The handsome protagonist places a fist-size rock on the growing tower of wish-laden stones at the top of the mountain. Snowflakes swirl around the fresh-faced couple as they close their eyes and solemnly bow their heads. “What did you wish for,” he asks. She gives a sly smile, opens her eyes and says, “That we can be together, forever.” She turns to him. A romantic soundtrack replaces dialog as they stare into each other’s smiling eyes at the top of PyeongChang’s most popular ski mountain, blissfully unaware of the pending tragedy that will inevitably confront them.
Ah, Hallyu – the Korean wave of cultural exports that includes K-pop music, K-fashion, and K-drama films! No country does “tragic love story” better than South Korea and this scene from the 2002 mini-series Winter Sonata is ground zero for the launch of Hallyu.
The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) capitalizes on the popularity of Hallyu by preserving and promoting film locations. In the spirit of the 2018 Winter Olympics, create a competition with your friends. Challenge them to a scavenger hunt where the gold-medal winner is the first to post tagged photos of him or herself at Hallyu locations throughout Gangwon Province. At the top of the ski lift at YongPyong resort in PyeongChang, for example, snap a selfie beside the life-size cutout of the Winter Sonata characters Kang Joon-Sang and Jung Yu-Jin (played by Bae Yong-Jun and Choi Ji-Woo) on the promontory where they pledged their love. Extra points for photos that re-enact the scene!
Another Hallyu location is just a short walk from the ski-jumping arena at Alpensia Sports Park in PyeongChang. Near the entrance to Greenpia resort is a set piece from Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring. Actions speak louder than dialog in this beautifully shot and edited Korean film that deftly weaves in Buddhist teachings about the cycle of life, death and rebirth. The movie was originally filmed in a reservoir further south, but the floating monastery and iconic gate were moved to PyeongChang.
A more recent K-drama sensation partially filmed in Gangwon Province is The Goblin. This over-the-top love story has a supernatural twist. The Goblin has walked the earth for over 900 years, doomed to immortality after committing a horrific act of vengeance. To end his curse, the “Protector of Souls” must find true love in a human bride. The heroine is a quirky girl with the power to conjure the Goblin to her side by extinguishing a flame. In one scene, she accidently summons him by blowing out a birthday cake candle while standing on a pier at Jumunjin Beach in Gangneung City. This pier is another popular pilgrimage site in Gangwon Province for K-drama fans.
Pull out a 50,000 won banknote (or google it, if you don’t have the currency). The prim woman on the bill is Shin Saimdang, South Korea’s most famous artist and poet of the Joseon Dynasty era. She was born and raised by scholars in Gangneung City at Ojukheon House and her unconventional story is told in the 2017 mini-series Saimdang: Light’s Diary. Add Ojukheon House to your Hallyu scavenger hunt list, as it’s one of the oldest preserved wooden homes in Korea, diligently maintained for hundreds of years by her descendants.
Winning Tips: Ride the gondola from YongPyong’s Greenpia condominium in PyeongChang to the top of the mountain to snap your Winter Sonata photo. The set from Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring is within walking distance from Greenpia condominium, along the road from YongPyong ski resort to Alpensia Ski Park. For photos of The Goblin’s Jumunjin Beach and Saimdang’s Ojukheon House, take the KTX shuttle or Express inter-city bus to Gangneung bus terminal. Take local bus 302 or 315 to Jumunjin Beach. Take bus 200, 203, 204, or 205 to Ojukheon.
For more tips on how to make your Olympic vacation truly epic, try this itinerary.