Surfing the Korean wave in Seoul

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Surfing the Korean wave in Seoul

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In a way the idea of visiting the sets of famous soap operas seems as childish as sticking a hand in the handprints of celebrities on the walls of Planet Hollywood.
But in the minds of urban slackers, the idea of mimicking characters from their favorite shows creates the guilty pleasure of living an actor’s lifestyle for nothing.
And let’s face it. It happens everywhere.
Look at “Sex and the City” and the impact it had on the Manolo Blahnik shoe company when Carrie, the main character, obsessed over their 500-dollar heels.
The Louis K. Meisel Gallery, where Charlotte worked and hundreds of restaurants, bars and shops that were featured in the show all became must-see destinations for the show’s audiences, many of whom who had never been to the Big Apple before.
Officials of the Seoul government have picked up on this idea and have produced a map in English, Japanese and Chinese that marks all the locations of soaps and films that were shot in Seoul.
They are seeking to boost hallyu (Korean Wave) tourism ― to attract visitors to come to Korea because they are fans of shows or movies that form part of the Korean Wave of entertainment exported overseas.
“Aside from a few famous places like Nami Island [where two lovers took a bicycle ride that led to their first kiss by a lake in an early episode of the internationally-famous drama “Winter Sonata”] there hasn’t been a proper guide that introduces foreign visitors to the sites where many of the most popular Korean films were shot,” says Kim Eun-ju at Seoul metropolitan government’s Cultural Industry Department.
The hallyu map is a follow up to “Hello Hallyu” (www.hellohallyu.com) a Web site produced by the Korea Tourism Organization that features a list of Korean movies and soap operas that have been exported overseas, with storylines, actors and filming locations.
The Korean government has worked hard to induce interest in Korea through hallyu as a way to increase tourism from the rest of Asia.
Despite its efforts, the domestic tourism industry has suffered a decline over the past two or three years. The number of Japanese tourists has dropped steadily since 2004 when hallyu was at its peak. Only 2.3 million Japanese tourists came to Korea last year, a six percent drop since 2000.
Nevertheless the Korea Tourism Organization has continued to introduce drama tour packages. Last year they offered a 10-day tour package, which visits major locations including those for “Summer Scent” and “Jewel in the Palace,” a drama about a royal chef that was exported to 30 countries.
The new hallyu map begins at ChoongAng High School from Winter Sonata, the show which first began the hallyu frenzy in 2004. There is often a crowd of street vendors selling souvenirs outside the school where the male lead Jun-sang (played by Bae Yong-joon) played the piano for his lover, who later turns out to be his long-lost sister.
Campus romance is a big part of location tours in Seoul, including the scene from the film “My Sassy Girl,” a romantic comedy about two college students who meet in the subway.
Many of the movie’s scenes were shot near the Underwood Memorial House of Yonsei University where the heroine asked her boyfriend to exchange his sneakers for her high heels and then made him chase after her saying “Catch me if you can, or you’ll die.”
In the drama “Beautiful Days,” Yonsei, a school highly cherished by young Koreans because of its urban liberalism, was used as the site where the heroine chases after the male lead Seon-jae.
Yonsei also features in “The Classic” when Ji-hye shelters under a tree on the campus during a rain shower and meets a boy named Sang-min who is destined to become the love of her life.
The film, a melodrama, had many scenes from Yonsei’s campus, such as when the couple runs in the rain toward the library, covering themselves with a wet jacket.
Cliches are celebrated in many Korean dramas, which is evident from the locations where they were shot.
In the main scene from “Stairway to Heaven,” the male lead rides a merry-go-round in an amusement park with a girl he has loved since childhood.
As emotions reach a peak the male lead shouts his famous line “Love is destined to come back,” on an ice rink in Lotte World.
Ever since the drama, the garish lights that adorn Lotte World’s cement castles and merry-go-rounds have become the park’s trademark, drawing hundreds of Asian tourists fascinated by the show’s theme of tragic love ― the female lead in Stairway to Heaven eventually goes blind from cancer of the eye.
Korean soap operas are often based on a romance between a son from a wealthy family and a working class Jane and they have featured many of Seoul’s upscale shops.
In “Lovers in Paris,” the story of a poor housekeeper who falls in love with the son of a corporate chairman, the male lead gets up in a bar and sings “May I Love You” to please his girlfriend, who is emotionally exhausted by his family’s attempts to split them up.
The scene, reflecting the taste and social status of the male lead, was shot in the Paris Bar at the Grand Hyatt and is one of the reasons why the bar features live piano music for customers at night. (Note that when a rich man dates a poor girl in Korean dramas they sip designer martinis at a hotel bar. When a rich girl dates a poor man, they gulp down soju at a street tent eatery.)
Duchamp, a fashionably-named dessert cafe south of the river, has also been a hot spot for young Koreans after it featured in “My Lovely Samsoon.”
In the drama, the arrogant but tasteful male owner of a chic French restaurant takes his chubby thirty-something pastry artist girlfriend to a posh shop and orders over 60 kinds of cakes, puddings and tarts and lays them on a giant table for her to sample.
Then there are the settings for historical dramas that have become meccas of celebrity memorabilia, drawing hundreds of visitors.
The Korean folk village, known as “Korea’s Hollywood,” is another example. Palaces and traditional villages within Seoul have become major tourist destinations after they were used as settings for dramas and films.
The most famous example, Aeryeonji Pond within Changdeok Palace, was the setting where King Jungjong expressed his appreciation toward Janggeum, the royal chef, in Jewel in the Palace.
Palatial landscapes also adorned scenes in “Princess Hours” a story about a modern-day court based on the premise that Korea is still governed by a royal family.
The show featured a wedding ceremony between a royal prince and an ordinary girl that took place in Unhyeon Palace.
At Namsangol Hanok Village, Jo-won, a charming scholar from the Joseon Dynasty, pushes away his lover, saying, “My feelings turned cold the moment you said you loved me.” He was playing the role of Valmont in the Korean remake of the American movie “Dangerous Liaisons.”
To renew interest in hallyu, the Seoul government has supplemented its new map with trial runs of three hallyu-themed tour buses decked out with lush posters from the television drama “Spring Waltz.” Passengers watch the actual show while on board in between stops at major location sites of hallyu dramas and films.
Meanwhile, Yun Seok-ho, the director of the soap operas Winter Sonata, “Summer Scent,” “Autumn Fairy Tale” and Spring Waltz opened The Four Seasons House in northern Seoul which displays location stills and props from the Spring Waltz set.
During the opening event in May, local fans and press showed up for the event along with international broadcasters such as NHK from Japan.


By Park Soo-mee Staff Writer [myfeast@joongang.co.kr]
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