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Finding the Goblin in Korea

  • Indah Setiawati
    Indah Setiawati

    The Jakarta Post

Seoul | Tue, September 12, 2017 | 08:48 am
Finding the Goblin in Korea Past meets present: A typical house in the affluent residential area of Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul. (JP/Indah Setiawati)

The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) invited The Jakarta Post’s Indah Setiawati and a group of journalists from other Asian countries to explore a number of cities along the Korean peninsula and experience the culture of a country that has invaded the world with its Korean wave. Here is her report.

"Will you meet Gong Yoo?” My friends and relatives promptly asked me this question after they found out that I would be visiting several filming sites of popular television drama Guardian: The Lonely and Great God, also popularly called “Goblin.” My answer? “I wish!”

Dubbed as the top South Korean actor, Gong Yoo first gained international recognition after playing Seok-woo in the award-winning blockbuster movie Train of Busan ( 2016 ). His role as the titular immortal called the Goblin further sent him to global fame as the TV drama was well-received outside the country.

Fans of the drama will remember the romantic scenes between the Goblin and Euntak, a 19-year-old girl who was the Goblin’s wife in a past life.

Goblin posters were displayed at the Incheon Art Platform in Haean-dong, Incheon, near the China Town tourist hotspot. Surrounded by vintage, red-brick buildings, the spacious space was donned with various artwork such as a scrap metal structure of a sea turtle.

According to the KTO’s tourism book, which provides information on filming locations of Goblin, the Incheon Art Platform was developed by revamping old buildings built between the 1930s and 1940s. With a classic look that feels European, it is no wonder that this place is a popular filming site. Jakartans who visit the area may subconsciously associate the space with the old, abandoned buildings in Kota Tua, West Jakarta, which also has the potential to develop into an arts center.

We walked for several minutes before reaching a long, concrete stairway where, in the drama, the Grim Reaper talks to the Goblin about the fate of Euntak. Located next to the Jemulpo Gurakbu cultural center near Jayu Park, the stairway, although it was under repair, showed off its potential as a filming site. We climbed up the steep stairs that seemed to end in the sky under the shade of the trees’ wide canopy.

At the end of the stairs, we arrived in a spacious area overlooking the Incheon Port. Afterward, we walked through Jayu Park, catching a glimpse into how elderly men in Korea spend their free time. Clad in colorful safari T-shirts, the men gathered in corners of the park, playing Korean chess while fanning themselves and having a good laugh. The lush trees in the area protected us from the summer heat.

Cultural space: The Incheon Art Platform in Incheon, South Korea, is a popular filming location that features a number of artworks.Cultural space: The Incheon Art Platform in Incheon, South Korea, is a popular filming location that features a number of artworks. (JP/Indah Setiawati)

Secondhand bookstore

In another scene, the Goblin reads a book at the Hanmi secondhand bookstore in Baedari, Incheon. Hanmi bookstore owner Chang said the street was once home to 40 bookstores but the number shrunk to six as of today.

Chang said he was not happy with the newfound popularity of his bookstore after it was selected as a filming location for Goblin because travelers who visited were usually not interested in the books.

“They only cared about taking pictures and the shutter sounds disturbed my regular customers,” he said.

Nevertheless, he remains kind to visitors of his store. He showed me children’s books in English that were in perfect condition and allowed me to use his sink in a private room to wash my face, which got sweaty in the non-air conditioned store.

Chang, who has continued the family business into its second generation, said most of the books in his store were around 30 years old. Built in 1955, the books used to be arranged by his parents in heaping piles, until he painted the store yellow and bought shelves.

The charm of Pyeongchang

While walking along the Fir Forest trail heading to the Woljeongsa temple, which is nestled in Odaesan National Park in Pyeongchang, Gangwon province, our tour guide, Jinny Kim, told us to refrain from talking loudly. It was hard not to get too excited seeing tiny little squirrels running around with great curiosity.

While a great film can turn an unknown place into a popular tourist destination, using iconic sites as a film’s setting brings a challenge, as the backdrop of a scene could appear touristy or, worse, boring.

Goblin, although having chosen a well-known shooting location in Daegwallyeong Samyang Ranch, Pyeongchang, smartly shot from unique angles in the right season. The ranch was the filming location for several films, including Taegeukgi: Brotherhood of War ( 2003 ), Beethoven’s Virus ( 2008 ) and Windstruck ( 2004 ).

Judging by the number of visitors, the area seemed to be a favorite among families and young couples. Upon arriving in the hilly area, we were welcomed by a bit of rain, thickening fogs and a cloudy sky that, for most of our visit, prevented us from capturing shots of a white wind turbine against a blue sky.

The fog cleared up for precious seconds, allowing us to capture the desired frames and reminding us of a scene from Goblin. In the scene, a grass field, surrounded by nothing but a transmission tower in the distance, is blanketed with snow, giving it a completely different look to its appearance in the summer.

Samyang Ranch has five walking trails ranging in distance from 550 meters to 1.4 kilometers. The ranch also provides shuttle buses that run from May to November.

Standing tall: An iconic wind turbine in the Daegwallyeong Samyang Ranch in Pyeongchang.Standing tall: An iconic wind turbine in the Daegwallyeong Samyang Ranch in Pyeongchang. (JP/Indah Setiawati)

Returning to its roots

Watching Korean films and dramas will entice you to learn more about the country’s culture, including its traditional architecture and food.

The residential area of Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul is a popular tourist destination where several signs reading “Shh!” are propped up. They are targeted at tourists, who are expected to respect the residents by keeping quiet. The affluent housing area is a mix of modern and traditional. Drop by the tourist information center to get a map with sketches of Bukchon.

To learn about the traditional food, check out the Jeonggangwon Korean food and culture experience center, also in Pyeongchang. The small city was so green when we visited, surrounded by green hilltops and dotted with vegetables plantations. Around 65 percent of its natural landscape consists of highlands 700 meters above sea level.

Located near a river, Jeonggangwon itself offers breathtaking views at the street level that showcase traditional Korean architecture. It was the filming location for the “Gourmet” ( 2008 ) TV series.

There, we made Injeolmi rice cakes as part of a cooking class. Our job was simple: pound steamed glutinous rice for a few minutes. The glutinous rice was diced into small cuts and covered with a generous helping of bean powder. The Korean rice cake is best accompanied with buckwheat tea.

Kim Min-ji, the restaurant manager in charge of the cooking class, later demonstrated how to make a giant bibimbab with a giant wooden bowl. We had our peaceful lunch with nice, cool weather while enjoying a view of the fermentation area, located in the front yard of the center.

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