day. And earlier this month, 18 journalists from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand took a peek at the cove after the Korea National Tourism Organization rolled out the carpet. That’s only the beginning.
“We are looking into developing other tourist products and marketing initiatives based on ‘All In,’” says Jeong Yun-jong, an official with the Jejudo Tourism Association. Jeju’s Lotte Hotel in Seogwipo, host to most of the drama’s casino scenes, has devised a “Drama Package” promotion, and escorts tourists to show where various scenes are filmed. But hotel officials concede that exploiting a hit TV series has its snags. “We are wary of using the term ‘All In’ in our services because of royalty issues with the broadcasting station,” says hotel publicist Gang Cheol-yun. “It’s a sensitive issue.”
Jeongdongjin ― This pin dot of an East Sea resort near Gangneung was little known and rarely visited until the hit SBS-TV series “Hourglass” arrived in early 1995. The train station, a lone pine tree near the rail tracks and the seashore became cemented in the minds of thousands of fans of the 1980s political drama. In the last eight years, the seaside village has been trampled upon by 1.5 million tourists a year, most of them eager to gaze at the wide-open wintry sea portrayed in the 24-part series. Jeongdongjin’s tracks are the closest ones to the sea in Korea, and possibly the world.
Eager to milk this cash cow, Gangneung tourism officials and travel agencies have hyped up the place ad nauseum. They erected an “Hourglass” memorial, created a museum that shows actual sets from the show and regularly arrange travel packages geared around those familiar set locations.
The increased crowds have tarnished this once quiet seaside spot, in some people’s opinions. Yun Jin-ah, a museum employee from Seoul who has visited the village several times over the years, believes it has been “overexposed and over-commercialized.”
“Before, people came here to watch the sunset in a romantic and quiet setting,” she says. “Now it has turned into a campground for college students ― it’s so noisy now! None of the ‘Hourglass’ images remain today. I don’t even remember seeing seagulls around.”
Namiseom ― Droves of college students descended on this islet in the Bukhan River, about 90 minutes from Seoul, well before KBS-TV’s modern-day love drama “Winter Love Song” began airing last year. In the summer, they frequented its compact amusement park, boating dock and campsites. But when the TV drama hit its peak, the island also became a haven for couples, who liked to fawn over the handsome avenue of trees shown on screen.
“Vividly romantic” was how Lee Sang-gyun, 28, described the area after an excursion there during the filming last year.
“The hills were covered with snow and the trees looked like they were wearing snow clothes,” says Mr. Lee. “Deer ran about, and it seemed fantastic to be in such a setting. As we moved along, I couldn’t believe I was walking the same path as the two lovers in the drama.”
Tourists from China and Japan have even discovered the picturesque, albeit privately-owned island now known as Namiseom Inc. It is run by Kang Woo-hyeon, a children’s book author.
In its evolution from college hangout to drama set, the island has managed to evolve sustainably. The avenues and boating area have gotten tidier, and recreation facilities that capitalize on the natural habitat have sprung up. Namiseom remains a romantic getaway in real life as well as on TV.
by Choi Jie-ho