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Mellow Drama

April 13, 2009

I recently discovered that my new school, Choong-Ang, is somewhat famous.

In 2002 the Korean TV network KBS broadcast a drama called Winter Sonata. It was the second installment in a four-part drama series that used the names of the seasons in each title. The series became unofficially known as “Endless Love” and is widely regarded as having been at the forefront of the Hallyu (“Korean Wave”).

Gyeul Yeonga (Winter Sonata)

Gyeul Yeonga ("Winter Sonata")

Winter Sonata was a huge hit across Asia, especially in Japan, and the two main actors, Bae Yong-jun and Choi Ji-woo, became successful screen stars. From what I understand, the story is a typical Korean melodrama in that it starts off twee and cheesy as all hell before plummeting into sudden and unexpected moments of utter grimness. The early part of the tale, when the two characters meet for the first time as school students, takes place in a high school and Choong-Ang school was used as the film location. My co-workers first brought this to my attention when they were explaining the conspicuous presence of Japanese tourists having their pictures taken at the school gates. Flanking these front gates are a stall and a small corner shop festooned with photographs, posters and other merchandise displaying Winter Sonata heart-throb, Bae Yong-jun’s, face. However, the tourists are not allowed past the gates during normal school hours for fear of distracting the students.

Choong-Ang School

Choong-Ang School

The reasons for choosing Choong-Ang school as a location are obvious. The institution itself is 101 years old this year and features some buildings with architecture quite atypical of Korean schools. It has an almost Gothic style more reminiscent of western universities, possessing a timeless quality perfectly befitting a television drama.

Disclaimer: I do not work in the building pictured above. That shows the main high school building whereas I work in the middle school building behind it. My school building is a modern design quite typical of other Korean schools.

I have not yet seen Winter Sonata and can offer nothing in the way of criticism on it. I did locate an essay, here, that explores the success of the film but it is rather sycophantic in tone and clearly written by someone for whom English is not a first language.

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