Essay
How cultural heritage lives on today We must heed the desires of the current generation
by Min Yongjun Popular Culture Columnist
The best choice to make our traditional culture a value worth preserving in the future

We are truly entering the era of K-culture, an era where Korean movies, Korean dramas, and Korean popular music are commonly referred to as K-movies, K-dramas, and K-pop. Unlike the Korean Wave a few years ago when it began gaining popularity, it's now become global.
If it weren’t for COVID 19, Korea would have been crowded with tourists from all over the world for K-culture tours. In fact, since the Netflix drama <Kingdom> created a global sensation, the number of foreigners looking for a Korean traditional hat, 'Gat', has increased. Although it's just an old-styled item for us, foreigners felt that they had found a rare and wonderful article. The impact of a Korean drama that became a sensation around the world like <Kingdom> is greater than you might think. It's an interesting example of how something we don’t even notice can be seen as cool elsewhere in the world. This demonstrates the possibility that something exclusively Korean can become global in an era where Korean popular culture becomes a channel to spread awareness of the whole of Korean culture.
The idea of visiting places where popular dramas were filmed is not just for Korean audiences. In that sense, it will be more interesting than ever to look at the traditional scenery of Korea that has been used to create wonderful backgrounds for Korean movies, dramas, and music videos.

Netflix <Kingdom> poster

Set in the time of the Joseon Dynasty, which forms the basis of Korean traditional culture, <Kingdom> showed a most splendid display of the palace landscape. This is thanks to the fact that it was possible to actually film in palaces such as Gyeongbokgung, Gyeonghuigung, Changdeokgung, and Changgyeonggung, which rarely allow filming in order to protect cultural heritages. In general, a replica set reproducing the palace is commonly used since it is not possible to film in the real one. However, <Kingdom> was allowed to film in the palace thanks to its purpose of promoting the beautiful palaces of Korea. This allowed audiences to vividly see the splendor of the historical palaces in their own homes.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that BTS, standing at the forefront of the era of K-pop and creating a global sensation, creates landmarks everywhere they go. In 2021, BTS received attention when they appeared in a promotional video for the 2021 global Seoul tourism campaign '2021 YOUR SEOUL GOES ON', which was a joint campaign between the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the Seoul Tourism Organization. In this video, with the National Museum of Korea as the background, BTS showed the world various areas, such as the permanent exhibition hall, the digital video hall, and the bamboo street, of the National Museum of Korea. This video was posted on YouTube under the name of ‘EoGiYeongCha Seoul (with BTS)’ and set a new record by achieving 100 million views within 9 days of being posted. This is the shortest period of time that this has been achieved in since 2017 when a promotional video for Seoul tourism was first posted. BTS has appeared annually in promotional videos produced to revitalize Seoul tourism, and this time they contributed greatly to publicizing the National Museum of Korea as a tourist destination in Seoul.

‘EoGiYeongCha Seoul (with BTS)’ YouTube screen capture

Songgwangsa Temple in Suncheon appears as a highlight in <Decision to Leave> directed by Park Chanwook, who recently won the Cannes Best Director Award. This place is presented as a lovely dating space to share unique emotions between couples among the elegant and beautiful temple scenery. As director Park Chanwook has an extensive interest in Korean traditional culture, he expresses the very Korean traditional landscape in an interesting manner in the film. In the short film <Life is But a Dream>, which he released on YouTube earlier this year, a bamboo fan made by Jeonbuk Intangible Cultural Heritage No. 10 master Park Gyeho, along with an umbrella made of paper or cloth on bamboo, made by Intangible Cultural Heritage No. 45 master Yoon Gyusang, appear as important accessories. Korean scenery and props like this often appear in the films of Park Chanwook, who is considered a world-famous director.
Like director Bong Joonho when he stated that the most personal is the most global, it is not an exaggeration to say that the most Korean now is the most global. Accordingly, people who are fascinated by Korean culture around the world have a greater interest in Korea than ever before. This means that it is a better time than ever to feel proud of Korean traditional culture.

Poster for the movie <Decision to Leave>
Screen capture of the short film <Life is But a Dream>

Gyeongbokgung Palace, a landmark of Korea, now carries a different meaning since it became the backdrop for <Kingdom> and BTS. In other words, creativity and influence displayed in concert can breathe new life into tradition.
Director Lee Changdong, whom I met during an interview last year, said “the most positive means of promoting a country is culture.” Director Lee, who previously served as the Minister of Culture and Tourism, said that changes in policies and perceptions were the foundation for Korea’s content industry as it is in the global spotlight today. This implies that government-led cultural support policies are important, but the government should not be involved in culture. In other words, an attitude of taking responsibility but not interfering is paramount. If the freedom of expression is guaranteed and cultural capabilities are nurtured based on the autonomy of the private sector, the industry itself can develop in a healthy way. I believe the result is the elevated status of Korean culture that we feel now.
In order to integrate traditional culture with contemporary popular culture, there must be talent. Talent here does not necessarily mean something grandiose and great at the moment. Ambiguous Dance Company, a contemporary dance team in Korea that collaborated with the world-famous British band Coldplay, recorded more than 300 million views on a YouTube video filmed at landmarks in Seoul, including Daehanmum Gate at Deoksugung Palace, for overseas promotion of Korean tourism in 2020.
They achieved a worthy goal through an unconventional choice. After all, this is how we spread the wonders of our traditional culture to the world. This is the best choice to make our traditional culture a value worth preserving in the future and keep our important history from remaining in the past.

Screen capture of Korea Tourism Organization ‘Feel the Rhythm of Korea: SEOUL’ YouTube

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