Ah~ how nice is it to be back in South Korea after 3 years! People always ask me why I keep going back to Korea, but there’s just so many things to see and rediscover in this vast country. And as long as I continue to love Korean entertainment with all my heart, I’ll definitely be a regular visitor.
One place that I didn’t manage to visit last time was MBC Dramia, which should be a compulsory stop on the itinerary of any Kdrama fan, especially for those who like sageuks (historical dramas). I enjoyed watching Empress Ki a lot, and that drama made me want to visit this place all the more. I’m happy to say that I finally got to check this off my bucket list during my trip to Korea this time!
MBC Dramia is a large film set in Yongin used by MBC to film their sageuks such as Hwajung, Empress Ki, Dong Yi and many more, including the classic Jewel in the Palace. The outdoor set consists of life-size replicas of the palace, residences of Joseon noblemen, and the peasants’ village, which are all open to the public, even on days when there is filming. This means you not only get to visit iconic scenes of your favourite sageuks, you may even run into a Korean star if you are lucky enough!
Setting off from Seoul, I took the subway to Seoul Nambu Bus Terminal (서울남부터미널) where I got on the intercity bus bound for a small town called Baek Am (백암). The bus departs every 20 minutes from platform 18 and costs 4,500 won for a single trip. From Seoul, the bus journey takes about 50 minutes. Do note that Baek Am is not the final stop (the bus actually goes all the way to Jincheon), so don’t doze off! Baek Am is the third stop after Yang Ji (양지) and Jwa Jeon (좌전), and there will be a voice recording that announces each stop in Korean and English.
Baek Am is a really small town, such that it does not even have a proper bus terminal. The bus will drop you opposite the “terminal”, which is actually the small house in the middle with blue signage as seen in the picture below. That’s where you have to buy your bus ticket when you head back to Seoul later.
From Baek Am terminal, you can either take the local bus 105 or take a taxi to MBC Dramia. I took the taxi since the local bus doesn’t come very frequently, and I think it was a good choice as the set was much further away from town than expected. We ended up travelling a fairly long distance through rural farmland; the taxi ride took about 10 to 15 minutes and cost 8,500 won.
To be precise, MBC Dramia was recently renamed “Dae Jang Geum Park (용인 대장금 파크)”, but street signs still show the old name. I wish they had stuck to the old name since it’s less of a mouthful and easier for foreigners to say and remember if they intend to turn this into a Hallyu tourism attraction. Jewel in the Palace is such an old drama by now anyway.
After paying the entrance fee (7000 won), I made my way into the park and was greeted by the sight of heavy construction with excavators and lots of dust everywhere. Alright, let’s not panic. The park is still open for business right?
Well, MBC used to have another Jewel in the Palace film set called “Dae Jang Geum Theme Park” that was located in Yangjoo, but they closed it some years ago, so they are apparently rebuilding the set here instead. Clearly, this is the reason why MBC Dramia was renamed. Okay, I know the drama is a classic and was one of the first Kdramas that succeeded internationally, but I don’t get the fixation of trying to revive the legacy given that many other hit dramas have been released over the years. Wasn’t there talk about MBC trying to do a sequel for the drama too? Maybe I’m reacting this way because I lack the emotional attachment to that drama since I didn’t watch it.
Spotted a bus at the car park; it is used by the film crew of the upcoming MBC sageuk The Flower in Prison (옥중화)! Will I be able to see Jin Seyeon or Go Soo today? Hee hee.
Inside MBC Dramia
A map of the site and a row of character standees mark the entrance to the set. There is a small shop selling coffee and titbits that won’t help to fill your stomach if you ever get hungry here. There’s no other dining outlet here, so make sure you settle your meals elsewhere before coming.
Entering the set proper, I immediately recognised this place from Empress Ki, where Emperor Ta Hwan stood across the bridge looking at Seung Nyang. I think this was used as the maids’ quarters in the drama.
This is the Injeongjeon Hall, a re-creation of the actual one in Gyeongbukgung palace in Seoul. I recognised the large square as the scene of the rebellion in the finale of The Moon Embraces the Sun.
Then there’s the traditional marketplace that we always see in typical chase scenes in sageuks, where you have the lead running through the different alleys of the marketplace, overturning carts and flinging fruits and vegetables at the thugs or soldiers chasing behind. I think many scenes in Arang and the Magistrate also took place here.
There were only a handful of visitors on the day I visited, which explains why the place looked deserted. Not that I mind. There were also hardly any staff members in sight, so you are really given free reign to take whatever crazy pictures you want and play with the props. You can pose as a prison guard, sit at the magistrate’s seat, browse through the items “on sale” at the market, and even flip through the fake books that contain pages and pages of the same text written through. Of course, you are expected to be considerate and handle the items with care, although there were many props that were also chucked around hastily, probably by tired film crew who were eager to go home. I think it’s good that we are able to interact with the props, given that we are often not allowed to touch most things in actual historical attractions.
Some Dong Yi character standees can be seen at random corners around the studio. They were all faded and worn, and obviously positioned without much thought. I was honestly creeped out when I turned a corner and ran into a Dong Yi standee that stood smiling from the shadows at a secluded spot. I hope they replace the standees with characters from their newer dramas.
At a temple seen in Gu Family Book, Empress Ki and probably every MBC saguek, there is a modern exhibition room with videos and panels detailing the construction of the studio. The script books of various dramas are also on display here.
From here, you also get a nice panoramic view of the park. It’s almost like an actual city! There’s actually a balcony here where they like to film kings and princes admiring the view from this vantage point, but it’s cordoned off to the public. I always thought the mountains in the distance seen in dramas were part of a computer-generated backdrop, but turns out they are actually real!
The Yeolseongak Pavilion where Seung Nyang and Ta Hwan set back to back on the bridge in Empress Ki.
This ancient sports arena, which they call the “Military Drill Hall”, is easily recognisable as the training ground of the Hwarangs in the drama Queen Seon Deok, and also the place where Ta Hwan played his embarrassing football games in Empress Ki.
This is the Oriental Medical School which was specially created for the drama Horse Doctor. I didn’t watch that drama, but I recognised this as the brothel where Lee Jun Ki fought off a vampire in Scholar Who Walks the Night. It’s interesting to see how the same place can be used for very different purposes in different dramas.
Was lucky enough to see the prison, a new set that was specially created for The Flower in Prison! I happened to see a short clip about this drama on TV before coming, so I was also looking forward to seeing this new set. There is actually another prison located within the park, but this one is larger and has a unique circular layout.
Alas, I didn’t manage to meet the leads or any other supporting stars of that drama, but I did get to see some extras walking about in period costume.
There are other sets in the park that I shan’t cover in this post. Don’t want to spoil the fun for those who haven’t visited! Although the buildings are mere reconstructions, they are huge and realistic enough, so the place should appeal to those who enjoy visiting historical sites. But of course, it’s more fun if you can actually relate each set to the dramas you’ve seen. I also enjoyed exploring every nook and cranny, and being met with the feeling of joy and surprise each time I encounter a familiar scene. Although I only saw these places on TV, it feels like I’ve been here before.
Overall, I think it took me about 2 hours to explore the whole park, while stopping to take a lot of pictures at the same time, so this place can be visited as a short day trip from Seoul. But I don’t think I’ll come back here soon until they add more new sets and replace their character standees.