Monday, December 17, 2007

Korea Weekend Box Office - Dec. 14-16

Some strange goings-on with the top-10 this week. When KOBIS published the weekend numbers on Monday morning, they were obviously really low. I AM LEGEND, for example, was listed as doing about half of what its true business was. Turns out that there were some computer problems and a bunch of theaters had not reported their weekend business.

Apparently the Monday KOBIS numbers are always preliminary, and final figures are not confirmed until Tuesday. I did not know that. I hope I have not posted any wrong box office figures here in past weeks.

Anyhow, big weekend for Will Smith's I AM LEGEND. Kind of funny, considering how no one I know who saw the film liked it. Score one for Warner Bros' marketing team. LEGEND had $6.5 million, including its early Wednesday opening (true weekend numbers were closer to $5 million).

I was surprised LEGEND outperformed both SEX IS ZERO 2 and THE FIGHT. Was sure at least one of those would be a breakout hit. As it turns out, SEX IS ZERO 2 was the big Korean film over the weekend... a fact I find endlessly distressing. No, I have not seen it yet, but the original SEX IS ZERO was such a miserable film, I am disappointed people went back for more punishment.

THE FIGHT opened only in fourth, which had to have been disappointing to its distributor. It felt like I have seen ads for this film every five minutes on TV here. (SEX IS ZERO 2, on the other hand, was pretty much invisible, at least on the channels I watch).

Kind of cool to see KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE in the top ten, especially since that movie was released a few weeks ago. Are all of Hayao Miyazaki's old films going to be periodically rereleased in Korean theaters, like Disney's film used to be when I was growing up? It would be cool is young people had the opportunity to see his films in the theater.

This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend AttendanceTotal Attendance
1.I Am Legend12.12486678,619918,396
2.Sex Is Zero 2 (Saekjeuk Sigong Sijeun 2 - Korean)12.12440439,031584,284
3.August Rush 11.29314239,6451,336,512
4.The Fight (Ssaum - Korean) 12.13396164,750236,328
5. Seven Days (Korean)11.1424397,6291,932,717
6.Lust, Caution 11.0820069,4671,821,731
8. Le Grand Chef (Sikkaek - Korean)11.0111525,0572,969,549
9. Kiki's Delivery Service11.22387,50023,716
10. My Eleventh Mother (Yeolhanbeonjjae Eomma - Korean)11.29466,275333,337
(Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 97% of nationwide box office)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Running Down a Dream (Cinema)

My ever-so-cool colleague Chun Sujin just wrote a feature about the end of Dream Cinema, the last non-multiplex theater in Seoul. Dream Cinema is an ugly concrete box, with fading paint, broken seats and a dubious sound system (at the best of times). But when it was opened in 1964, it was one of the fancier cinemas in the city, like the Daehan or Picadilly.

Very much worth a read, especially since I can still remember a time before there were any multiplexes in Korea. Amazing how fast things change.

Writing this makes me remember the last time I went to the Dream Cinema to watch a film. It was the first Korean press screening for LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. The sound system was in worse shape than usual that day, and about 20 minutes into the film the sound went out entirely. I had to wait another couple of days until the next press screening to see the movie. As I was dying to see FELLOWSHIP (geek that I am), I was pretty bitter about that.

And if you want to check out the Dream Cinema, it will stay open until January or so. To commemorate the theater and its closing, the manager booked DIRTY DANCING, which has turned into something of a surprise hit (and tickets are just half-price, compared to other theaters).

Dream Cinema is located in Seodaemun, right by the Seodaemun Subway Station on line No. 5.

Friday, December 14, 2007


Andrei Lankov has a great (if short) essay about the classic Korean "ero" film MADAME AEMA at the Korea Times (here). Totally worth a read.

If you like that sort of thing, you can read a short essay about the 3S policy in KOFIC's KOREAN CINEMA book (which you can download for free here (yeah, there is a more normal link at, but it does not seem to work with Mac computers, so I linked to Google's html cache instead. If you use PC, though, you can see the article here ).

If you are interested in urban history or more of the sports side of the 3S policy, there is a very interesting article about Seoul's urban policy and the 1988 Olympics here.

Now if someone would only write such an essay about PPONG...

Hey! Great collection of posters and stills of PPONG at the Korean Movie Database. Nifty.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Korea Weekend Box Office - Dec. 7-9

Score one for parity this week, as no one movie occupied over 300 screens. I cannot remember the last time that happened. All the movies in the top-10 this weekend were on between 276 and 98 screens.

Actually, now that I think about it, last weekend was pretty even, too, as all the movies occupied between 321 and 160 screens.

Anyhow, the biggest film, yet again (and rather mysteriously) was AUGUST RUSH. That is about $1.8 million over the weekend for a total of $5.7 million. Once again, a movie doing better in its second weekend than in its first. What an odd trend this fall.

But does anyone really want to see that film? It could make a more cynical person think that CJ was "encouraging" all its employees (and their family and friends) to see the film. How very lucky for me that I'm not cynical.

FYI, AUGUST RUSH has made a little over $25 million in the United States. Plus $1.4 million in the UK and $600,000 in Italy.

SEVEN DAYS continues to do fairly well -- about $1.2 million over the weekend for a total of around $12 million.

HAIRSPRAY was the biggest debut this week. But John Travolta is no Devine.

LUST CAUTION also continues its remarkable Korean run, with another $720,000 or so, bringing its total box office to about $12 million.

This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend AttendanceTotal Attendance
1.August Rush11.29276254,767826,241
2.Seven Days (Korean)11.14265167,0301,670,485
3. Hairspray12.06218107,219133,286
4.Lust, Caution 11.08220104,4901,628,512
5.Le Grand Chef11.0126091,5772,866,683
6.Our Town (Uri Dongne - Korean)11.2922858,249311,285
7.My Eleventh Mother (Yeolhanbeonjjae Eomma - Korean)11.2922457,151279,598
8.Death Sentence12.0612236,43444,607
10. Beowulf11.149817,698957,057
(Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 97% of nationwide box office)

A pretty big movie weekend on its way, with SEX IS ZERO 2 and VENUS AND MARS (or "The Fight," "Ssaum," in Korea) both opening.

Hey, the SPEED RACER trailer.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

'Pop Goes Korea' Gets a Cover
(Let the Judging Begin)

Work on POP GOES KOREA continues, step by step. Whenever I think I have my work done, my lovely editor likes to think up more things to change or add or whatever. Slowly, however, we are getting the book into shape.

Now, the book is not going to hit store shelves until around June-ish, but I do have the cover already. And I guess this is as good a time as any to present it to the world. So, ladies and gentlemen, here is POP GOES KOREA:

Pretty spiffy, no? Kind of a Roy Lichtenstein look going on there, with the color saturation turned way up. Very eye-catching.

In fact, there is even a page for my book over at I am a little embarrassed to admit that it feels really good to see my work turning up online already. Feels like I have accomplished something semi-substantial for once.

Now, if I can just make sure that the writing is not terrible...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Add Four Your Music Collection

I was rummaging through a local music shop a couple of days ago and what did I find? Why Shin Joong-hyun's very first album, when he was in the band ADD 4 (actually "Edeu Hwo," in the transcribed Korean), from the album called BISOK-UI YEOIN. Pony Canyon was nice enough to reissue the CD just a few weeks ago.

The songs are quite interesting. Not nearly as "psychedelic" as the Shin Joong-hyun's post-Pearl Sisters stuff. Must more of a pre-Beatles sound (as you would expect in a record coming out in the early 1960s).

Most interesting to me, though, is how many of the songs on this album would turn up later. Including the huge hit of 1968, ONE CUP OF COFFEE ("Keopi Hanjan"), although on this album it bears the name NAESOGEUL TAEUNEUN GURYEO. BADATGA also turned up on a Key Boys album, and Seo Yun-seok would sing SOYA EOSEO GAJA.

Anyhow, it is a piece of history and well worth picking up.

Have I mentioned the Shin Joong-hyun box set that is on the way? If not, I should write about that soon.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Korea Weekend Box Office - Nov. 30-Dec. 2

Not a very exciting box office this week. Although I was rather surprised to see the top spot go to AUGUST RUSH, an odd-looking melodrama out of Hollywood in which CJ Entertainment invested. I guess I was watching the wrong TV channels because I did not see a No. 1 opening coming at all. If I were a better blogger, I would check out Cine 21 or some other movie website to see what kind of feedback the film was getting from audiences... but I'm not, so I won't.

In case you are curious, RUSH's box office was about $1.7 million over the weekend, for a total of around $2.1 million.

Just to show how off-based my thinking was, if I were to have guessed from advertising and general stories, I might have predicted a big opening for MY ELEVENTH MOTHER. But it opened only in sixth. Even OUR TOWN opened better.

SEVEN DAYS is continuing to do fairly well, landing in No. 2 this weekend.

Rather amazingly, LUST CAUTION is still in third, after four weeks. Ang Lee's sexy film just keeps on chugging here in Korea, having earned a little over $10 million. Not bad considering it has made just $4.3 million in the United States (since September). In case you are interested, LUST's top territory so far has been China, where it has made $15 million, with $6 million in Hong Kong and $4 million in Taiwan.

This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend AttendanceTotal Attendance
1.August Rush11.29321242,879301,625
2.Seven Days (Korean) 11.14307220,6151,284,500
3.Lust, Caution 11.08258136,3831,359,072
4. Le Grand Chef (Sikkaek - Korean11.01321122,4902,662,777
5.Our Town (Uri Dongne - Korean)11.29276117,008147,873
6. My Eleventh Mother (Yeolhanbeonjjae Eomma - Korean)11.2926089,516129,503
7. Hitman11.2917356,84168,396
8. Beowulf11.1422140,019911,148
9.Michael Clayton 11.2916038,19051,825
10. Saw 411.2220018,571238,051
(Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 97% of nationwide box office)

Oh, last week I forgot to mention the John Cho film WEST 32ND, which opened Nov. 22. But not really my fault, since the film was on just 22 screens and never even approached the top 10. It opened in 17th, then dropped to 25th this week, for a grant total of about $54,000. Despite some decent talent being attached to the film (including Grace Park in a small role), the movie was remarkably dull... You are not missing a hidden gem.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Weekend Concerts

Sorry this post is late. Meant to write it on Wednesday or so but got distracted.

Anyhow, we are now in December, and like most Decembers in Korea, there are a whole bunch of interesting live shows going on. Linkin Park was last night, for example.

Today we have a couple of noteworthy shows. Down in Chungmuro (in the subway station, of all places) at 6pm there is the Never Right Show, with a bunch of fun bands (you can see them listed in the ad below).

And then in Shinchon at 8pm, everybody's favorite Japanese rocker Sato Yukie is having an acoustic show at Yardbirds.

Next Saturday, the experimental techno folks at Relay will be having a show at Club Hong... which is close to Rolling Hall, on the south side of Hongdae. Show is around 8pm (before the all-night techno fest, I guess).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Korea Weekend Box Office - Nov. 23-25

Quite a jump up for SEVEN DAYS this week, pulling in $2.3 million (up from about $1.8 million last weekend). Not often you see a jump like that (although LE GRAND CHEF did the same just two weeks ago). A good sign people are enjoying Kim Yun-jin's thriller.

GRAND CHEF and LUST, CAUTION both are continuing to do rather well, off a little but not a lot last weekend. Kind of nifty to see LUST CAUTION breaking the 1 million admissions mark.

SAW 4 and GOLDEN AGE both had fairly tepid openings.

Sorry, not a whole lot of commentary to make this week.

This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend AttendanceTotal Attendance
1.Seven Days (Korean)11.14332327,249866,193
2. Le Grand Chef (Sikkaek - Korean)11.01337296,5882,400,304
3.Lust, Caution 11.08296224,6551,059,333
5. Saw 4 11.21242123,353171,250
6. Golden Age11.2222783,477116,831
7.Scout (Korean)11.1428552,238268,488
8.La Vie en Rose 11.2118246,48261,758
9. Maeulgeumgo Yeonsoe Seupgyeoksageon (Korean)11.1416215,920108,997
10. Going by the Book (Bareuge Salja - Korean)10.1810012,5752,148,639
(Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 97% of nationwide box office)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Awards, Memoirs, and Ass-kicking

Just wasted an evening watching the 28th Blue Dragon Awards on KBS. Very exciting. A lot of distressing fashion choices there tonight. Granted, I'm no George Clooney, but Kim Tae-hee's outfit was pretty hideous.

This was my first awards show with HD, and as unfortunate as some of those dresses were, my friends were even more shocked by lines and bad makeup on many of the stars. HD really is pretty cruel to some celebrities.

Anyhow, as for the awards themselves, no single film dominated this year. No real terrible decisions, either.


Best Director - Hur Jin-ho, HAPPINESS

Best Actor - Song Kang-ho, THE SHOW MUST GO ON

Best Actress - Jeon Do-yeon

Best Supporting Actor - Kim Sang-ho, THE HAPPY LIFE

Best Supporting Actress - Na Moon-hee, CRUEL WINTER BLUES

Best Screenplay - Kim Nam-min, PARADISE MURDERED

Best Cinematography - Yoon Nam-ju, EPITAPH

Best Lighting - HWANG JIN-YI

Best Art Design - EPITAPH

Best Effects - THE RESTLESS

Best New Director - Kim Nam-min, PARADISE MURDERED

Best New Actor - Daniel Henney, MY FATHER

Best New Actress - Jeong Reo-won, THE TWO FACES OF MY GIRLFRIEND

I probably missed a couple of awards, but I cannot think of them right now... and do not care enough to double-check.

Btw, the great actress Choi Eun-hee has just written an autobiography. You can read a summary of it here.


And now, for no particular reason, here is a picture from Jun Ji-hyun's coming film BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE. I think it is a pretty good teaser. Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Music, Manners and Mammaries

I usually try not to just link to other people's stories when I do not have much of my own to add, but there were a bunch of interesting articles in today's Chosun Ilbo. And they all made the English edition, so that is even more convenient.

  • First up, there was an article about Seo Taiji's latest, a new CD set and other events to commemorate the singer's 15th year anniversary of stardom. Funny old photos of Seo, too. Say what you will about the quality of his music, it is great to know there was a time when someone off the radar appeared and genuinely transformed a country with his songs (and dancing and whatnot).

  • Very amusing story about Korean audiences' "bad manners." Usually I am not a big fan of those self-flagellating, aren't-we-Koreans-terrible story (or their silly opposite, the boastful, aren't-we-Koreans-amazing stories), but this one seemed a little more interesting than most.

    The article lists the usual litany of social faux-pas, like bringing very young children to classical music concerts (or anywhere, in my humble opinion), snoring at the movies, not turning off cell phones at the movies, talking on cell phones at the movies, taking endless pictures of golfers with cell phones at tournaments (I seem to notice a theme to theme complaints...). But in addition to just complaining, it added a little analysis toward the end:
    The lack of manners is probably due to the small number of concert-goers here, most of whom have little education in the etiquette. According to a 2006 survey on Koreans’ culture and art-related activities, only 6.8 went to museums and 3.6 percent to classical concerts.

    Really? Do more Chicagoans or Torontonians go to classical concerts? I guess it depends if we are talking about "going in a year" or "going ever in their lifetimes." But I think the article finally got at a more interesting, local aspect of the problem here:
    Another big problem is the mass giveaway of concert tickets.

    Bingo. The whole live music scene here (classical and contemporary) has some rather odd economics. People love to complain that shows are "too expensive," but somehow corporations have the money to sponsor these shows and then give away scads of tickets to anyone and everyone.

    Although the article cited a lot of problematic behaviours, personally my biggest complaint about audiences here is the applauding of utter crap. It's like a competition to see who can shout encore first and loudest. And the multiple curtain calls to some off-key warbler at the opera or wherever is just plain annoying. I prefer the Italian example, where people feel free to boo a lousy performance, like it were a sporting event.

    I think that ties into the free tickets... people are going who are not really fans of the performance and who do not know much about it, and are instead just acting out some misconceived idea of what a classical concert should be.

  • Then again, I have been repeatedly watching Carrie Underwood singing the Heart song "Alone" on American Idol (via Youtube), so maybe I should keep my bitchy comments about people's bad taste to myself.

  • Finally (and best of all) was the Chosun's article about photographer Kim Yong-ho. Kim got into trouble recently when he published some topless photos of ballerina Kim Ju-won in the local VOGUE magazine. Or, rather, the ballerina got into trouble (women tend to get blamed for moral outrages in Korea).

    Some of Kim's other photos are currently on display at the Daelim Contemporary Art Museum in Seoul, in an exhibit called BODY (or mom, in Korean). As Kim says in the article:
    I wanted to get attention from all sectors of society; that was the main objective of my exhibition. But all I got was the realization that our reality does not tolerate diversity. We had a fine response from the readers of Vogue magazine. But what happens to the model? She’s criticized and disciplined. Those are in a way the different faces of our society.

    It looks like a good show. You should check it out if you get the chance.

  • Monday, November 19, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Nov. 16-18

    For the third weekend in a row, LE GRAND CHEF was the biggest film in land, adding another $2.7 million to bring its total boxoffice to around $14 million.

    BEOWULF followed closely No. 2, with around $2.6 million, or $3.7 million including previews. Once again, the folks in Hollywood screwed up their numbers, though, as for some reason the international trades are reporting BEOWULF was on 159 screens in Korea (not the actual 359, giving the movie an insane per-screen average).

    Hrm, just got a call from Warner. They claim the film was on 276 screens. Wonderfully confusing.

    I was surprised that the Kim Yun-jin thriller SEVEN DAYS did not do better. I thought it had a strong marketing push and pretty good reviews. Despite that, it only opened in third.

    LUST, CAUTION is still doing well, at fourth. Apparently the movie is a big hit with women, who make up 70% of tickets sold (much higher than the usual male/female split, which is closer to 50/50).

    SCOUT did remarkably poorly, for a film showing on over 400 screens.

    And ONCE is still holding on to 10th, nearly two months after its release. In fact, ONCE's soundtrack is the best-selling foreign CD in the land at the moment,

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend AttendanceTotal Attendance
    1.Le Grand Chef (Sikkaek - Korean)11.01472379,5661,915,622
    2. Beowulf11.14359365,619501,734
    3. Seven Days (Korean)11.14373252,313346,747
    4. Lust, Caution11.08297220,343644,057
    5.Scout (Korean)11.14403129,490167,940
    6.Going by the Book (Bareuge Salja - Korean)10.1824364,5892,108,789
    7.Maeulgeumgo Yeonsoe Seupgyeoksageon (Korean)11.1422657,44675,174
    8. The Butterfly11.0821220,173175,445
    9. Lost Lines11.0817617,583143,280
    10. Once9.20199,740158,285
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 97% of nationwide box office)

    Sunday, November 18, 2007

    Korean Music Charts - October 2007

    Back when I started this blog, I included the Music Industry Association of Korea's month music sales chart as part of my regular comments, but after a few months I stopped. It was just too depressing. Sales were miserable and the quality of music in the charts was even more miserable. I did not want to spend all my time complaining and being negative, so I decided not to write about it.

    But I found myself curious about how the music biz has been doing this year, so I checked out the latest MIAK charts.

    The most immediate thing I noticed is that only one album released in 2007 has sold over 100,000 albums. Pretty shocking, really, considering just a few years ago top stars would move 1 or 2 million. But these days, SG Wannabe can become the biggest selling artist of the year with just 190,000 albums sold.

    The second thing I noticed was the dominance of ballads in October. The top five albums are all ballad oriented!

    It also looks like that brute-force marketing is less and less useful. Super Junior's latest has already fallen to 11th, after being released on Sept. 20. Wondergirls have dropped all the way to 17th, and have sold just 18,000 copies of their first album since it was released on Sept. 13. TELL ME might be catchy and might even be a hit at the karaoke rooms, but Wondergirl fans are not buying CDs at all.

    Other notes:
  • Lee Sang-eun's 13th album made its debut in 25th.

  • Hey, Shim Soo-bong has a new album! It's her 11th, and it hit the stores on Oct. 25. Not so many Shim fans left apparently, as it opened in 34th. Not that time or that person anymore, I guess.

  • With foreign music selling so miserably, classical music is growing ever bigger, at least on a proportional basis.

  • Even Paul Potts (the musical equivalent of the Nixon-Kennedy debate) is selling in Korea. And Andrea Bocelli. I'm not sure whose success I find more distressing. Do yourself a favor -- check out their stories on Wikipedia or Youtube or wherever, cry, emote do whatever you feel compelled to do. Then head directly to a music store and completely IGNORE their CDs. Buy something by Jussi Bjorling instead. Your ears will thank you.

    This MonthArtistAlbum NameRelease DateThis Month's SalesTotal Sales
    1.EruVol. 3 - Eru Returns9.1930,97842,228
    2.Brown-Eyed SoulVol 210.3130,09530,095
    3.FT IslandFT Island6.0828,74676,097
    4.See YaVol. 25.2527,80781,393
    5.SG WannabeVol. 44.0619,050190,125
    6.Jo PDVol. 610.2217,36417,364
    7.Cho Shin-seongVol. 110.2515,40515,405
    8.Lee Soo-youngVol. 8 - Set It Down9.1215,02751,035
    9.Lee Seung-chulVol. 9 - The Secret of Color 210.1814,60414,604
    10.Taewangsasingi OSTTaewangsasingi OST10.1713,84113,841

    (source: MIAK)

    And here is the foreign sales chart:
    This MonthArtistAlbum NameRelease DateThis Month's SalesTotal Sales
    1.Once OSTOnce OST8.1412,16013,138
    2.BoAComplete Clips 2004-20063.2112,00013,258
    3.Richard Yongjae O'NeillWinter Journey9.119,9689,968
    4.Luciano PavarottiPavarotti Forever9.203,7305,606
    5.Orchestra de NodameOrchestra de Nodame Live8.233,55212,074
    6.Richard Yongjae O'NeillLachrymae2006.9.073,22230,703
    7.BoALove Letter10.043,1893,189
    8.Andrea BocelliBest of Andrea Bocelli10.253,0633,063
    9.Ennio MorriconeGold Edition10.022,4452,445
    10.Paul PottsOne Chance8.022,1132,113

    (source: MIAK)
  • Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Nov. 9-11

    Lots of interesting things going on at the Korean boxoffice last week. The top film, LE GRAND CHEF, actually increased its weekend haul, rising 15% from last weekend. You do not see that happen very often. After 10 days, CHEF has made about $9 million.

    In No. 2 was Ang Lee's LUST, CAUTION, which I think is pretty good for a 2 1/2 hour sexual thriller. In just three days, LUST made about $1.9 million. In the United States, the film has needed 45 days to make just $3.7 million.

    In third, GOING BY THE BOOK has now topped 2 million admissions, which is generally considered a solid outing.

    Fuji-TV's HERO is now up to 224,000 admissions. Not great, but not bad.

    Finally, the No. 9 film, SEVEN DAYS, is pretty interesting this week, as the film has not even been released yet. At least not officially. But already it has pulled in 30,000 admissions before it even hits the screens. Not sure how I feel about this. After all, 30,000 admissions will not make a big difference to its overall admissions count, so it is not like the distributor is trying to boost its numbers. But, still, it does look odd.

    Anyhow, congratulations to SEVEN DAYS, for being the latest Korean film to get the Hollywood remake treatment. Summit Entertainment apparently is planning on making a $30 million remake in the next year or so.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend AttendanceTotal Attendance
    1.Le Grand Chef (Sikkaek - Korean) 11.01412507,1511,290,330
    2.Lust, Caution 11.08298226,722269,423
    3. Going by the Book (Bareuge Salja - Korean)10.18279182,7691,981,630
    4. The Butterfly11.0824293,427124,833
    5. Lost Lines 11.0820585,153100,003
    6. Hero (Japan)10.2523949,415223,979
    7.Shadows in the Palace (Gungneo - Korean)10.1824946,8221,349,965
    8. Kingdom11.0117344,029224,410
    9.Seven Days (Korean) 11.14 (!)5015,00829,843
    10.Black Dahlia 11.0119613,892120,080
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 97% of nationwide box office)

    Btw, what is up with international boxoffice reports that have two films from India leading this past weekend? According to the trades, OM SHANTI OM made about $17 million, while SAAWARIYA came second with $14.4 million.

    My problem with these reports? I cannot find a weekend ever when the entire top-10 of the Indian boxoffice earned even $12 million. Ever. And now two films alone have pulled in $30 million? Seems very unlikely. I suspect someone is playing games with their numbers.

    Friday, November 09, 2007

    Concert Calendar

    Just a quick note to say that Kongjung Camp is having a good bash tomorrow (Saturday) night. Fourth anniversary, I do believe. Several acts will be playing, including Byul. Show starts around 7 or 7:30 or so. (Kongjung Camp is close to Sanullim Theater).

    Oh, and here is an interesting lineup at Club FF for tomorrow, too:

    Also, on Dec. 8, DGBD is having a toys for tots show. Show starts at 6pm and includes Kingston Rudieska, Galaxy Express, and Johnny Royal.

    And on Dec. 22, Asia Kungfu Generation is playing at ... uh, I forgot. Somewhere in Hongdae. Rolling Hall?

    The end of the year is always a big concert time in Korea. As I hear about more shows, I will post.

    UPDATE: I forgot to mention this year's Bud Rock Concert coming up on Nov. 17 at Olympic Stadium. Most of the bands do not excite me terribly much -- Starsailor, Lee Seung-hwan, Rize, Supercard and Dr. Core 911. But the most interesting part of that show, imho, is the Japanese band Ellegarden. At just 22,000 won, it is not a bad deal at all.

    Monday, November 05, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Nov. 2-4

    Big turnover this week, with half of the top-10 consisting of new entries, led by Jeon Yoon-soo's LA GRAND CHEF, with about $3.6 million. Based on the comic book by Heo Yeong-man (TAZZA), LA GRAND CHEF is also being made into a TV show, so if you like it, you are sure to get plenty more soon enough.

    The next new title this week was HERO, the Fuji-TV film featuring a cameo from Lee Byung-hun. With 271 screens, it had the widest release ever for a Japanese film in Korea, just slightly ahead of THE SINKING OF JAPAN's 256. Did not come close, however, to matching SINKING's boxoffice, which pulled in 479,000 in its opening weekend, compared to 128,000 for HERO.

    Other new releases did not do much. KINGDOM had just 127,000 admissions, BLACK DAHLIA (released a year late) had 75,000. And Lee Joon-ki's latest, VIRGIN SNOW, took in just 13,000. Although VIRGIN SNOW did get a 44 screen release -- for a while there, it was looking like it would only get 10 screens. But this Japan-Korea coproduction has its eye on the Japan DVD market for the bulk of its revenues.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend AttendanceTotal Attendance
    1.Le Grand Chef (Sikgaek- Korean)11.01436440,813518,397
    2. Going by the Book (Bareuge Salja - Korean)10.18329261,3351,661,958
    3.Shadows in the Palace (Gungneo - Korean)10.18287108,4271,234,644
    4.Hero (Japan)11.01271104,915128,202
    5. Kingdom 11.01192102,192127,675
    6. Black Dahlia11.0121560,23075,412
    7. M (Korean)10.2531845,912396,098
    8.Resident Evil 3 10.1819034,788509,799
    9. Virgin Snow (Cheotnun - Korean)11.014410,51112,814
    10. Copying Beethoven10.114310,122265,281
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 97% of nationwide box office)

    Tuesday, October 30, 2007

    Naxos of Evil

    Since the possibility of the New York Philharmonic playing in North Korea is in the news again, here are a few more artistic exchanges happening with North Korea:

  • North Korea's State Orchestra is going to play the UK for 10 days in September 2008. Interesting backstory. The Orchestra will tour thanks to an invitation by Suzannah Clarke, a soprano who has performed in North Korea since 2003. She was invited in part because she is from Middlesbrough, the city that hosted the North Korean soccer team during the World Cup of 1966. In 2002, of course, was when Daniel Gordon's documentary THE GAME OF THEIR LIVES, about North Korea's improbable World Cup run in 1966.

  • Guitarist Jason Carter played in Pyongyang earlier this year (thanks to Philip for the fun entry and all the other good stuff he does). Carter wrote all about his trip in a long blog entry. It is quite a Kool-Aid-drink, but still quite interesting. You can even listen to an MP3 of him playing THE SOUND OF SILENCE in Pyongyang.

  • In August there was an art exhibition of North Korean works in London's West End. Amusingly (or interestingly, depending on your levels of cynicism and irony) the curator met a North Korean artist in Zambabwe in 2001, which is how the whole thing got started.

  • Of course, any planning with North Korea is always pretty dicey. Remember how the Rock for Peace concert in NK turned out.

  • What does it all mean? Heck if I know. But I suspect Andrei Lankov is right, that any and all exchanges mean that more people in North Korea are being exposed to the truth, and truth will inevitably chip away at the regime up there. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, as the saying goes.
  • Korea Weekend Box Office - Oct. 26-28

    A disappointing opening for Lee Myung-se's new film M, making its debut only in third place. That works out to about $1.89 million since its release Thursday night (the KOFIC chart claims it opened on the 26th, but I am certain it was in theaters on Thursday evening). Looks like M will be hard pressed to get to 1 million admissions, let alone the 1.2 million admissions that DUELIST had.

    Most of the rest of the top 10 is basically the same as last week. Top film once again is GOING BY THE BOOK, which took in $2.9 million over the weekend to raise its total boxoffice to something over $8 million.

    SHADOWS IN THE PALACE took the second spot again, with $1.8 million over the weekend and a total boxoffice of just less than $7 million.

    COPYING BEETHOVEN still going strong in sixth after three weeks.

    Most shockingly bad opening in quite some time goes to PUNCH LADY, which had just 22,000 admissions (about $150,000) despite appearing on 240 screens. That does not even come close to paying for 240 prints, never mind the production costs and advertising.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend AttendanceTotal Attendance
    1.Going by the Book (Bareuge Salja - Korean) 10.18402421,5001,173,875
    2. Shadows in the Palace (Gungneo - Korean)10.18381266,723989,715
    3.M (Korean) 10.26451229,919276,336
    4. Resident Evil 310.18253116,701416,109
    5. Love Exposure (Eokkae Neomeo-ui Yeonin - Korean)10.1824756,036251,796
    6. Copying Beethoven10.1110130,123239,095
    7.Tokyo Tower (Japan) 10.257125,21128,901
    8.Happiness (Haengbok - Korean)10.0320923,0701,178,201
    9.Rush Hour 310.0313422,780776,106
    10. Punch Lady (Peonchi Reidi - Korean)10.2524021,44125,863
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 97% of nationwide box office)

    Interestingly, KOBIS claims its boxoffice tracking now covers 97 percent of screens in Korea. That is pretty close to complete. Nice to see the KOBIS system finally getting near total compliance.

    Korean movies now have 51.1 percent of the year's boxoffice. Hollywood is down to 43.2 percent. Quite a change in fortunes from July, when Hollywood was outpacing Korea.

    Tuesday, October 23, 2007

    Catching up on the Past

    I had a nice little surprise at Kyobo Books yesterday -- the Korean Film Archive has put out yet another box set of great old films. This set is called THE PAST UNEARTHED, and it is a collection of movies from the Japanese colonial period. Included are ANGELS ON THE STREETS (1941), SPRING OF KOREAN PENINSULA (1941), VOLUNTEER (1941) AND STRAITS OF CHOSUN (1943).

    The set comes with a booklet about the films and the period (in Korean and English) and a photo reproduction of the original script for ANGEL ON THE STREETS, in Japanese and Korean. It's all pretty funky stuff.

    Nothing in English about the film at the Korean Film Archives website yet, although you can read their Korean entry here. More about the DVD set at the Kyobo Books website here. And at less than 30,000 won, it is quite worth purchasing.


    As long as I am on the subject of the olden days, I should mention a couple of other interesting things I ran across recently.

    First, there are these old Korean singers' videos on Youtube. Totally worth checking out:
    - Kim Choo-ja
    - Kim Choo-ja
    - Kim Jung-mi
    - Kim Jung-mi (short clip)
    - Sandpebbles

    And apparently the nice people at Brothers Entertainment have set up a Kim Choo-ja website.

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Oct. 19-21

    Score another one for Jang Jin. The prolific filmmaker has another hit with the No. 1 opening of GOING BY THE BOOK. Actually, Jang only wrote the initial screenplay for the film, which was directed by Ra Hee-chan. But since Ra got his start as Jang's Assistant Director and has pretty much said he considers this to be a Jang film, let's give Jang the credit.

    I was a little surprised that SHADOWS IN THE PALACE opened only in the No. 2 spot. I guess I should not have been, but I was. SHADOWS was the debut by Kim Mi-jeong, who also was an AD on some high-profile films.

    RESIDENT EVIL 3 opened in third. No way was I going to spend money to see that film in the theaters, but I suspect once it hits cable TV, I will be watching it endlessly (probably whenever I discover it during some late night flicking).

    LOVE EXPOSURE opened in fourth. Is it my imagination, or has there been a minor flood of uninspired movies about relationships, sex, love and cheating over the past few months?

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend AttendanceTotal Attendance
    1.Going by the Book (Bareuge Salja - Korean)10.18438458,834538,352
    2. Shadows in the Palace (Gungneo - Korean)10.18427416,551511,308
    3.Resident Evil 310.18281183,376217,021
    4.Love Exposure (Eokkae Neomeo-ui Yeonin - Korean) 10.18236107,882138,332
    5. Happiness (Haengbok - Korean)10.0328872,4771,126,482
    6. Rush Hour 310.0324559,709735,390
    7. Copying Beethoven10.1117450,601189,149
    8. Becoming Jane10.1122336,570184,148
    9. Nanny Diaries10.0314328,193467,462
    10. Brave One10.1115922,363147,801
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 94% of nationwide box office)

    Up next week -- Lee Myung-se's M.

    Kind of a weird year this year. Chuseok came and went with barely a ripple, but some much more interesting films seem to be coming out now. Kind of playing havoc with people's forecasts.

    Friday, October 19, 2007

    From Mokpo Tears to Vegas Cheers

    I went to an eclectic little party yesterday evening for a new production company that is dedicated to putting together a film and a musical about the Kim Sisters.

    The Kim Sisters were Sook-ja, Mi-a and Ai-ja Kim, a trio that began singing of US troops in 1954. They were the three of the seven children of Kim Hae-song, a classical music conductor who was captured and killed by the North Koreans during the Korean War, and Lee Nan-Young, one of Korea's most famous singers before the War, perhaps best known for THE TEARS OF MOKPO.

    Lee had been singing for the foreign troops, to earn enough money for them to survive, when one day she got the idea of having three of her daughters sing, too. The girls did not know English, so they learned the songs phonetically. Just 13, 12 and 11 years old at the time, the first song they sang was the Hoagy Carmichael tune OLE BUTTERMILK SKY.

    The show went well and soon the sisters were singing regularly, all the popular music and early rock'n'roll of the day. Soldiers would give them chocolate bars, which in turn they would trade in for real food on the black market, but it was enough to get by. In 1958 they were discovered by an American agent who booked them into the Thunderbird Hotel in Las Vegas, as part of a show called the China Doll Review. The three of them earned $400 a month. After a month at the Thunderbird, they were picked up by another Vegas hotel, the Stardust, where they played for eight months.

    In 1959 they got their big break when they were asked to play on the Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan was, of course, huge back then, and being on his show made the Kim Sisters a nationally known act. Over the next 14 years, they would perform on Sullivan 22 times, the most of any performer (at least according to what I have read). They were on all the big TV shows of the day, they were featured in LIFE and NEWSWEEK and other magazines. Far from singing for chocolate, the Kim Sisters eventually were making around $13,000 a week.

    They kept performing in Vegas and elsewhere for years, although after they got married in the 1970s, the act pretty much came to an end. Ai-ja died in 1987 of lung cancer, but they other two sisters are still alive and living in the United States still.

    It certainly looks like a pretty interesting story. Given how popular musicals are in Korea these days, I am guessing they could have the most luck with that genre. But who knows?

    They definitely have some interesting people helping them out. At the opening party was a broad mix of producers, actors, artists, writers, and assorted bigwigs. I'll restrain myself from dropping names, but it was quite a cool event.

    Btw, I am not skipping the production company's name to be coy or because I am forgetful. They had a name chosen, but they found a problem with it, so now they are looking for a new name.

    Btw 2, that first link about the Kim Sisters in turn linked to a long and rather interesting interview with Kim Sook-ja, aka Sue Kim Bonafazio, as part of some oral history project at UNLV.

    Btw 3, I also found this link interesting.

    Tuesday, October 16, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Oct. 12-14
    (and Oct. 5-7, too)

    At long last, Hur Jin-ho lands on the top of the box office. Not just once, but two weeks in a row, with his latest melodrama HAPPINESS. Sure, 967,000 admissions in 10 days is not so impressive, but HAPPINESS has made Hur quite happy anyway because he has never led the box office in Korea before. Good for him. And good for Zip Cine, the company that produced the movie.

    Otherwise, the most notable thing about this week's box office to me is how egalitarian it is. The No. 10 movie, THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, is in nearly 200 theaters! And it made around $350,000. I do not recall the No. 10 films doing 50 percent as well as the No. 3 movie before. Kind of unusual.

    Also surprising is that a new Jodie Foster thriller and a new Clive Owen action film were both bested by a couple of fairly small films -- BECOMING JANE and COPYING BEETHOVEN. I am not sure what that all means, but it is kind of nifty.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend AttendanceTotal Attendance
    1.Happiness (Haengbok - Korean) 10.03341217,117967,790
    2. Rush Hour 310.03270167,384621,617
    3. Nanny Diaries10.0322998,177405,779
    4.Love (Sarang - Korean) 9.2026397,3501,966,448
    5. Becoming Jane 10.1123888,135104,719
    6. Copying Beethoven10.1116586,52799,366
    7. Brave One10.1116981,01495,473
    8. Shoot 'Em Up10.1117255,94766,932
    9. The Happy Life (Jeulgeoun Insaeng - Korean)9.1214952,9941,177,938
    10.Bourne Ultimatum 9.1219949,8011,976,069
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 94% of nationwide box office)

    Last Week's Box Office (Oct. 5-7)
    Title - Weekend Admissions - Total Nationwide Admissions

    1. Happiness (Korean) - 322,400 - 583,565
    2. Rush Hour 3 - 211,069 - 354,381
    3. Love (Korean) - 143,991 - 1,770,649
    4. The Nanny Diaries - 139,852 - 238,029
    5. The Bourne Ultimatum - 98,780 - 1,878,427
    6. The Happy Life (Korean) - 77,188 - 1,084,124
    7. Kidnapping Granny K (Korean) - 58,219 - 1,458,958
    8. Crank - 39,171 - 68,027
    9. The Mafia, The Salesman (Korean) - 31,982 - 867,188
    10. Invasion - 23,316 - 544,173

    Sunday, October 14, 2007

    Symphony for the Devil

    This is an interesting development -- the New York Philharmonic is debating whether to play in North Korea. Apparently the orchestra will be playing in China in February 2008, and since they would be in the neighborhood, they could potentially swing by Pyongyang for a show.

    Bizarre, you say? Or worse, endorsing an evil regime? I hope that is not what you are thinking, because the idea has some interesting possibilities.
    The State Department supports the trip and has helped guide the orchestra in planning. Orchestra management calls the visit purely musical and apolitical, but Korea experts say a concert in Pyongyang by a major American orchestra would be a publicity coup for North Korea.

    “This is going to be a major media event, particularly on the Korean peninsula,” said Frederick F. Carriere, the executive director of the Korea Society, a nonprofit organization that seeks closer ties between the United States and both Koreas. “You couldn’t get that from Ping-Pong, or whatever.” He said that in the view of North Korea, normalizing relations with the United States was “absolutely key” to improving ties with South Korea.

    Besides, if there is anything an orchestra understands, it is following in lock-step to the whims of a madman.

    Okay, I joke. But seriously, though, classical music still has real power to shape people's thinking. I'm reminded of Glenn Gould's trip to Russia back in the 1957. But do the North Koreans take their classical music as seriously as the Russians do (or did)?

    I just talked to Andrei Lankov (the obvious go-to guy for comparing North Korea and Russia), and he said that the North Koreans do take their classical music seriously. They have not politicized it the way the Soviet Union did (although they did ban the public performance of classical music for about 15 years, in the 1960s and 70s), and it is probably the least controversial part of high culture, accepted in a way that painting and the other Western fine arts art not.

    So if classical music is relatively accepted in NK, how can performances by the New York Philharmonic help? Well, it is always good to show Americans in a positive way publicly in North Korea. If it could lead to a North Korean orchestra playing in the United States, so much the better. Since so much of NK is built in propaganda and lies, the more channels you have to bring in outside information and influences the better.

    UPDATE: Thanks to the Marmot for the link. I also have written something of a follow-up.

    Thursday, October 11, 2007

    Spiffy PIFFy Wrap Up

    Sorry (again) for not updating the site over the past week. This year's Pusan International Film Festival was even crazier than usual (at least for me) thanks to the dailies The Hollywood Reporter published.

    In addition to the THR Dailies, though, this year's PIFF seemed different for several reasons:
    - More attention from the West
    - A typhoon
    - Ridiculous complaining by the local press (especially the online variety)


    Important news first -- I got to meet Grace Park. Yes, that Grace Park, of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA fame. She was in town promoting her new film (CJ Entertainment's WEST 32ND) and participating in the Asia Pacific Actors Network.

    No, she was not dressed like that when I met her. She had this 1970s hair thing going on (feathered), but she looked good. Okay, we did not talk very much, just brief chitchat at some loud party, but my inner-geek was pleased.

    By the way, random observation -- Yes, Grace Park is an attractive woman... but doesn't she look like Astro Boy?

    Anyhow, due to the Asia Pacific Actors Network starting this year and the Star Summit Asia (now in its second year), there were more celebrities than I remember seeing before at PIFF. Daniel Dae Kim was there, Jason Scott Lee, John Cho (also in WEST 32ND).

    Gore Verbinski (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN) and Michelle Yeoh also attended. Peter Greenaway, too, but I missed his events, which had me a little annoyed with myself. Sure, his movies are crazy pretentious, but I rather like them. Plenty of agents and other business people walking around, too.

    No shortage of regional celebrities, either, and they were easily the most popular and recognizable stars for Busan film fans. Takuya Kimura and some guy from Super Junior were especially popular with the 13-year-old girls, who turned out in force this year. They were nutty.

    While in general I am not a big fan of actors (nothing particularly wrong with the job, but usually I find the writers and directors to be more interesting), I was very pleased to have met Kong Hyo-jin. What a charming young woman. She and Hong Suk-chon were goofing around and being pretty amusing at the APAN party. Good times.


    PIFF has generally enjoyed pretty good press since it started in 1996. But this year, the complaining and crying by the press was pretty amazing, especially by the Internet press (and by the English-language local media -- you can read a representative whine here)

    There were three major complaints/accusations about this year's PIFF:
    1) Ennio Morricone was treated poorly and left in a huff
    2) The PIFF Pavilion leaked rain badly
    3) The M press conference was a mess

    Okay, the truth about Morricone, as far as I know. Morricone led a concert in Seoul on Wednesday (Oct. 3) night. He flew down to Busan on Thursday and, despite feeling ill (the dude is 80), he agreed to show up to the opening ceremonies, at least briefly. Morricone was picked up at the airport by one of PIFF's programmers (sadly, without a translator) and driven to his hotel.

    Then he was taken to the opening ceremonies. There was a little disorganization backstage for a few minutes because of the politicians who wanted to attend (particularly Lee Myung-bak, who was quite late). PIFF organizers said it was about 5 minutes, while another person I talked to estimated it was longer. Morricone and his wife were then introduced and led to their seats.

    After a few minutes, because he was feeling ill, Morricone went back to his hotel and skipped the opening party. He left early the next day, as scheduled.

    No idea where the rumor started that he felt mistreated by PIFF. After all, he did the hand printing. If he was so angry, why would he have done that? There is absolutely no proof that anything bad happened (besides the delay at the opening ceremonies). Just a lot of silly gossip.

    As for the leaking PIFF Pavilion, well, yeah, it leaked. But there was a tropical depression (the remnants of Supertyphoon Krosa) sweeping through.

    I think a lot of the bad press stemmed from the press conference for Lee Myung-se's new movie, M. It was really overcrowded (again, thanks to the Internet press, whose numbers are as legion as their credentials are not). Thanks to the chaos, Lee talked for only 20 minutes, not the scheduled hour.

    Obviously PIFF has to work out its policy toward the press and online press by next year. But I think this is where PIFF's problems really began. The bad event put a lot of journalists (and "journalists") into a bad mood. And once the Internet turns on you, the griping just keeps on piling up. Really pretty petty, at least in my book. Some people need to grow up.


    This was the first PIFF ever in its 12 fine years to get major rain on opening night. Although it did stop the moment the opening movie, ASSEMBLY, started.

    But a couple of days later, the remnants of supertyphoon Krosa hit Korea. There was not much left after it hit Taiwan and China badly, but it was still impressively rainy and windy. Best of all, the waves at Haeundae Beach were incredible. I went out swimming a little on Tuesday, when they were at their peak, and it was wonderfully scary (especially since Haeundae has a mean undertow). Good stuff.

    Despite the weather, it looks like attendance was still pretty good this year. Something over 190,000 is the early estimate.


    Jonathan Landreth, the Asia Editor of The Hollywood Reporter, snagged the scoop that Korean-American director John H. Lee will remake John Woo's THE KILLER. Jonathan and I sat down with Lee and had a great talk about his plans for the film and his other work and I was pleasantly surprised (you can read the interview in the Day 7 PDF file, or go here).

    Like a lot of people, I was rather surprised when I heard about the remake. Especially since Lee's last film, the melodrama A MOMENT TO REMEMBER, was pretty far from the guns-ablazing style of Woo. But Lee had a lot of interesting ideas for his version. He definitely is not just transplanting the same story from Hong Kong to Los Angeles. He has a bunch of cool ideas.

    But more than THE KILLER remake, Lee has a bunch of other great projects in the works.

    Other fun movie stuff... I met the music director for the coming Korean film GO-GO SEVENTIES, which I am really looking forward to seeing. And Jonathan also interviewed Yi Ling, the director of YASUKUNI, a really interesting documentary about the controversial shrine (THR's review here).

    Sadly, the only movie I was able to see was the opener, ASSEMBLY. ASSEMBLY is about the Chinese civil war, and hte film is most notable for using the special effects team from TAEGUKGI for the (long) battle scenes. The movie was okay to look at, but the big battles in the first half went on and on and on, and the second hour was mostly a lot of histrionics and Communist Party history. I found it boring.


    It was the first time THR printed dailies, and for several reasons we decided to team up with Korea's CINE 21 and publish dailies together. After all, CINE 21 has been publishing their own dailies at PIFF for years (since the beginning?), and rather than try to reinvent the wheel, we decided to work together. Luckily, the cool cats at CINE 21 thought it was a good idea, too, and so a fun partnership was formed.

    Cool things about working together with CINE 21:
    - Great distribution. The publish around 15,000 copies of each issue, so we were really everywhere.
    - Good format. Usually CINE 21's dailies are just a simple matt-finish, basic magazine. So imagine our surprise when we received the first issue on Thursday and it was printed on great, shiny stock. No one told us they were going to change. No one even told CINE 21's dailies editor.
    - Another format point -- THR and CINE 21 are almost the exact same size anyway, so it was natural for our publications to fit together (the other international trade magazines are all printed on larger paper).
    - Again, good people. A very helpful and fun crew.

    If you are interested, you can see PDF versions of all eight dailies at

    Thursday, October 04, 2007

    PIFF Preparations

    So this year is the first time The Hollywood Reporter has published dailies at the Pusan International Film Festival. In order to get the dailies up and running, I had to arrive in Busan on Tuesday, along with a team of people from Los Angeles and some others.

    (The dailies do not appear to be available on the Internet, but you can read our various stories here).

    It was kind of nice to get here a couple of days early and have time to get my bearings before the festival craziness begins. Tuesday night I zipped up to the Pusan National University area (for the first time in years) to check out some of the old haunts and see a friend I had not seen in years. I could barely remember the neighborhood, but it was good to check it out again.

    One of the first things I saw in Busan when I arrived was a really big sign that proclaimed "No Piracy Allowed in Korea", which caused me to nearly hurt myself laughing. Turns out the government is launching a new anti-piracy awareness program (see Gregg Kilday's story here), so the posters are more a statement of intent than a reflection of reality.

    Today the festival begins for real. ASSEMBLY is the opening film. Oodles of people are arriving. I suspect my leisurely pace is about to change radically.

    Monday, October 01, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Sept. 28-30

    Busy getting ready for the Pusan International Film Festival, so no time for comments this week. Besides, it was a pretty uneventful weekend at the box office.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend AttendanceTotal Attendance
    1.Love (Sarang - Korean) 9.20395216,8581,319,685
    2.The Bourne Ultimatum 9.12314141,2711,588,769
    3. Mission Possible: Kidnapping Granny K (Gwonsunbunyeosa Namchisageon - Korean)9.1236193,5991,256,390
    4.The Happy Life (Jeulgeoun Insaeng - Korean) 9.1230292,908873,298
    5. The Mafia, The Salesman (Sangsabuilche - Korean) 9.2034181,025733,006
    6. Invasion9.2022067,615440,043
    7. The Two Faces of My Girlfriend (Du Eolgul-ui Yeochin - Korean)9.1228235,164661,806
    8. My Father (Mai Padeo - Korean)9.0618922,289829,449
    9. Once9.20128,60732,026
    10. Mother Never Dies (Eomeonineun Jukji Anhneunda - Korean)9.12161,777120,669
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 94% of nationwide box office)

    Saturday, September 29, 2007

    PIFFLE of a Book Update

    We finally had some movement on the book this week. Not a lot, but I still find myself strangely excited by it. I answered by first round of queries by my editor and apparently my manuscript is heading into copyediting now. Very much looking forward to seeing some of my more rambling prose tightened up.

    It is also very amusing going back and looking at what I wrote again. It has only been a few weeks or months since I wrote most of the book, and already it is beginning to pass into the "What? Did I write that?" part of the brain.

    Anyhow the important thing is, I think POP GOES KOREA is looking okay, at least at this point. I suppose I am still a couple of months away from page proofs, but I am really eager to see them.

    In the meantime, the Pusan International Film Festival continues to fill the schedule. It is less than a week away now, and everyone is getting as many background stories prepared ahead of time for the dailies. My Asia Editor, Jonathan Landreth, has done a remarkably good job getting everyone organized and on the same page.

    Not an exciting weekend for movies in Korea. Hur Jin-ho's HAPPINESS does not get released until Oct. 3, and I have been too busy to hit the press screenings. A weekend for DVDs, I guess.

  • UPDATE: I just noticed that D-WAR has soared upward in its Rotten Tomatoes ranking, now reaching the incredible heights of 23% fresh.

    Just a 33 at Metacritic, though. That's not even in the bottom-200 of the all-time worst.
  • Monday, September 24, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Sept. 21-23

    Seven of the top 10 films were Korean this week, as local movies usually dominate over big holiday periods like Chuseok. With most people off work through to Wednesday, that should mean some decent boxoffice for a lot of releases. Nothing overwhelming this year, but several films are doing okay.

    Kwak Kyung-taek's is back on top of the boxoffice in Korea, this time with quite a change of pace from TYPHOON, a much smaller film called LOVE. No official word on how LOVE did over the weekend, but according to KOBIS, it had about 388,000 admissions, or around $2.6 million, or around $3.4 million altogether.

    BOURNE ULTIMATUM made another $2.4 million over the weekend to bring its total Korea take to $6.9 million.

    After that, nothing terribly interesting this week. Except, perhaps, ONCE, a nice little Irish film (we do not see many Irish films on the charts around here).

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend AttendanceTotal Attendance
    1.Love (Sarang - Korean) 9.20458387,761492,238
    2. The Bourne Ultimatum9.12353323,985961,714
    3. Mission Possible: Kidnapping Granny K (Gwonsunbunyeosa Namchisageon - Korean)9.12387195,495699,727
    4. The Mafia, The Salesman (Sangsabuilche - Korean)9.20414193,219252,119
    5. The Happy Life (Jeulgeoun Insaeng - Korean)9.12347153,221483,561
    6. Invasion9.20236132,193166,867
    7. The Two Faces of My Girlfriend (Du Eolgul-ui Yeochin - Korean)9.1234382,078496,485
    8. My Father (Mai Padeo - Korean)9.0621348,292717,155
    9. Once9.20138,90710,291
    10. D-War8.01303,6377,838,746
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 94% of nationwide box office)

    Incidentally, MAY 18 has now dropped to No. 11, with 2,970 admissions over the weekend. Kind of amusing to see it trade places with D-WAR, yet again.

    Steve Martin's SHOPGIRL has been on TV a lot lately. I do not know why (because it is quite a slight story), but I rather enjoyed that movie. Liked it rather more than some more "respectable" movies I have seen lately.

    Saturday, September 22, 2007

    PIFF Pusiness

    Sorry for the lack of postings (yet again). The Hollywood Reporter is going to be publishing dailies at the Pusan International Film Festival, together with CINE 21 (Korea's leading movie magazine). Septembers are usually my busy season, prepping for PIFF, and with the dailies this year, I am busier than ever.

    In general, it looks like an interesting year for PIFF. It does not have any easy hooks for the foreign journalist crowd like last year (when there were a bunch of films about North Korea), but there still seems to be many interesting things going on.

    Personally, I am most interested in the retrospectives and the latest Peter Greenaway film... but I never claimed to have the most cutting-edge or imaginative tastes.

    Also, with the dailies and other THR stuff, I doubt I will have much time for movie marathons. But such is life...

  • Oh, and just for the heck of it, $0.9991 (and at one point, $1.006).

  • UPDATE: After eight days of release in the United States, DRAGON WARS is quickly running out of steam. It dropped to 12th on Friday, and now as a boxoffice of $6.7 million.

  • On the other hand, I just caught a little of the horrible GODZILLA movie from 1998. Wow, that was a ghastly film. I would rather watch D-WAR. (Actually, I would rather rub lemon juice into my eyes than see either film, but that is neither here nor there).
  • Monday, September 17, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Sept. 14-16

    No big surprise that THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM took the took spot this week, pulling in around $3.6 million.

    Strangely, Universal reported it was on just 219 screens, far less than KOBIS's 404. Certainly seems like a screwup to me. If BOURNE was on just 219 screens, it would have had a huge per-screen average. And the theater I saw it in was respectable, but not huge.

    Btw, what's up with people saying this BOURNE was really good? My girlfriend and I found it horrible. Just way too much of everything (except plot) (and nuance). Re-watched THE BOURNE IDENTITY, and it is amazing how much more interesting the original is.

    After BOURNE, the next six slots all went to Korean movies. No one really stood out, but together they accounted for the bulk of last weekend's admissions. As of Monday, Korean movies were back over 49% of the year's box office.

    MISSION POSSIBLE gets my vote for worst English title for a Korean film so far this year. Just bizarre.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend AttendanceTotal Attendance
    1.The Bourne Ultimatum 9.12404402,298485,207
    2. Mission Possible: Kidnapping Granny K (Gwonsunbunyeosa Namchisageon - Korean)9.12462307,504390,559
    3. The Two Faces of My Girlfriend (Du Eolgul-ui Yeochin - Korean)9.12454235,020341,426
    4.The Happy Life (Julgeoun Insaeng - Korean) 9.12380179,951257,272
    5. My Father (Mai Padeo - Korean) 9.06347150,749620,777
    6. Mother Never Dies (Eomeonineun Jukji Anhneunda - Korean)9.1213573,93288,970
    7. May 18 (Hwaryeohan Hyuga - Korean)7.2617031,7576,831,706
    8. Disturbia8.3013531,320568,998
    9. No Reservations8.308717,951361,011
    10. D-War (Korean)8.016810,7417,833,164
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 94% of nationwide box office)

    Oh, and D-WAR is officially the biggest Korean movie ever in America now, thanks to its $5.4 million weekend. Hate to think about how much the distributor paid for prints and advertising, but still it broke the record.

    Saturday, September 15, 2007

    Random Notes - Vol. 2, No. 9

  • TAEWANGSASINGI (aka, LEGEND, aka, FOUR GUARDIAN GODS OF THE KING) is off to a solid start in Korea. In its first three episodes this week, nationwide ratings were:
    Tuesday - 20.4
    Wednesday - 26.9
    Thursday - 26.9

    In Seoul, ratings rose slightly from Wednesday to Thursday, too. Too early to know if it will be a moderate hit or a big hit (or even if people will get bored and lose interest), but it is definitely a solid start.

  • Note: Ratings are not a percentage. Shares are written as percentages, ratings are not. Ratings refer to the number of viewers and households (but damned if I can figure out the math in Korea).

  • A little late, but I just saw the Sept. 7 episode of Bill Maher's REAL TIME. Which was capped by a very good New Rule segment that featured the Korean missionaries. Go to about 2:25 in to hear his take on the matter.

    (Actually, the Korean missionary schtick was the weakest part of this week's New Rules, but I still think it is worth a listen).

  • Greetings to all my German visitors. Thank you for your interest. But who is this "Rin" person and why is she being so nice to me? Anyhow, it is much appreciated. Danke.

  • 14% fresh.

  • FYI:
    League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - 16%
    Alexander - 16%
    Hannibal Rising - 15%
    Underdog - 13%
    Garfield - 13%
    Dungeons & Dragons - 11%
    Catwoman - 10%
    Elektra - 10%
    Battlefield Earth - 3%
    Half Past Dead - 2%

    So I guess Shim Hyung-rae really is a Hollywood-quality director.

  • What the hey? D-WAR made its US release on Friday on 2,279 screens?! Why, for the love of god, why? That is so wrong at so many levels. Anyhow, I will mention how it did in the United States as soon as Box Office Mojo or Nikki Finke or whoever reports...

    UPDATE: Crap. D-WAR is actually making a little money. $1.5 million on Friday alone. Looks like it is a lock to become the highest grossing Korean film in the United States (not hard, since the previous record holder, SPRING SUMMER FALL WINTER... AND SPRING only had about $2.3 million).
  • Monday, September 10, 2007

    Taewang Sonata

    I just checked out Episode 0 of TAEWANGSASHINGI (aka LEGEND, aka THE STORY OF THE FIRST KING'S FOUR GODS), the latest series starring Bae Yong-joon.

    I know it is trendy to bash everything Bae Yong-joon (and I am as guilty of that as anyone)... but I must admit, I rather liked the pre-episode MBC-TV broadcast tonight. Sure, a lot of the effects look like something out of FINAL FANTASY, but for an Asian TV drama, I think they looked pretty good and quite inventive. In general, this is a good looking television series (especially on my HD television set).

    The fighting and effects look pretty exciting, for the most part. The story is fresh, different from what we usually see on TV these days. The sets are just short of amazing. The monsters have some pretty good potential, too.

    Best of all, it stars Moon So-ri, one of my favorite actors in Korea. Is this her first time acting in a television series? Well, in TAEWANGSASHINGI, she really kicks ass, killing people all over the place. Blood flying. I highly approve.

    I know there has been a lot of negative talk about this series, a lot of sniping. But I cannot help but notice that a lot of the bad talk started way back in 2006, long before a single frame had been shot. And usually by people who had the least access to the story. I think there are a lot of Bae Yong-joon haters (not for no reason) and a lot of people who hate independent TV producers ... I think that explains a lot of the bad vibes surrounding the series so far.

    I guess we will see beginning tomorrow. But so far, I have some hope this might be a fun series. The only people I know who have seen any episodes or read the script like it. I have hope. I doubt this series will redefine television or anything so grandiose, but it looks like it could be a fun 24 episodes.

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Sept. 7-9

    Another boring week at the Korean boxoffice. Daniel Henney's well received MY FATHER opened in No. 1. Quentin Tarantino's DEATHPROOF opened way down in sixth. Despite a nonstop barrage of ads for the past month, BRAVO MY LIFE opened in seventh.

    What is the deal with Baek Yoon-shik? Half the time he stars in really great films, like SAVE THE GREEN PLANET, TAZZA or THE PRESIDENT'S LAST BANG. But the other half of the time, he stars in some pretty terrible films (eg, BRAVO MY LIFE). I think he needs a new manager.

    Anyhow, the latest BOURNE movie comes out this week, along with the early wave of Chuseok titles, so things should heat up a lot.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend AttendanceTotal Attendance
    1.My Father (Korean) 9.06384270,875328,092
    2. Disturbia8.30189141,677487,386
    3. ay 18 (Hwaryeohan Hyuga - Korean)7.26245105,8836,752,711
    4. No Reservations8.3013379,373309,333
    5. The Worst Guy Ever (Nae Saengae Choiak-ui Namja - Korean)8.3026373,429401,530
    6. Deathproof9.0615450,71860,970
    7.Bravo My Life (Korean) 9.0624346,35354,270
    8.D-War (Korean) 8.0120845,2957,807,335
    9. Stardust8.159538,194837,609
    10. I Pronounce You Chuck & Larry9.0612135,41140,869
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 94% of nationwide box office)

    Saturday, September 08, 2007

    Rank Music

    Fairly lame article at The Korea Herald today (big surprise, I know) about pop music television programs that manages to repeat a lot of silly notions, reverse cause and effect, and in general misunderstand the music industry's woes. You can read it here.

    The point of the article is that Korea's TV channels are thinking of bringing back chart shows, counting down the top songs of the week. Those shows were common and popular on Korean TV until a constant barrage of ranking scandals forced all those shows to give up their ranking schemes

    That type of program was abolished in 2001 as debate over the fairness of such criteria gathered momentum. A big part of the controversy involved the recognition that such popularity-based programs were biased too much in favor of the tastes of teenyboppers, and more seriously, regarding possible favoritism resulting from the access which artists' agents had to programmers.

    Note: The Korean Herald story claims the chart shows were discontinued in 2001, but I believe only KBS's Music Bank ended its countdown then. SBS's POP CHART LIVE went until January 2003. I cannot find my notes right now, but I think MBC, Mnet and KMTV all discontinued their charts later in 2003 when some big payola scandals broke.

    Anyhow, the story was mostly okay up until that point, then it continues with this:

    With the pop music market always redefining the term "worst possible," regarding really poor sales, (there have been only two albums which have sold over 100,000 copies in the first half of this year), networks are considering resurrecting such programs as a way of revitalizing the local pop music scene, which, once again, is triggering a controversy.

    Not really the writer's fault, but what a stupid notion -- that chart shows will bring back interest in the music scene. Ratings were falling for the music chart shows for some time, as were sales.

    "The depressed pop music market is related to the unpopular pop music programs," Kang Young-sun, producer of Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation's "Show Music Center" said in an interview. "The rating system should be positively encouraged if it can help the market regain its old popularity," he continued.

    Ugh. No, the depressed music market is not a result of the unpopular music programs. The programs are unpopular because the music is unpopular.

    Whatever angle you approach it from, the controversy boils down to a dispute over the fairness of the programs' criteria in deciding rankings.

    Well, yes and no. Having reliable, fair charts is important. Certainly in the past, Korea's various charts were blatantly unfair, biased against artists who did not promote on a particular channel, and highly influenced by payola. Today, though, there is a lot less money being made and a lot more outlets for music (albeit the same music most of the time).

    No, the real problem is not the current lack of charts but the continual reliance on teen-pop music to the complete disregard of almost all other genres. Sure it worked for Seo Taiji and H.O.T, but you can only go to the well so many times. It has been 14 YEARS, and the Korean music industry is still cranking out the same, tired formula.

    When the Backstreet Boys stopped selling, the American music industry moved on and found new acts. Pop rises, pop falls, rock rises, rock falls, same with hiphop, country, and all the other genres. Just imagine what the American music industry would be like if, once Backstreet Boys stopped selling so well, the music industry kept pumping out more and more Backstreet Boys (and Backstreet Boys-like music). Of course sales would plummet.

    But that is what the Korean music industry has done. A little bit of "techno" has been added to the mix, some "urban" (god, I hate the euphemism), but for the most part, it is the same gruel as ever. Sure, middle school kids deserve their bubblegum pop, but what about the rest of the country? Are 25-year-old men supposed to listen to that music? Are 40-year-old women?

    Pop music desperately needs other genres to recharge its batteries. The annoying thing (to me) is that Korea once had that diversity. It had folk, rock, trot (of course) and more. But the military governments killed a lot of that, and then the huge success of dance-pop and ballads made way too many producers focus that music, which they did very well, but at the expense of almost everything else.

    The movie industry revived in the late 1990s and early 2000s when it discovered new voices and variety (although that had given way to an ominous sameness in the last couple of years). Korean TV dramas did well around Asia for a time because they were so different than local fair (although they, too, are showing signs of losing popularity due to sameness).

    When will producers in all of Korea's media realize that it is to their advantage to keep trying new things, instead of safely repeating the same thing, over and over? Korea's writers, directors and songwriters have all shown themselves to be incredibly talent and creative when given the chance. What is it going to take for them to get the chance again? Or, better yet, when will they demand their creative freedom again?