Old-hat benchmarks. If your show has enough pull to lure tourists to pack, endure the hassles of travel, part with their money and have their pictures taken against houses or park benches that have no enduring value beyond being television folderol, then you've got not only a blockbuster, baby, but a pop-culture phenomenon.
Take the Koreanovela "Full House." This hit GMA-7 import ended its run on local TV early last year with me not having seen one episode. Yep, not one. (That's true for everything else from "Marimar" to "Jewel in the Palace." Blame my peculiar job schedule.) Then I went to Seoul, South Korea, and got invited to visit the location houses for "Full House" and "A Sad Love Story." Apparently, after hordes of tittering Japanese tourists began flocking to the park used in "Endless Love II: Winter Sonata," the government realized what they had in their hands and decided to make these sites a major tourism come-on.
Ignorant as I was about the show, I wanted to visit temples and churches instead (hello, this was Korea--land of both Buddhism and the Rev. Moon), but my media colleagues, one of whom gushed endlessly about "Cholo" of "Stairway to Heaven," convinced me otherwise. So we went to this small island near Incheon, and there on a rugged, windy beach sat the charming whitewashed dwelling used by Jessie (aka Song Hye Kyo--Jenny in "Endless Love I: Autumn in My Heart") and Justin (aka the hugely popular Asian star Jung Jee Hun or Rain) in "Full House."
Here are some pictures I took, and excerpts from the travel piece I filed with the paper (read the full article here):
"The actual house, made mostly of wood, was built especially for the mini-series at an approximate cost of US$1 million... Tourists come in droves to this house, located on Si Island near the Incheon International Airport, to gawk at the interiors and take pictures of themselves side by side with life-size images of the lead stars, which adorn the garden and the cabana.
"The island itself is reachable via a 10-minute ferry ride from Sammok Ferry Port. A cab ride from the Incheon airport to the Sammok Port costs about 15,000 won ($15), while the ferry crossing charges 20,000 won ($20). From the dock, a bus takes the tourists to within 30 minutes' walking distance from the house, which is situated on a low bluff accessible only through a dirt road. For the more impatient, bicycles can be rented from enterprising neighbors near the bus stop.
"There is one catch. On some weekends the house is off-limits to tourists, because the local government of Ongjin, which takes care of the property and promotes it for tourism, leases the premises to tourists and fans moneyed (or star-struck) enough to pay the $100-dollar rate per night. Many others opt to camp out on the beach.
"The charges, while steep, allow the visitors full use of everything in the house. Such that when we visited on a Friday afternoon, Jessie's fanciful pink room on the second floor, cut off from the mezzanine area only by white Roman shades, hosted a lady dressed in house clothes fast asleep on the bed."
"Costly as 'Full House's' set was, a grander dwelling was built for the TV drama 'A Sad Love Story' (known in other parts as 'A Sad Love Song'). The series starred Kwon Sang Woo (Cholo of 'Stairway to Heaven') as a musician in love with a blind singer, Kim Hee Sun (of 'Forever Love').
"The house, located in another point of Si Island, offers magnificent views of the surrounding hills and sea, plus luxuriously-appointed interiors that, astoundingly, are so detailed that the lead star's music room actually has a stack of carefully selected CDs by the hi-fi set ready to be played anytime.
"'A Sad Love Story' has ended its Korea stint [GMA 7 has also run it in the Philippines], and the house is now undergoing renovations and upkeep. But, like the 'Full House' mini-mansion, it continues to draw in visitors from all over, tipsy with visions of passionate young lovers fighting and romancing within the confines of a real lived-in home."
So how did I get the facts right for my story? I borrowed a 9-disc boxed set of "Full House" upon arrival, and watched the series from beginning to end. I'm so glad I did, because it was a hoot!