Dramas forgo foreign locations for home

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Dramas forgo foreign locations for home

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The SBS series “Life is Beautiful” is just one of the TV dramas filmed on Jeju Island. Advancements in CG graphics and declining budgets have increasingly led broadcasting companies to film in Korea rather than abroad. Provided by SBS


Zoom in on a location shoot for a TV drama. There are beautiful people everywhere, going over their lines or rehearsing the next sequence - all this framed by structures that are indicative of the foreign country in which the scene is supposed to be set. The director gives the cue and the cameras roll. This is often the scene when a production is filmed overseas, but the idea of going abroad to go on location is becoming less attractive to many Korean broadcasters, which, in a dramatic shift, are choosing to film their drama series closer to home.

The hit KBS2 drama series, “Boys Over Flowers,” which had an audience share of 30 percent in Korea during its run in early 2009, featured scenes filmed in New Caledonia and Macao. The drama, which is based on a Japanese manga, tells the story of a student from a poor family who gets into a prestigious private school attended by students from wealthy families. The plot has many of the characters flying to different countries, and the producers chose to film those scenes overseas.

But the number of broadcasters willing to follow them has declined significantly in the last year. According to experts, many broadcasting companies tightened their belts after the global financial crisis. In addition, recent advancements in computer graphics have made it possible for producers to replicate scenes that previously had to be filmed on location.

As its name implies, the current KBS2 drama series, “Birth of the Rich,” tells tales of wealthy characters - but not a single scene depicts an overseas location.

Not all are following the trend. The current MBC drama series, “A Man Called God,” chose Hawaii as its main location, racking up around 10 billion won ($896,860) in production costs. But the drama received harsh criticism for choosing foreign locales that were inconsequential to the plot. It was also panned for the low quality of the acting and the highly improbable story line. It is currently earning an audience share of just 10 percent.

Still, the recently-ended KBS drama series, “Chuno,” which was popular with female audiences thanks to the hunky male actors who frequently appeared shirtless on the show, won praise for its effective use of computer graphics in recreating a desert scene. The backdrop looked like the Mongolian desert but was actually shot on a local beach and finished with CG effects.

“Considering the cost and time involved when foreign locations are used, there were more disadvantages than advantages to shooting overseas,” Kwak Jeong-hwan, the program director said.

Although many historical dramas have been shot overseas, including MBC’s “Queen Seondeok” (2009), whose sweeping vistas were shot in various foreign locations, many producers are saying they can no longer afford to spend such a large chunk of their budgets on filming outside of Korea.

“We had to shoot in foreign locations to show the vast landscape of China in the first couple of episodes, but these days, the trend is to cut back on production costs - and the first thing to do is not to go abroad,” Jeong Un-hyun, director of MBC’s drama division.

The decline in the number of productions filming abroad has been a boon for the local tourism industry. One of the most popular domestic locations for drama productions is Jeju Island. In addition to Chuno, the current KBS1 drama “Merchant Kim Man-deok” and SBS’s “Life is Beautiful” were filmed on Jeju. The locations where they were shot have drawn a steady stream of visitors from Korea and abroad who are looking to follow in the footsteps of their favorite stars.

“Korean TV dramas have without a doubt been a cornerstone of the Korean wave. After the drama series ‘Dae Jang-geum,’ which was shot in Jeju, aired in Asia, swarms of Asian fans, especially from China, visited the island, which really gave a boost to its tourism industry,” said Kim Hyun-bum, a Jeju Island tourism official.


By Yim Seung-hye, Kang Hye-ran [estyle@joongang.co.kr]
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