When Marvel announced that Black Panther would film in Busan, the second largest city in South Korea, it was a big deal. Seoul tends to get all the major movie contracts like Star Trek Beyond, The Bourne Legacy, and Colossal. Marvel had already dipped its toes into the South Korean capital with 2014's Avengers: Age of Ultron, which shot in several locations in Seoul.
Yet, movies have always played a major role in Busan. After all, it's home to the prestigious Busan International Film Festival and the district of Nampo is decorated with placards, signs, and handprint imprints of famous stars across Asia and beyond. It's also home to the Busan Film Commission, one of the longest-standing film commissions in Asia, as well as two production centers: Busan Cinema Studio and the 3D virtual production center Digital Bay. While the city hosted a number of well-known films like Oldboy and Sea Fog, as well as numerous Korean dramas like Reply 1997 and Friend, Our Legend, it had never managed to capture a major international film.
That was, until Black Panther. Even then, they needed a bit of help.
The initial plan was to scout out Singapore, but a typhoon changed the filmmakers' route to South Korea. With director Ryan Coogler in tow, the BFC knew they had one chance to make a big impression and secure Busan as a filming location for a major Hollywood production.
Lee Seung Eui, the head of the production support department at the BFC, told Variety that they "... brought the team literally everywhere — all the way from the Jagalchi fish market and the Gwangan Bridge, which later became the route for the film's biggest car chase scene."
Nicknamed The Diamond Bridge, it is the second longest bridge in the country. It definitely made for a dramatic shot, and the picturesque view from Gwangalli Beach was helpful when it came to filming the hectic chase scenes.
"Because the action scene took place at night, there had to be a great night view and I also wanted to show a traditional side of the region. We were in need of a unique, different film site," Coogler told Variety.
And, they got one. It worked. The BFC waited on the team hand and foot, showing them everything Busan had to offer. And while the bridge was paramount, in the end, it was sentimentality that may have sealed the deal.
"I noticed some similarities between Busan and my hometown [Oakland, California]," Coogler said. "Aspects such as the hustle and bustle of Jagalchi Market felt very familiar to me."
Jagalchi Market is the heart of Busan's maritime trade. Lines with stalls upon stalls of freshly caught seafood — including dozens of varieties of fish, octopi, crabs, and sea cucumbers — the market is always brimming with life. Locals and tourists alike flock here to sample and buy up the day's catch. Coogler was right, it's very hustle and bustle.
Tip-toeing around baskets of eels and shellfish, I attempted to trace the footsteps of the heroes from Wakanda, but it's easy to get distracted. No wonder this would have been a perfect spot for a hidden entrance to an underground club, which is exactly the role Jagalchi Market plays when it first appears in the film. The market's screen time culminates at the beginning of the car chase as Shuri guides T'Challa through the stalls, tents and winding roads before heading into Busan.
The filming locations and times for Black Panther were very well known in Busan. Groups on Facebook and Naver, Korea's main web portal, would post the information, organizing watch parties and excursions to get a glimpse at the process of filming a Hollywood movie.
In order to film on Gwangan Bridge, it had to be closed for two whole evenings, and buses had to be re-routed to other traffic patterns that had been established well in advance of the shoot. The city council wanted to make things as convenient as possible for the filming, but also for the city's residents, given the circumstances.
In the end, filming was a success. Residents were excited to see the final product, and when it came out, the effect it'd have on the city was substantial. Black Panther helped Busan enormously. Businesses featured in shots have seen a major uptick in traffic, the promotion from the film making a lasting impact. Some restaurants in the city even have signs promoting themselves as "the shop that was destroyed in Black Panther."
It also didn't hurt that the film was a huge hit in the country, bringing in $41 million from 5.4 million admissions. Busan's role in the film was a draw for Koreans who were excited and delighted to see a place they knew on the big screen in a major blockbuster.
Disney dedicated two Black Panther statues in Busan, one in Gwangbok-ro and one along Gwangalli Beach facing Gwangan Bridge. These were erected to commemorate the first time for Marvel Studios filmed in the city. A third would later join them, this one sitting at the CGV theater at Centum City, home to the Busan International Film Festival.
However, the statues didn't prove to be resilient as the superhero is in the film. The Gwangbok-ro statue was toppled by some drunken antics relatively early on, and my attempts to find the one on Gwangalli Beach were thwarted too. Like the Gwangbok-ro statues, this one has had been vandalized by a drunken fan who, according to police, was suspected of climbing the statue.
Even though the statues are no longer standing (though there are apparently plans to repair and put them back up), the effect of Black Panther on the city has been nothing but extremely positive. Koreans loved the movie and loved seeing themselves in it. And naturally, the BFC loved how the film put them on the map as a location destination for future endeavors.
"When they were shooting in China, the Pacific Rim: Uprising team heard from the Black Panther team that Busan is an amazing location. That made them come to see the city," Lee told Variety. While the Busan shots ultimately didn't make the final cut of the Pacific Rim sequel, the filming was another great experience for the city.
"Before Black Panther, not many industry people in North America showed real interest in Busan," Lee said in that same interview. "Now I feel that many of them perceive the city as the location for Black Panther, and a few Hollywood projects have started contacting us for location data."