[The soul of SEOUL(17)]Arirang Hill - birthplace of Korean film

  • Published : Mar 30, 2010 - 17:46
  • Updated : Mar 30, 2010 - 17:46


This is the 17th in a series of articles highlighting tourism
spots in Seoul. The useful guide for planning weekend trips in
the capital city will help readers rediscover Seoul. - Ed.

On a warm spring day, I met a beautiful blue-eyed young lady. She said she liked music and had been in Korea for 6 months. When asked her if she knew the Korean flag, she answered that it was called Taegukgi and described its shape and color clearly. When I asked about national anthem of Korea she smiled, and confidently said "Arirang."

The national anthem of Korea is "Aegukga." However, Korea is so closely attached to "Arirang" that many foreigners think of "Arirang" when they are asked about the national anthem. Korean sentiment and history are bound up in the song and its familiar melody.

Arirang Hill

"Arirang Hill" is the name of a 1.45 km stretch of road northeast of the city center. The natural shape of Arirang-hill has disappeared, but its name till holds the traces of the past.

Its original name was Jeongneung Hill. Its name changed thanks to a film by Na Un-gyu.

Na was born in 1902 in North Hamgyeong Province, now part of North Korea, just before the Japanese colonial period. As a child, he liked drama and would sit at the front every day when touring plays visited the village. He made a drama for himself with his friends. He liked reading, too -- sometimes he was scolded for reading books all day instead of going to school. As he grew up, he became interested in the independence movement and in film. When he was cast as "Blind Man Sim," a minor role, in the film "Simcheongjeon," he visited blind men to learn about their gestures and way of thinking. But sadly, "Simcheongjeon" was a big failure.

Na decided to make a film himself. He wrote the script, directed and played the role of the hero. He arranged "Arirang" the theme song of the film, and played the role of the narrator. The location of the film was Jeongneung Hill. When the film, entitled "Arirang," was released on Oct. 1, 1926, it was a big hit. "Arirang," was sung across the country. It became an anthem for the Koreans who had lost their country. Since then Jeongneung Hill has been known as "Arirang Hill."

The film begins with narration: "There is Arirang Hill in the distance." Na plays Yeong-jin, a young man driven to insanity by the oppression of Japanese colonial rule. When he sees Oh Giho, an agent of colonial Japan, trying to rape his sister his younger sister, he kills him with a sickle. He only comes to his senses when he sees blood. The melody of Arirang is overlapped with an image of Yeong-jin crossing Arirang Hill bound by a rope.

Na made "Arirang" when he was 24 years old. Afterwards, he contributed to 29 films over 12 years and directed 19 of them. Naturally, Japan didn`t like to see Korean people captivated by the young film maker`s work. They censored every film he made, cut scenes regardless of the story, changed the titles, and banned screenings. People began to turn away from his films. However, Na did not bow to pressure and continued making films. He passed away at the age of 36 with a manuscript for a film called "Obongnyeo" in his arms.


A walk on the hill

Arirang Hill is a nice place for a walk in the warm spring sun. If you take the subway to Sungshin Women`s University Station and leave via exit number 6 to find the road, it is a 1 km walk to Arirang Cine Center. The stretch was designated Cinema Street due to its fame as the setting of "Arirang." Posters of famous films from Korea and abroad, such as "Ben-hur," "Gone with the Wind," "Shiri," and "The Reason Why Dalma Went to the East..." have been made into copperplate engravings. Most of them are in real poster size, but some are two or three times as large. If you try to look at all of them, you will be there all day.

Na Un-gyu Park is half way to Arirang Cine Center. Its black angular arch has formative beauty, and a building is decorated with tiles describing his posthumous works, film posters and his own figures. Na Un-gyu is smiling in black and white picture. But it is touching to see the face of a young film maker full of passion for cinema and a spirit of independence. The floor of park is decorated with tiles describing contemporary films. There are sets of the houses of Yeong-jin and Mr. Cheon, which appeared in the film "Arirang." They are not very large, but are a nice place to take a rest.

Birthplace of a new age of film

Arirang Cine Center ( 02-3291-5540) and Arirang Information Library sit on the ridge of Arirang Hill. The six storey building is an ordinary movie theater but shows a selection of equipment to capture, edit and record film. People can use or rent them. Arirang Information Library ( 02-3291-4990) is a good place for film maniacs as it has books on film and DVDs and other video materials. There is a monument celebrating the 100th birthday of Na at the entrance on the first floor.

Arirang Festival is held on the street in May. Today, many films are made and an enormous amount of money is spent. While Korean film enjoys such prosperity, spare a thought for Na Un-gyu, a young man who refused to surrender to colonial rule and pioneered Korean film.

[Other hot spots]

Street with Beautiful Scenery: Exit No 7 of Seungshin Women`s Univ. Station

Sungshinyeodae Road in Donam-dong is also called Hanarogeori. It is illuminated with various shops and lights in the evening. If you turn right 40m from exit no 7 at Seungshin Women`s University Station, you can see a fine view of a large arch at the entrance of Hanarogeori on the other side of the road.

Amaryllis, a Flower Cafe

Amaryllis is managed by Jeong Hun-hee, a flower designer. It is a restaurant, cafe and flower gallery all at the same time. The place is decorated with beautiful flowers, vases, flower art and small sculptures. The cafe specializes in pasta. There are also bagel sandwiches and fried shrimp rice. Alternatively, you can sip coffee at an outdoor table on a sunny day or enjoy flowers or small sculptures in the cafe. Jeong has studied in Britain and traveled across Europe and speaks good English. Amaryllis is open from noon to 11:00 in the evening. Spaghetti is 16,000 won and coffee is 5,000. (02)923-9852


Gangpung Pork Chops

Gangpung Pork Chops is a restaurant where you can enjoy sweet pork chops. Located in the corner of Hanarogeori, it has been running for 45 years. The meat is roasted over briquettes, giving it a full flavor. Used mostly as a dining place by business people after office hours, the restaurant shows an aspect of Korean business culture. It is better to visit the restaurant with Korean friends. It is open from noon to midnight. 300g of marinated pork chops is 8,000 won. You can find it on Hanarogeori, 250m from exit no. 1 of Sungshin Women`s University Station.

[Spot interview]`I like Korean films`

Kenneth Mackay has worked for 12 years traveling between Korea and Canada. He is interested in Korean film, and his favorite is "Gil (Road)" (2006). He likes that film because it shows Korean country markets and a traveling salesman in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. His biggest impression from the film was the scenery -- country roads between rice paddies and fields.

He knew about Na Un-gyu, but he didn`t know the story about Arirang Hill. He found out about the road today and said it was pleasant to remember movies he had seen while appreciating copperplate engravings on the street.