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Life is beautiful
Jeju stars in new drama
Monday, April 19, 2010, 16:20:02 Jean K. Min jeanmin@jejuweekly.com
▲ “Life is Beautiful” is a contemporary drama, set in pastoral Jeju, that depicts the lives of an extended family. Photo courtesy SBS

Perception precedes reality and reality follows perception. If you doubt this, take a brief look at the famed NASA satellite picture of Earth at night. Global dots of city lights scattered precisely along the 21st century geopolitical map testify to the power of human perception in redrawing the Earth’s crust.

We thus pay great attention to the media, the contemporary leviathan that controls human perception. Even more so for islanders of Jeju, since the greater part of Jeju’s future will be decided by when, where and how Jeju is portrayed by the media on the mainland.

The Jeju painted by the Korean television media has evolved over time. Jeju has, for decades, been touted as Korea’s Hawaii, the top destination for honeymooners coming from the mainland, whenever it was featured in the media. With the recent introduction of olle trails, the portrait of Jeju has changed — Jeju is now no longer only a destination for honeymoons or once-in-a-lifetime trips, but a scenic island that is perfect for a snap weekend excursion.

With its spectacular beauty and exotic ambience, the island has long been loved by a countless number of producers and scriptwriters as an ideal location to film movies or dramas. However, Jeju has simply provided a picturesque setting for those films and shows and the contemporary life of islanders has never been a serious focus of the features. The news that Kim Soo Hyun, one of the most popular drama writers in Korea, had decided to set her latest soap opera for SBS mainly on Jeju came as a stark reminder of how much Jeju has changed in the perception of mainlanders.

So far, Kim’s television dramas have been strictly urban-based, featuring scores of working professionals who party, love or simply struggle to get along in the complicated megacity that is Seoul. If two lovers have to settle scores, they usually walk along the Han River, deep in conversation.

However, “Life Is Beautiful,” Kim’s latest weekend installment for SBS, focuses on an extended family that decides to settle on Jeju, the birthplace of their aging mother and father, the latter of whom is showing early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

As many islanders I know have lamented the dearth of decent jobs in Jeju, I did some quick research on some key characters of “Life Is Beautiful” and how they make their living on the island. The family’s elder son runs a pension home near Mount Songak and the younger son is general manager of a golf resort. Tae Seop, the grandson who is the family prodigy but also homosexual, is a doctor. Other professions held by leading characters include a professional photographer, a scuba diver, a sales manager of a duty free shop and a food stylist.

Apart from the fact that the story is set in pastoral Jeju, it is a typical Korean soap opera crowded with urban professionals. To put it in perspective, imagine “Friends,” “CSI” or “General Hospital” set in Hawaii instead of New York City, Las Vegas, Chicago or San Francisco. Kim reportedly spent a few months in Jeju to create plausible characters as well as narratives, and her finished product shows that her research was not in vain. She continues to write her scripts on Jeju to maintain her contact with the key actors and actresses, so that she will not lose the feel of the story.

Reality follows perception or at least media-generated perception. Kim’s depiction of Jeju as an island full of urban characters busy with colorful economic activities — although some-what exotic — will certainly make mainlanders rethink their stereotypes of Jeju. Notable is that Kim’s dramas have traditionally been more popular among viewers in their 50s to 60s, the prime group that would consider potential relocation to Jeju after retirement.

Life would be certainly beautiful for them in Jeju if they find the island to be Korea’s Florida.

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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