With filming of Human Time nearing completion and most of the actors’ and the director’s careers highlighted, it seems an appropriate time to take a break from everyday events to discuss the film’s location. As everyone who has been reading this blog knows, the city in which the film physically occurs is near Gangneung, on the east coast of South Korea to the northeast of Seoul. Gangneung is the largest coastal city in the province of Gangwon. It is nestled at the east side of South Korea's longest mountain range, Taebaek. The Taebaek Mountains stretch along the eastern edge of Korean Peninsula and run along the East Sea. Geologically isolated from most parts of the country, Gangneung has been able to preserve its own distinct culture and, to date, it has a tendency of being politically and culturally more conservative than the more metropolitan areas such as Seoul.
Gangneung is considered special in that it has both access to a lake and the sea. Gyeongpodae is a pavilion overlooking a Gyeongpo lake. It is said that one can see the moon five times when at Gyeongpodae. One sees the moon once in the sky, once reflected in the lake, once reflected in the sea, once reflected in the drinking glass, and once more in the eyes of a lover. There are a number of historical remains and museums in Gangneung. The most prominent being the Ojukheon Museum, which is named after a special black bamboo growing in this area. It is the birthplace of the famous Korean scholar Yulgok (1536–1584) (whose image is on the South Korean 5,000 Won note) and his mother Saimdang (1504–1551), Her whose image is on the 50,000 Won note. For those interested, SBS recently aired a drama, Saimdang, Light's Diary, based on a fictionalized account her real life story.
In addition, Gangneun will be the venue for the indoor sports of the 2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Pyeongchang. All these facilities, except for the Gangneung Curling Centre will be newly built for the Olympics. Gangneung also has many tourist attractions, such as Jeongdongjin, a very popular area for watching the sun rise, and Gyeongpo Beach. There is a Republic of Korea airbase south of downtown Gangneung which formerly doubled as a civil airport. It is bordered by mountains to the west and the sea to the east. And yes, this is the region in which JKS went skiing last winter and promoted the Winter Olympics.
However, the actual filming location occurs at the Gangneung Unification Park (aka Tongil Park), which is 4 kilometers north of the Jeongdongjin train station along the coastal road, just south of Gangeung city. Jeongdongjin is a picturesque area with a quaint railway station alongside the sandy beach. Long a favorite spot among the locals, the area gained wider popularity after being chosen as the filming location for the popular soap opera Moraeshigae (meaning Sandglass) in 1994. A key attraction of Jeongdongjin is the sunrise. The early morning sun rising over the ocean and outlining the train station and surrounding pines is a sight that has been described as "straight out of a fairy tale". During the New Year, Jeongdongjin Sunrise Park is the location of the Sunrise Festival and the ceremonial "turning of the hourglass", signifying the changing year.
Overlooking the town is the Sun Cruise Resort &Yacht, a hotel designed to look like a cruise ship. Undoubtedly, this is the hotel that JKS and the rest of the cast stayed at during the filming since it's located quite close to the filming site.
In addition, this location has been a prime target for North-South conflict. In 1996, a North Korean Sang-O-class submarine landed a three-person special operations reconnaissance team on the east coast of South Korea near Jeongdongjin. Their mission was to spy on the naval installations in the area and then return. The submarine made a failed attempt to collect the team and returned the following day. The submarine, however, ran aground in the attempt, and all efforts to try to make her free were in vain.The crew then decided to destroy the sensitive equipment in the submarine and try to make it to the DMZ. The crew split up in several groups but one was soon spotted by a civilian who became suspicious and alerted the authorities, who quickly mobilized. A 49-day-long manhunt ensued, from 18 September through 5 November, resulting in the capture or elimination of all the crew and members of the reconnaissance team, except one, who is believed to have made it back to North Korea. Four civilians and 12 ROK soldiers (8 KIA and four in accidents) died; 27 soldiers were wounded. The submarine was salvaged and towed to a naval base for investigation, and now permanently resides at the Unification Park where it has become a major tourist attraction.
The Unification Park is a small area by the sea where the Korean government has exhibited three sea faring vessels. All of them have some connection to North Korea.
However, the one which is featured in Human Time is the retired 4,000 ton US warship, built in the US and used briefly in WWII, then the Korean War and the first Gulf War. It was donated to South Korea in 1972. The Korean Navy used the ship for 27 years until it was retired in 1999. It is (apparently) the only warship on display on dry land in the world. Its' interior has been refurbished as an exhibition on Korean naval history with interesting glimpses at sleeping quarters and mess halls. Built in 1945, the Jeonbuk warship was moved to the site in October 1999 and turned into an on-board exhibition area for people to get a naval and maritime experience.
Resting on land alongside the East Ocean, the ship provides an ideal location for Kim Ki-duk’s fim. In Kim’s film, this battle cruiser has been converted from a warship into a cruise ship which runs aground…or otherwise no longer surrounded by water. The ship’s interior, having been renovated, provides the backdrop of the film.
For a bit more information on Unification Park itself, take a look at this video: