Doramas: the reason Koreans love Spain

If you don’t have teenage children or nieces and nephews, or if you aren’t one, dear reader, you may not have much of an idea of what we are talking about when you hear the word “dorama”. Hopefully, by the time you have finished reading this article, we have filled in this gap. 

A dorama (Korean drama) is a series/serial/telenovela characterized by its brevity (one season maximum) and the variety of its plots, ranging from the political to the fantastic. Its actors, popular young hotties in their country, are true mass idols, because this television genre has as many followers as K-pop, and actually, they are two of the most striking cultural exports from South Korea.

Doramas were born in the 1950s. At the beginning they were melodramas for domestic consumption, but step by step they began to deal with a wide variety of genres: comedy, fantasy, thrillers… In this way they began to leave the domestic market and spread around the world, especially when filmed in other countries. 

Although it is a word of Japanese origin that refers to the local series of that country, its use in the West has also extended to other fashionable locations in terms of audiovisual productions. Within Korean series, there is a specific subcategory: K-Dramas, meaning to use the “K” to refer to their origin, Korea.

The interesting thing for us screen tourists is that some of these productions have been filmed in Spain and have made some of our most beautiful landscapes and cities known in Korea (always South Korea), leading to a considerable increase in tourists of this nationality, eager to see the places they have seen in their favourite dorama.

“Memories of the Alhambra”

One of the first doramas to come to Spain was “Recuerdos de la Alhambra. It is unmistakable from the beginning, the action takes place in Granada, although other locations in Gerona were also used. This production is one of the most outstanding in the genre in recent years. In fact, the series is still in the Top Ten of the most watched series in Korea and in the year of its premiere, 2018, it achieved a lot of notoriety on social networks. 

In principle it is a typical drama with romantic and suspenseful touches that focuses on a Korean businessman who visits Granada on a business trip and finds himself involved in a mysterious incident after staying at a hostel run by a Korean woman. What distinguishes it from other pieces in the genre is that it interweaves fact and fiction as well as past and present through a game of augmented reality. 

The filming took place between the Alhambra, the Mirador de San Miguel Alto, the Carrera del Darro, Correo Viejo, Calderería Nueva, the Puente Espinosa, the Colegio Ave María and the Fuente de las Granadas, in other words, practically all over the city.

The Alhambra is one of the most visited destinations in Spain / Agatha Selgas

The impact of “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” on the influx of Korean tourists to the city was immediately noticeable: in 2019 they visited Granada more than twice as much as the previous year. Thus, a clear success story of screen tourism.

In Girona, where scenes were also filmed in the Old Quarter, the Stone Bridge and some of the modernist buildings of the Eixample, they are now more accustomed to screen tourism. “Game of Thrones” marked a before and after for its cathedral, one of the most celebrated locations in the HBO series.

“The K2: when the war is over”

This dorama, full of action and political intrigue that mixes a bit of James Bond with a little bit of “The Kingsman”, came to Barcelona in 2016. Its most central streets, some metro stops and the interior of La Pedrera are perfectly recognizable corners in its first episodes, as well as being able to listen to the Korean actors mumbling in Spanish. 

One of the final scenes of the series offers us one of the best panoramic views of Barcelona: the one that can be enjoyed from the Turó de la Rovira, the old anti-aircraft batteries from the Civil War, recovered as viewpoints over the city.

View of Barcelona from Turó de la Rovira / Agatha Selgas

In this way, the Koreans joined the Japanese as some of the most avid Gaudí lovers in Asia and also developed a strong enthusiasm for our country.

“The Legend of the Blue Sea”

Again filmed in Spanish settings, this dorama about mermaids, past lives and high-flying thieves, came to Galicia in 2016. Many of the series’ most fantastical scenes were shot in the Tower of Hercules, San Pedro hill and even Maria Pita square. All of them, of course, locations in the beautiful city of La Coruña. 

Also appearing in this production are scenes shot in Finisterre (La Coruña) and Playa de las Catedrales (Lugo), two enclaves of breathtaking natural beauty that must have enchanted the imaginative scriptwriters of these peculiar plots. 

The production team of “The Legend of the Blue Sea” was probably the same as that of “The K2”, as Catalonia is once again one of the settings chosen for several episodes. The Costa Brava repeats with corners of the old town of Girona and the beautiful old town of Tossa de Mar.

The beautiful seaside town of Tossa de Mar, the setting for “The Legend of the Blue Sea”

It is clear that the Koreans like the Romanesque, the medieval atmosphere and the magic of our towns and cities. Therefore, it is not surprising that they chose the Castle of Santa Florentina in Canet de Mar (Barcelona) as another outstanding setting for the plot. A visit to this site is highly recommended. It stands on the site of a Roman domus, which was converted into a fortress in the 11th century and remodelled in the 19th century by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, one of the greatest exponents of Catalan Modernisme. A real spectacle for lovers of screen tourism (since scenes from “Game of Thrones” have also been filmed there).

The castle of Santa Florentina in Canet del Mar became a luxury hotel in “The Legend of the Blue Sea”/ Santa Florentina Castle

In this video you can see the scenes that were filmed here.

The fan phenomenon of the Korean screen tourist continues to surprise in some of the protagonist cities. For example, Liliana Tudor, from the Sitges Film Office, tells us that buses of Koreans are still arriving to see one of the most emblematic views of the town: that of the church of Sant Bartomeu and Santa Tecla, where another episode of the series was filmed.

The small square below the Sitges Church is one of the settings for “The Legend of the Blue Sea”/ Sitges Film Commission

The same is true of the Palau de la Música in Barcelona, where one of the scenes most used to promote the series was filmed, and which even today, seven years after its broadcast, continues to receive Koreans eager to have their photo taken in the same place as their favourite actors.

From Korea to the world

In short: if you are one of the few who have not succumbed to the charms of K-Pop, one of the few viewers on the planet who have not seen “The Squid Game” (to date, the most watched series in the history of Netflix) and do not know that “Parasites” was the first film shot in non-English language (Korean) to win the Oscar for Best Film in 2019, you may be tempted to start watching some of these serials with which you can travel around our country. 

So, if you come across an oriental film crew on one of your walks around Spain, take a good look at them. They might be filming the next Netflix blockbuster.

By María Parcero

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