By Marion KDL and Mich KDL
Just like how K-Dramas takes us places, they also take the actors (and their characters) to places too! And just like in past years, 2018 saw lots of K-Dramaland characters venture out of South Korea, into the world. Some lived abroad (Are You Human?, Twelve Nights, The Third Charm), went on vacation (Encounter) or on a business trip (Devilish Joy), and even on a secret service mission (Terius Behind Me — well, it is K-Dramaland after all!).
What made this year stand out was its unprecedented ‘country-diversity’, with some unexpected locations too. From China to Cuba, to Poland to Portugal, even Spain, Slovenia and the United States — us viewers had the chance to travel with our favorite characters to at least 3 continents through our screens! This also inspired us to start a Search by Overseas Location page for KDL.
South Korea’s too far or too expensive to visit to see your favorite drama’s locations? Well, read on, because you’d be surprised — a K-Drama location may be closer home to you than you’d think!
China — Hainan (Devilish Joy)
The fateful love story of ‘Joy’ aka Joo Ki-bbeum (Song Ha-yoon) and Gong Ma-sung (Choi Jin-hyuk) — two lovebirds that would have made any place look fancy and romantic — starts right here. But, did we really see Hainan? I ask this not because we could not take our eyes off these two and totally forgot about the environment; rather, I wonder if we managed to have a sense of Hainan as a place with real people in real houses, cafés, restaurants and streets?
It seems to me that it’s not really the case. Most scenes in Devilish Joy took place in supposed-to-be Hainan which, in reality, was the set of Movie Town Haikou, along with two 4-star hotels characterised by their standardized international looks and layout. Both places also do not allow representing any in situ living; instead of people living in them, they merely pass through them. What adds to the curiosity of what Hainan is like and what it really looks like, is that it is practically inaccessible via virtual maps. Their online addresses and descriptions of places are not clear, if at all even existent, further adding to its mystery. — Marion KDL
Cuba — Havana (Encounter)
Camera in hand, Kim Jin-hyeok (Park Bo-geum) dwells in the streets of Havana’s Old Town while Cha Su-hyeon (Song Hye-kyo) is here for a business trip in Encounter. A fateful holiday encounter adminst moving tourist guide images of Havana, of colored streets and urban parks with (mostly smiling) Cubans, cafés, vintage advertisements and turn of the (20th) century cars? — Marion KDL
Czech Republic — Karlovy Vary (Are You Human?)
We meet the kind and considerate Nam Shin III (Seo Kang-joon) in the Czech Republic, a human android living a sheltered life in a castle-like home. Little did he expect that he’d come face to face with his real-life human doppelgänger — locking eyes for a fleeting moment, before the latter gets mercilessly knocked down by a truck rushing across the street. Before the untimely accident, we get to explore downtown Karlovy Vary together with the two Shins, as they attempt to keep pace with each other through the town square, even having a chance to watch a traditional dance performance (while watching the other). — Mich KDL
Japan — Tokyo (Twelve Nights)
Filmed with a shaky camera to represent Cha Hyun-o’s (Shin Hyun-soo) feelings back at home in Japan, the small snippets of Shibuya shown in episode 4 of Twelve Nights perfectly convey the hectic, business-like vibes of this particular Tokyo district, with its massive human crowds and high-rise buildings that nearly disappear behind the neon signs on them. But most importantly, this place thoroughly represents how lifeless and insignificant Hyun-o must have felt before breaking out and coming to South Korea. — Marion KDL
Poland – Warsaw (Terius Behind Me)
As far as we know, this is the first time that Poland has appeared on our K-Dramaland screens — ever. But why the rush in Terius Behind Me? It is understandable from a narrative point of view: Bon (So Ji-sub) is on a mission and chases after (and fights with) his opponents nearly the whole time there. In doing this, however, he also rushes by all the historic monuments and tourist attractions we would have loved to spend more time seeing, to get a sense of the kind of place Warsaw is. Since it’s always shown in a flashback (which additionally reduces the importance of the sites themselves), it feels like these scenes could have played out anywhere. What was the importance of how everything happened in Poland? — Marion KDL
Portugal — Lisbon (The Third Charm)
What made the organised On Joon-young (Seo Kang-joon) choose to soul-search away from Seoul in his late-20s, and spontaneously end up over 10,000km away in Portugal for the next five years? Whatever his reasons, he sure made a good choice; us viewers were treated to scenes of Lisbon’s charming architecture, to breathtaking sights in outskirt towns and beyond, and even the kindness of villagers. As he cycled along cobbled streets through his daily life, one would only hope that he’d find himself away from his heartbreak, and truly come into his own. On the flipside, Portugal held memories of heartbreak and despair for Lee Young-jae (E-som), who sadly had the misfortune of laying her own child to rest in this city. — Mich KDL
Slovenia — Ljubljana (Memories of the Alhambra)
Memories of Alhambra – as its name states – was supposed to take place in Spain. So it came to a huge surprise that the fountain square at which Yoo Jin-woo (Hyun Bin) fought against a digital adversary during the main part of episode 1, is in real life located in Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana. Architecture-wise this might work. But it feels a bit off in terms of story-telling (as show doesn’t stop to tell us that we are in Granada). Also, in a show that highlights all the marvels of digital reality, it seems a little sloppy that Slovenian names of restaurants, streets and real-estate agencies have not been (digitally) adapted. Even if Slovene and Spanish are both Indo-European languages, their writing systems differ –at least for European eyes– considerably. — Marion KDL
Spain — Barcelona, Girona, Grenada (Memories of the Alhambra)
This show keeps (in most parts) its namesake promise and showcases beautiful (albeit some extremely touristy) parts of Spain. It lets us travel again to Barcelona and its surroundings (as The K2 did two years ago); small town Girona, which sits a little north of Barcelona; as well as to the very south to Granada, with its ever so beautiful Alhambra. What I am disturbed by, though, is to understand why nearly none of the places are where and what show tells us they are (as far as going to selling Slovenia for Spain?!)? In the first episodes, we only see 10 minutes of real life Granada; even its train station that carries quite some importance for the show, is not the real life one but the one of Gavà; a small town located a little south of Barcelona. — Marion KDL
United States — New York (Twelve Nights)
A classic American diner, a crossroad in downtown Manhattan near Penn Station, busy New Yorkers striding through daily life, an over-ground subway train — though Twelve Nights only showcased New York for a little bit of screen time in its first episode, in comparison to the Warsaw sightings in Terius Behind Me, the New York City feeling was right there. It did transport us to our last trip here, and even the next to come! — Marion KDL
Hope you’ve enjoyed this international journey with us, and we look forward to finding out where K-dramas in 2019 will travel to next! Be sure to check out our new Search by Overseas Locations page and check out where your favorite dramas may have filmed overseas.
We have one last part to our 2018 round-up (and easily our favorite one) – so be sure to look out for that 😉