Korean dramas credited for tourist pull

Korean dramas credited for tourist pull
Visitors pose in the exhibition, featuring filming sets and stage props of “My Love from the Star,” at Dongdaemun Design Plaza in June 2014.
PHOTO: Korea Tourism Organization

As worldwide interest in Korean entertainment and content continues its global thrust, the city of Seoul is starting to see an influx in "hallyu-based" tourism, leading to the establishment of Korean drama-inspired tourist guides to assist die-hard fans in tracking down the filming locations of their favourite Korean dramas.

"Not long ago, something strange happened on a cold winter day in China -- fried chicken and beer starting selling like hotcakes," reads VisitSeoul's Hallyu Tourist Guide.

"The merchants found this strange, because the combination of beer and fried chicken was not common in China."

"What triggered the occurrence? The airing of 'My Love From the Star,'" it reads.

"The Korean lifestyle is being introduced to the world through television series, starting trends and causing a stir outside of Korea. More people are travelling to Korea out of their love of Korean television shows."

A handful of local dramas have enjoyed so much popularity around the world, especially Asia, that they have been credited with enticing viewers to travel to Korea to see the culture and filming locations firsthand.

The growing Korean TV drama fever has led to the establishment of "Hallyu Tours."

There are now several published guides that map out the filming locations of popular TV shows such as "My Love From the Star," "We Got Married," "The Heirs," "Doctor Stranger" and "Running Man."

With much thanks to online video streaming sites such as DramaFever -- a video streaming website owned by Warner Bros that offers on-demand streaming of mostly movies and TV shows with subtitles -- and Netflix, which recently established its presence in Korea, both newer and older K-dramas are continuing to seep onto TV and computer screens throughout the world.

According to the Contents Power Index, which is measured by the number of searches on search engines and follower rankings of the TV shows that air on major broadcasting networks, the country's three highest ranking shows of last year were KBS2's "The Producers" -- no surprise considering it stars hallyu power king Kim Soo-hyun -- followed by SBS' "The Girl Who Sees Smells" and "Pinocchio."

Following the tremendous success of "My Love From the Star," particularly in China, Kim's follow-up TV drama "The Producers," which was considered the country's first-ever "variety drama," went on to sell its broadcasting rights in China for more than $2.4 million (S$3.2 million).

However, along with the rise of newer and more popular K-drama series, classic dramas from years ago are still proving to be some of the biggest driving forces behind the popularity of locally produced shows, especially among international fans.

Last year, the Korea Creative Content Agency released a poll announcing the most popular Korean TV shows of all-time to be: "Jewel in the Palace," "Winter Sonata," "My Love From the Star," "Autumn in My Heart" and reality TV show "Running Man" -- all of which had tremendous followings outside the peninsula.

For some international K-drama fans, their love affair with shows can be traced back over years, with TV productions that are to this day widely considered to be some of the pillars of the local drama industry.

"I've watched 'Boys over Flowers' and 'Coffee Prince' because they were super popular and I wanted to see what all the hoopla was about," said 28-year-old American Kayla Vilardi, whose interest in Korean culture started nearly 10 years ago.

"K-dramas are so dramatically different from anything you would see on American TV. K-dramas seem to be a cool insight into Korean pop culture," she added, noting that her go-to move for learning about the latest in Korean TV is to surf around DramaFever.

Vilardi was first introduced to Korean pop culture after befriending a Korean via an online pen pal site -- a friendship that continues nearly a decade later.

Vilardi was instantly hooked to all things Korean, from the music to TV, leading her to decide to come to Korea for the first time as a study abroad student at Korea University in 2009 -- her first time overseas.

And one of many to-dos that was on her Korea agenda was to visit the coffee shop that appeared on one of her favourite shows, "Coffee Prince."

Since then her love of Korean Entertainment only deepened and her fandom quickly trickled down to her younger sister, Meghan.

"When Kayla went to Seoul to study she really showed me how amazing it can be to be somewhere new," said the younger Vilardi, who is currently preparing to work as an English teacher in Seoul. "I loved hearing about all the experiences she was having."

After opening her eyes to a new world of entertainment, Meghan Vilardi has since enjoyed watching a number of popular Korean TV dramas, including "Boys Over Flowers," "Secret Garden," "Lie to Me" and "Protect the Boss."

"US dramas are annoying and I never watch them because they're all raunchy and formulaic. K-dramas like to play around with reality," Meghan said noting that she typically enjoys a drama if she finds the male lead to be a strong and attractive character.

"Korean dramas will actually have guys who know when they want the girl and actually go for it."

"US shows are just about drama and being all up on each other, but Korean dramas get crazy and it's fantastic," she added.

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