A drama set shows an instersection in Seoul in the 1980s. The set is located in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province. / Photo by Brian Deutsch
By Brian Deutsch
One of Suncheon's claims to fame is a set used for the filming of the drama ``Love and Ambition,'' a soap opera that ran on SBS in 2006. As a matter of fact, the set has been labeled the ``Love and Ambition Set'' on some signs around town. I also used to be able to visit and have it nearly all to myself. But that may change soon as officials in the South Jeolla provincial city are expecting business to pick up.
The local government expects not only to increase tourism there but also to attract more productions through a ``Suncheon Familiarization Tour'' that will acquaint filmmakers and writers with not only the set but other local attractions as well.
The city has been promoting the set more heavily in recent weeks, featuring it more prominently on the Suncheon Web site and posting larger signs around town. This comes after other dramas and movies have used it recently to replicate older authentic scenes that are not so commonly found these days.
Parts of the much-anticipated new blockbuster TV soap opera ``East of Eden'' were filmed on the Suncheon set, with scenes also shot in Hong Kong, Macau and Japan. The 50-episode drama, which is reported to have cost some 25 billion won to produce and debuted on Aug. 25, has thus far been one of the top-rated programs on TV. The story begins in the 1960s, and follows the lives of two men born on the same day at the same hospital and whose paths have become ironically intertwined. It is the biggest-name production ever to be filmed in Suncheon, though there has been plenty of other recent activity.
The movie ``Sunny,'' released in July, shot some scenes in Suncheon as well. Set in the early 1970s, it is the story of a young woman who signs up as a troop entertainer to follow her husband to Vietnam. The film got mixed reviews in Variety magazine, and interestingly a photo still on the movie's official Web site reveals, unintentionally, that in spite of striving for realistic settings, the characters were anachronistically using American money from 2001 to bribe officers in 1971.
Other notable movies partially filmed in Suncheon include ``Mapado 2'' (2007), ``Once In A Summer'' (2006) and the as yet-unreleased ``Story of Branch School'' and ``Bloody Shake,'' filmed in May and July, respectively.
One of the earlier dramas to come out of Suncheon was ``Seoul 1945.'' However, the first series was ``Love and Ambition,'' and in fact, the set has heretofore frequently been labeled the ``Love and Ambition set'' on promotional material. But the Suncheon set goes by many other names in Korean. Each promotional poster around town seemingly gives the set its own title, though any name will suffice for a taxi or bus driver.
It sits on roughly nine acres on the western edge of what is known as Suncheon's ``New Downtown'' and is separated into three sections and three decades: Mock-ups of the 1960s' Suncheon-eup (a precursor to the current Suncheon-si or Suncheon city), 1980s' Seoul, and a generic 1970s' slum that is set on a steep hillside.
Almost all of the buildings are empty and unfurnished, although the street scenes are charming. There are some interesting differences between them, most of all the language used on the signs: Moving chronologically through the set means a shift away from Chinese characters, native Korean words and borrowed ``hangeulized'' English. In the 1960s, a coffee shop even retains the Japanese pronunciation of ``coffee'' on the window. None of the three neighborhoods would look terribly out of place in rural South Jeolla Province.
The Suncheon set is one of several such locations in the province, along with larger and more-visited sets on Wando Island and in Naju. Unlike the Suncheon set, though, which recreates mid-20th century scenes, the other two large sets are used for historical dramas and movies set in dynasties past.
Scores of films and soap operas have been shot in South Jeolla Province due in no small part to acclaimed director Im Kwon-taek, who was born in Jangseong county and who often films his movies locally. Scenic spots like the Boseong tea fields, the bamboo forest and Metasequoia Road in Damyang also show up on screen from time to time.
After arriving in Suncheon by bus or train, take local bus No. 777 to the set in Jorye-dong or take a five-minute taxi ride. The set is also a stop on both of the Suncheon City Tours, which shuttle guests around to major tourist attractions in the area. Walking through all three neighborhoods takes roughly an hour.
Admission is 3,000 won for tourists, though if you are interested in filming your own work there, the cost is two million won per day for a movie and 800,000 won per day for a drama. More information on the set is available on its Web site, in Korean, www.suncheon.go.kr/drama.