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Korean Wave lapping at the Jeju coastThe resort island is renowned for its drama locations which can unite fans from around the globe
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승인 2014.10.16  13:13:24
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▲ Scene from Daejanggum, Korean drama, filmed in Pyoseon, Seogwipo City(below). Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province

When Chinese president Xi Jinping visited Korea in July 2014, he commented on the popularity in his homeland of the Korean drama, “My Love from the Star.” His wife, Peng Liyuan, then impressed the public with her witty repost, “I wish my husband were from the Star.”

This 21-episode drama series, a mixture of history, romance, comedy, fantasy, thriller and sci-fi, aired on SBS from December 2013 to February 2014 and tells the story of Do Min-joon, an alien who lands in Joseon-era Korea 400 years ago. Able to stay forever young, and with powers of teleportation, he fast-forwards to 2014 and falls in love with the heroine of the drama, Cheon Song-yi.

Much like Hollywood epics fascinate Koreans, the series enthralled hundreds of millions of Chinese viewers. Chinese youth watched online with subtitles only 2 or 3 hours after it was first broadcast in Korea. On Valentine's Day 2014, at the height of the drama’s popularity, fans even placed full page ads in major newspapers declaring their love for the protagonist, played by actor Kim Soo-hyeon.

At a March 2014 divisional debate of the National People's Congress, Wang Qishan, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party and the sixth-highest-ranking leader in China, admitted his fondness for the drama, stating, “The essence or soul of the Korean drama is the sublimation of Korea’s traditional culture.” Just a few days later the Washington Post ran the frontpage headline, “Could a Korean soap opera be China’s guiding light?”

The Korean Wave and soft power

Hallyu, meaning “the Korean Wave,” was coined in China following the 1997 release of the hit Korean drama, “What is Love.” Two decades on, the success of My Love from the Star suggests the wave is still lapping at Asia’s shores.

When the heroine Cheon utters the words, “Beer is great with chicken on such a snowy day,” as if on cue, Chinese fans developed an appetite for Korean fried chicken and lengthy queues formed outside Korean restaurants nationwide. Taobao, China’s major online shopping outlet, similarly announced it had sold 170,000 goods relating to the drama.

▲ The Story of the First King’s Four Gods, Korean drama, is an historical fantasy rewriting King Gwanggaeto’s life on how to become a great king. Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province

There has also been an upsurge in the number of Chinese youth who are interested in learning the Korean language as interest is piqued in many aspects of Korean culture. Tourists have even flocked to the drama’s filming locations in Songdo, Incheon, where the hero rescues the heroine.

Here on Jeju we know very well about the power of drama locations, as the island is dotted with sites associated with the Korean Wave. For example, the Korean historical fantasy drama, “The Story of the First King's Four Gods,” was filmed around Myosan Bong and Seongbul Oreum in Gujwa-eup, Jeju City, in 2007.

The drama tells the story of King Kwanggaeto, the 19th king of Goguryeo, and stars Bae Yong-joon. Bae made his name in “Winter Sonata,” becoming a heartthrob among middle-aged Japanese female fans, where the drama was aired by state broadcaster NHK in 2003-2004.

The Korean Wave is not only confined to East Asia, however, as attested by “Jewel in the Palace” made in 2003. Its 21 episodes spread in the following years not only to China and Southeast Asia, but even to Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe.

The story traces the life of a woman of humble birth who first worked as a court maid. She then rose to be the king’s chef, before becoming physician to King Joongjong, prevailing in a male-dominated Joseon era, 500 years ago. Jeju Folk Village in Seogwipo City exhibits a number of costumes and props from the drama, as well as reproducing some impressive scenes. The final scene was filmed inside a cave at Mt.Songaksan, in Daejeong-eup, Seogwipo City.

Seopjikoji, a beautiful hill near Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak in Seongsan-eup, Seogwipo City, was a filming location for the 2003 Korean drama, “All In,” and it remains a popular site among the drama’s many fans. The garden of the Seaes Hotel at Jeju Jungmun Resort, contains a recreated thatched-roofed fishing village and was a filming location for the mysterious garden of “Secret Garden,” a romance and fantasy broadcast in 2010. Not only that, but scenes from “I'm Sorry, I Love You” (2004), “Palace” (2006), “The Snow Queen” (2007), and “Boys over Flowers” (2009) were also shot at the hotel.

Just a stone’s throw away, on the grounds of the Shilla Hotel, a now-famous hill was the backdrop for the final scene of “Shiri,” a blockbuster romance about a North Korean spy and a South Korean security agent. Known as “Shiri Hill,” it overlooks Jungmun Beach and is also a site of outdoor press conferences, especially following the 2004 summit between South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun and Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi.

In an era of globalization and digital technologies, the sustainability of the Korean Wave cannot rely on mere marketability, but must adhere to the basic principles of reciprocal exchange. True international exchange entails open-minded thinking in both directions. Rather than being satisfied as the cradle of “Hallyu,” Jeju should aim to become a “cultural melting pot” where global cultures meet, flow and blend freely.

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