Movies Can Bring New Meaning to a City

A long line of people stretching 50 m under the blazing sun along the Tiber in Rome are waiting for a chance to place their hands in the "Mouth of Truth" in the portico of the church of Santa Maria. It is a 1.5 m-wide marble tondo of the face of an old man. Legend has it that if a person tells a lie with his hand in the mouth of the sculpture, it will be bitten off.

The "Mouth of Truth" was apparently the cover of a manhole dating back to 4 B.C. and in terms of artistry pales in comparison to the city's other treasures, but it ranks among the top three tourist attractions thanks to the 1953 film "Roman Holiday" starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.

A fluffy romantic comedy about a reporter and a princess who plays truant in the Eternal City, it features iconic scene where Peck puts his hand in the mouth and scares Hepburn by pretending to have lost his hand.

The 1954 Hollywood film "Three Coins in the Fountain" did the same for the Trevi Fountain and gave birth to the popular belief that throwing a coin into the fountain guarantees that the visitor will return to Rome some day.

The 1954 movie "The Student Prince" turned the German college town of Heidelberg into a major tourist attraction. And the Austrian tourism ministry says the 1965 film "The Sound of Music" is responsible for 40 percent of the country's tourism revenues. The power of movies is still relevant today.

The 2009 movie "Avatar" features majestic floating mountains that were modeled after peaks in China's Zhangjiajiel, which led to a 50 percent rise in the number of visitors. New Zealand also saw a significant rise in tourism revenues after it became the setting of the interminable "Lord of the Rings."

The government of New Zealand attracts movie makers by loaning them filming equipment and support staff. Productions that spend more than W13.5 billion (US$1=W1,076) get a 15-percent refund. And productions that highlight the beauty of the country get even more benefits.

Even Manhattan, one of the busiest places in the world, freely helps with filming by setting up road blocks and providing police and firefighters if needed on the set. During the filming of the 1998 movie "The Siege," New York City officials blocked the Brooklyn Bridge for four hours.

The producers of the 1981 Korean-American war film "Inchon" even offered to rebuild the Han River Bridge if they were allowed to blow it up.

The latest sequel to the Hollywood blockbuster "The Avengers" will start filming in Seoul on March 30. In the 1957 movie "Battle Hymn" and the 1970s TV drama "M*A*S*H," Korea was depicted as a poor, war-ravaged country and it has been unable to shake off this image. But the "Avengers" sequel will portray Seoul as a slick IT mecca where villains intent on stealing cutting-edge technology face off with superheroes.

Cities become the backdrop to movies and movies can breathe new meaning into cities. It remains to be seen what Hollywood and the Korean capital can do for each other.

By Chosun Ilbo columnist Oh Tae-jin

englishnews@chosun.com / Mar. 21, 2014 12:17 KST