Monday, February 26, 2007

Korea Weekend Box Office - Feb. 23-25

Not much time to write about box office this week. And not much to say about this week's numbers.
This WeekTitle........................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Attendance (Seoul only)Total Attendance
1.Miracle on 1st Street2.14335106,0001,697,000
3.Highway Star2.1426562,7001,109,200
4.A Day for an Affair2.0827045,5001,675,500
6.Voice of a Murderer1.3124322,0003,162,000
7.Hotel M2.2222918,900136,200
8.Bridge to Terabithia2.1512717,500347,200
9.Texas Chainsaw Massacre Zero2.2212413,60063,200
10.Flag of Our Fathers2.15969,200199,700

(Source: Film2.0)

Oscar Notes:
  • Congratulations to Martin Scorsese on getting his Best Director trophy at last. Too bad he got it for such a mediocre movie. Definitely a make-up call by the Academy voters.
  • Looking forward to seeing Oscar winners Helen Mirren (whose THE QUEEN fell to No. 15 this weekend in Korea, but might get a bump now) and Forrest Whittaker (whose LAST KING OF SCOTLAND opens here in a couple of weeks).
  • When is CHILDREN OF MEN coming to Korea? I really want to see it.
  • Thanks to C&M Communications, my cable company, for having the cable die right before the top awards were announced. Bah.
  • Wims of Desire

    I forgot to mention over the weekend, but independent distributor Sponge House has announced it will be putting on a Win Wenders retrospective on tour through Korea this spring. And Wenders himself will be coming, too, to meet with audiences and talk about his works.

    Sponge will be showing ALICE IN THE CITIES, IN THE COURSE OF TIME, THE AMERICAN FRIEND, PARIS TEXAS, TOKYO-GA, WINGS OF DESIRE, BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB, THE SOUL OF A MAN, LAND OF PLENTY and DON'T COME KNOCKING. Wisely, there is no sign MILLION DOLLAR HOTEL. Plenty of good stuff though, and several films I have not seen yet. Although I would have liked to see UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD again.

    The main festival will be March 15-28, with Wenders making appearances March 15-22ish (exact details have not been worked out yet). If you are not in Seoul, you are still in luck, as the festival will go on tour -- Busan at the Gukdo Theater on March 29-April 11, Gwangju at the Gwangju Theater on April 13-19, Daegu at the Dongseong Art Hall on April 26-29, and Daejeon at the Daejeon Art Cinema on May 3-9.

    Wenders has a bit of a history in Korea. He attended the Pusan International Film Festival in 2000, where he talked for 90 minutes with the audience after a screening of his MILLION DOLLAR HOTEL. And before that, he came to Korea in 1977 to give a lecture at the Goethe-Institut in Seoul.

    My history with Wenders' work is somewhat mixed. The first time I saw WINGS OF DESIRE (foolishly, on video), I thought it was a pretentious mess and turned it off after less than an hour. But then I got a chance to see it on the big screen and liked it much more. Not long after that, I got to see it in 70mmm, at the gorgeous Capital theater in Baltimore (one of the great old cinemas), with Wenders himself at the screening and answering questions after. At this point, it is definitely my favorite Wenders film. But I like a lot of his other films, too.

    Something I have always found very interesting, though, is the contrast between WINGS OF DESIRE and the follow-up film, FAR AWAY, SO CLOSE. Wenders made WINGS -- which I think is a wonderfully spiritual movie -- when he was an atheist (or at least not very religious). But not long afterward, he had a major conversion experience and became a strong Christian. He made FAR AWAY as a Christian, and the film definitely has much more explicit religious themes... but I have always considered the film spiritually dead.


    Looks like Korea's best rapper is back, after a far too long absence -- Tasha (also known as "T" and Yoon Mi-rae) had her new album released on Friday (Feb. 23).

    Tasha (or I guess I should call her Mi-rae now) has long been a favorite of mine, with a strong voice and a great hiphop voice. Unfortunately, she had a big problem with her last record label, and has basically been in limbo for the past four years. Great to see her back, though. Congratulations.

    Sunday, February 25, 2007


    Interesting article in the New York Times today about Deepa Mehta and her Oscar-nominated film WATER. I still have not seen the film myself, but would like to check it out. I mention it because Ms Mehta has signed on to direct Prime Entertainment's $25-million JULIA PROJECT, starring Cate Blanchett as Julia Mullock, an American woman who married Korea's last crown prince. You can read Ms Mehta talk about both films here and here.

    Friday, February 23, 2007

    24/7 Party People

    Just went to the opening party last night for Chin Won-suk's new production company 24/7 Pictures (website will be, but it has not been built yet). Chin was the director of TOO TIRED TO DIE and E-DREAMS, and is currently working on EXPATS, a movie about gangsters, disreputable English teachers and a cunning plan down in Busan.

    Anyhow, it was a nice little shindig, with a pretty amusing cross section of guests from the industry. A few of actors, a bunch of production people, and a few odd hangers-on such as myself. And, of course, the compulsory pig head. Good luck to Won-suk and his new company.

    Otherwise, not much to report. Just been working on the book recently. It is rather amusing the whole book process. Surprisingly different than writing spot news or even longer features for a magazine. I am wrapping up another chapter now and will be starting either SM Entertainment or the Online chapter next (have not decided yet).

    Tuesday, February 20, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Feb. 16-19

    Another holiday Monday, another extra day to juice the box office. Seollal (Lunar New Year), however, is not a big movie-going holiday, especially this year when it fell on a Sunday, minimizing the amount of free time people would have (most people spent Sunday and/or Monday in the car, coming and going to their families).

    Nevertheless, a pretty big wave of new releases hit this weekend, opening to ride the holiday to a little extra revenue. A full six of the top 10 films this week are new releases.

    Ha Ji-won's MIRACLE ON 1ST STREET landed in the top spot this week, taking in just under 1 million admissions, or about $6.5 million, from its early Wednesday night opening until the end of Monday (which is much closer to an opening week than weekend).

    No. 2 went to Cha Tae-hyun's HIGHWAY STAR, where he played an aspiring rocker turned trot star in a wrestling mask. Is anyone else as annoyed by this manufactured trot comeback as I am? I have been known to enjoy a little ppongjjak music from time to time, but the sudden flurry of press and other trot-related product feels really forced and artificial to me.

    VOICE OF A MURDERER is nearing the 3-million-attendance mark, which is not too shabby at all.

    FLAG OF OUR FATHERS was the biggest foreign film, coming in at No. 5 overall (up nicely from its No. 7 early projection), with a little over $1 million in revenue. Undoubtedly MASTER KIMS performed better nationwide, though. I was almost tempted to go see ROCKY BALBOA, which opened in No. 7... but only almost.

    I was nicely surprised by the success of THE QUEEN. Always good to see Helen Mirren doing well, thanks to a little Oscar buzz (at a guess). So was that the first movie ever in which Ms Mirren did not get nude?

    What the heck is a Terabithia?

    And, amazingly enough, 200 POUND BEAUTY finally fell out of the top 10 (it was No. 11). YOBI, THE FIVE-TAILED FOX was twelfth.

    This WeekTitle........................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Attendance (Seoul only)Total Attendance
    1.Miracle on 1st Street2.14390207,000962,000
    2.Highway Star2.14332128,900646,900
    3.A Day for an Affair2.08326127,5001,389,900
    4.Voice of a Murderer1.3128592,0002,961,000
    5.Flag of Our Fathers2.1510258,900151,100
    6.Master KIMs2.0829456,700915,200
    7.Rocky Balboa2.1420151,800170,200
    8.Bridge to Terabithia2.1513443,000193,200
    9.The Queen2.154321,60043,300
    10.Charlotte's Web2.0812918,000250,000

    (Source: Film2.0)

    Monday, February 19, 2007

    Weekend Box Office - Early Edition

    Oh, what the hey. Here is a fast list of the top-10 over the weekend (via KOBIS).

    1. Miracle of 1st Street
    2. Highway Star
    3. A Day for an Affair
    4. Voice of a Murderer
    5. Master KIMs
    6. Bridge to Terabithia
    7. Flag of Our Fathers
    8. Rocky Balboa
    9. Charlotte's Web
    10. The Queen

    First We Take Berlin...

    A couple of small Korean connections at the Berlin Film Festival, which announced its awards over the weekend. The big winner at Berlin was the Chinese film TUYA'S MARRIAGE, about life in Chinese Mongolia. TUYA is not a Korean film, however it is being sold internationally (except in Chinese and French territories and Indonesia) by the very Korean Cineclick Asia. So congratulations to them. This is Cineclick's first non-Korean title (although they have been working on the latest Siddiq Barmaq film OPIUM WARS for a while).

    Park Chan-wook's I'M A CYBORG, BUT THAT'S OKAY also picked up a small award, the Alfred Bauer Prize for innovation.

    Btw, movie box office report will be a day late this week, thanks to the Seollal lunar new year holiday.

    Btw II, sorry for not posting the January CD sales numbers. I wanted to post them at the same time as the 2006 annual figures were released, but those totals seem to be delayed.

    Thursday, February 15, 2007

    Black Rain's Gonna' Fall

    So, Park Jin-young, the very talented singer/producer and founder/CEO of JYP Entertainment (and management company for the singer Rain), spoke at Harvard U., talking about the Korean Wave and how he would be much happier seeing less mindless nationalism in the media's coverage of the success of Korea music outside of Korea. Good for him. The Chosun published a brief precis of his speech here.

    First of all, as a pretty strong anti-nationalist, I liked Park's basic position:
    ...[T]here was no Korea. Korea exists neither in my music nor in the hearts of the Americans who recognized me. They just liked my music and bought it. Is this the Korean Wave? Am I a patriot? I became confused. Is the duet by Korean singer Rain and American singer Omarion really Korean music? If Min succeeds in America, could we say the Korean Wave has now swept the U.S.? Or will I be derided as a singer who imitates American singers and a composer who imitates American music?
    So far, so good. What does it mean to be Korean? What is imitating, and what is co-opting? Good questions. But then Park also said things like this:
    I am, in fact, not a man who is making products that can be called Korean culture. Actually, I am making African-American music. I started liking it when I was seven and I have been engrossed in it all my life.

    So, downplaying nationalism in his success abroad, good. But saying he has been making "African-American music"... That is not so impressive. First of all, "African American" is hardly a monolith. American blacks have been instrumental in forming a whole spectrum of music, not just R&B/hiphop. Frankie Knuckles and others were the founders of techno and house. Sure, it bounced off of Europe and Kraftwerk and whatever... but there is no denying the core role African Americans played in developing techno. And rock music. And other music forms (including classical).

    As for soul and R&B and hiphop, all those genres have a great and wide array for sub-genres, and great underground scenes, just like "white" rock/alternative music.* Calling mainstream, poppy R&B/hiphop "African-American music" is pretty lame, imho. Usher? Kayne West? Ugh. There is so much better stuff than that.

    Park is somewhat reminding me of the French-Canadians and French-French and others who have exoticized the sound and culture of the "ghetto" and the suffering the black man... While it is nice to know good music is being appreciated, it also seems to me to be somewhat condescending and stereotyped.

    Anyhow, I guess my bigger point is that Park, like so many musicians in Korea in 2007, does not seem to be digging very deep in his exploration of world music. Still very much in the well. He is obviously very talented and smart and has a lot going for him. But there is a world of difference between being a first-rate follower and a leader. And leaders are what is needed to make a difference. JYP's singer Rain (or "Bi" or whatever we are calling him) is nice enough, but he is a follower of a follower. Which is the main reason he will never be a significant force in pop music/pop culture.

    I wish Korea had more people trying to lead. To experiment. To try different things. There are a few, but they are not popular and they are very few and far between. And what is truly perverse, if you explore the history of Korean music, you will discover that Korean traditional music was in fact extremely diverse and free-form for hundreds of years, different from anything happening in the rest of East-Asia. Even in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, there was so much amazing stuff going on. But the bureaucrats and mindless military leaders of the modern era deliberately and systematically tried to stamp out those styles, turning Korean music into enka and marching songs and pablum. Korean music for the last 20 years has nothing to do with Korea. Square pegs and round holes. Very frustrating.

    * (Major apologies for all the quotations and slashes... And ellipses... Totally overdone, I know. But that's the way I roll... and punctuate).

    ** (Oh, a little gossip to end this mini-essay... Maybe everyone knows this already, but Rain's contract with JYP Entertainment is nearing its end. Just 2-3 months left. And right now most people think he will not resign with JYP. Which is why JYP is pushing so many new acts, like Wonder Girls.)

    Monday, February 12, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Feb. 9-11

    Just a top-nine list this week, at least that's all Film 2.0 is sharing with us.

    Leading the way is A DAY FOR AN AFFAIR, Kim Hye-su's first film since re-igniting her career with TAZZA last fall. An R-rated sex-comedy about bored housewives looking for a little fun outside of their marriages... Not a bad opening, heading into the big holiday weekend next week, with 685,500 admissions, or about $4.62 million.

    Last week's big hit, VOICE OF A MURDERER, lost some steam in its sophomore weekend, dropping to No. 2 and losing about 50% of its box office. VOICE was the first big hit from the new production company Zip Cine. They are a really good, small production house, and I'm quite happy to see them doing well. Zip's next release will be the new Hur Jin-ho film, HAPPINESS... coming out some time in the summer or fall (date not set yet, although the filming is done).

    Third went to the debut of THE MASTER KIMS, known in Korean by the more elaborate title KIM GWAN-JANG DAE KIM GWAN-JANG DAE KIM GWAN-JANG. CHARLOTTE'S WEB was the other big debut this week, hitting the chart in fourth.

    And... nothing too exciting happening in the top-10 this week. YOBI held on, at No. 9, so has a decent shot at getting a little Seollal holiday bounce next weekend.

    Oh, and No. 10 was APOCALYPTO, in case you were wondering.

    This WeekTitle........................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Attendance (Seoul only)Total Attendance
    1.A Day for an Affair2.08413166,000685,500
    2.Voice of a Murderer1.31440131,0002,400,000
    3.Master KIMs2.08397104,300504,600
    4.Charlotte's Web2.0815037,000150,000
    5.The Perfect Couple1.2522827,0001,257,100
    7.200-Pound Beauty12.1415521,7006,561,800
    8.Curse of the Golden Flower1.2516213,900897,400
    9.Yobi: The Five-Tailed Fox1.2510510,000420,000

    (Source: Film2.0)

    He's an Old Boy, but That's Okay

    The 57th Berlin Film Festival is in full swing, with several Korean movies being featured there. One of those films, Park Chan-wook's I'M A CYBORG, BUT THAT'S OKAY, is being featured in the competition section, so The Hollywood Reporter asked me to put together a Q&A with the famous director.

    Just for comparison, here is my 2004 interview with Park. Writing for the trade presses can sometimes feel like you are in a bubble, since the audience is so limited compared to a publication like Newsweek or whatever. But that 2004 interview with Park was perhaps my most noticed article for THR, so I remember it fondly.

    Thursday, February 08, 2007

    'The Good, the Bad, and the Weird':
    We Have a Cast

    The production company Barunson just announced the casting for Kim Ji-woon's next movie, THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE WEIRD -- and it is a hell of a cast:
  • The Good - Lee Byung-hun
  • The Bad - Jung Woo-sung
  • The Weird - Song Gang-ho

    In addition to those big names, Kim is reuniting with his cinematographer from TALE OF TWO SISTERS, Lee Mo-gae.

    GBW is still just in the script phase, so be prepared for a bit of a wait still. I think they are aiming for summer 2008 for the release. The movie will probably film in China, probably in the northeast (can we still call that Manchuria?).

    Which is kind of funny, considering Jung Woo-sung is in the movie. How many movies has Jung made now, when he has been the long-haired guy in China? One guy at Barunson joked that Jung could be a line producer in China at this point. I'm pleased to see Jung playing "The Bad." Lee Van Cleef was "the Bad" in IL BUONO, IL BRUTO, IL CATTIVO and one of my favorite movie bad-asses of all time, and I hope Jung will follow in his tradition. But if you are going to be "bad," please be bad. Don't be a misunderstood, heart-of-gold "bad." Be baaad. I know you can do it, Jung.

    Amusing sidebar: Apparently GBW will be called "놈, 놈, 놈" (Nom, Nom, Nom) in Korean. Or "Bastard, Bastard, Bastard" (in my bastardized Korean, anyhow). Hah.
    UPDATE: Sorry, but I apparently read the news release too quickly. The Korean title will be a much more normal "좋은놈, 나쁜놈, 이상한놈" (Joheun Nom, Nappeun Nom, Isanghan Nom).
  • Wednesday, February 07, 2007

    200,000 Sq.Km. Beauty

    No secret that I am no fan of the screen quota. But I found this latest bit of agitprop from the Screen Quota Coalition to be pretty amusing. I'm not sure why this image is anti-FTA, but it is certainly striking.

    In other news, AP is reporting that last night's Denial of Service hacker attack on the Internet had a strong Korea connection:
    Other experts said the hackers appeared to disguise their origin, but vast amounts of rogue data in the attacks were traced to South Korea.
    Not a big surprise, given all that has been written lately about Korea's Internet problems, especially its short-sighted reliance on Microsoft standards and Active-X. Of course, the Korean IT guys are downplaying the significance of Korea being the source of this DoS attack, blaming "zombie computers" that have been taken over by bad, international hackers. But that just begs the question, why are Korean computers so vulnerable to being turned into zombies?

    Tuesday, February 06, 2007

    Too Lazy to Organize My Thoughts,
    aka, Random Notes - Vol 2, No. 4

    There were a couple of good stories in the Chosun Ilbo today (believe it or not, it does happen).
  • "How to Spot the Real Crowd-Pleaser Movies" is a look at how much staying power Korean movies had last year. Calling it the "grapevine index," the writer divides each film's total attendance by its opening weekend attendance. The idea being, the more genuinely popular a film is, the most people will talk about it and get their friends to attend. If a film's popularity is just marketing driven, and the movie itself actually stinks, people will tell their friends to avoid it and it will soon be out of the theaters.

    Grapevine Index of Top Film of 2006
    1. Radio Star - 10.6
    2. 200 Pound Beauty - 8.06
    3. Tazza - 7.28
    4. The Host - 6.42

    Worst Film of 2006
    1. Running Wild - 1.7
    2. I'm a Cyborg, But That's Okay - 1.96
    3. Bewitching Attraction - 2.1
    4. Daisy - 2.14

    I was quite surprised RADIO STAR did so well, especially considering all the competition in the period it came out. And BEWITCHING ATTRACTION seems to be more a victim of a misleading ad campaign than its inherent quality. Otherwise, the chart seems unsurprising, if interesting.

  • The other interesting story is this one, claiming that South Korean entertainment is getting into North Korea:
    According to a survey of 30 North Korean defectors who settled in South Korea, popular songs and dramas from the South are not only all the rage in Pyongyang; they have also found their way to border regions like Kaesong, Nampo and North Hamgyeong Province. South Korean actors like Bae Yong-joon and Jang Dong-gun have many fans there. North Koreans buy South Korean videotapes and CDs from people who frequently travel across the Chinese border, the survey shows.

  • Dramas ruled the TV airwaves in 2006, led by JUMONG. In fact, all top-10 programs on free-to-air TV last year were dramas. KBS's 9 o'clock news only managed 19th.
  • Monday, February 05, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Feb. 2-4

    The new Park Jin-pyo film, VOICE OF A MURDERER, came out strong in its opening weekend, despite some so-so reviews, pulling in an impressive 1.4 million admissions from its opening Wednesday evening to Sunday night. That works out to about $9.4 million, and a hair over 40% of the entire box office last weekend. Perhaps most significantly, the film picked up attendance and screens each day it was open, going from 275 screens on Jan. 31, to 397 screens on Feb. 1, to 530 screens on Saturday.

    Way back in No. 2 was THE PERFECT COUPLE, with 59,100 admissions in Seoul, bringing its nationwide total to just over 1 million. Last week's top film CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER fell to third, with 57,200 admissions in Seoul. The Adam Sandler comedy CLICK opened in fourth, with 176,4000 in ticket sales nationwide. Not great, but about what you might expect for a second-rate foreign comedy.

    200 POUND BEAUTY is still hanging around at No 5, bringing its two-month total to 6.4 million.

    The two local animations YOBI: THE FIVE-TAILED FOX and ROBOT TAEKWON V are still chugging along in the bottom of the top-10, thanks to all the kids on break (and, more importantly, the parents who want them out of the house). If they can stay in the theaters until the Seollal holiday (Feb. 17-19), they might get a pretty good second wind.

    Rounding out the top-10 is SCOOP, which pulled in just over 40,000 admissions on 100 screens.

    Outside of the top-10, over in the art-house world, PARIS, JE T'AIME opened well, with 26,266 on just a few screens (cannot find the exact number). And SCIENCE OF SLEEP continues to do steady business on its last remaining screens, bringing its total to 48,051. Another week like last one, and it will top 50,000, which would be a nice symbolic number to surpass.

    This WeekTitle........................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Attendance (Seoul only)Total Attendance
    1.Voice of a Murderer1.31530247,0001,408,000
    2.The Perfect Couple1.2527959,1001,004,200
    3.Curse of the Golden Flower1.2525557,200801,900
    3.200-Pound Beauty12.1421040,5006,433,700
    7.Miss Potter1.2515421,900293,600
    8.Robot Taekwon V1.1816220,100616,100
    9.Yobi: The Five-Tailed Fox1.2510520,000352,000

    (Source: Film2.0)

    Oh, by the way, Film 2.0 is my source for the top-10. But for other chart information, I go to KOFIC's database website KOBIS. It is a pretty useful site for box office information, but you need to be able to read Korean to use it. It does not report all the theaters in Korea, just the ones that have installed its electronic tracking service, but that number continues to climb, and is now at 91% of Korea's screens.

    And in a totally different vein... A great video of the Charlie Rose Show, with him talking to Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu is here on Google Video. So interesting to hear from the three of them all together. And such a great comparison for Korea. Here are three directors making great films that matter to them, that make some decent money and that are getting recognized in international circles. As much as I admire so many Korean directors, this is a useful way of seeing how much more they still need to learn and improve. As William Blundell once wrote: "There are two kinds of writers in the world: bad writers and improving writers."

    I also find it interesting how much emphasis they put on leaving their home country and becoming part of the wider world. So many Korean journalists like to talk about the Korean Wave, how Korean culture is doing around the world. But it is so much more important to get feedback/inspiration from as many sources as possible. Look at how many directors got their start outside of Korea (Hong Sang-soo in the United States, Song Il-gon in Poland, Kim Ki-duk in France). But how many directors, since completing their studies, are continuing to spend their time in the world? (And I don't mean spending a week at a film festival).

    Thursday, February 01, 2007

    Korea-Japan: A Love Story

    I notice lately some blogs and newspapers, et cetera, have been talking about the "rise of Japanese culture" in Korea. Ampontan's new blog had a post about it. The Korea Herald had this story about Japanese novels in Korea (via the Brunei Times because the Korea Herald thinks people will pay money for its old stories). Not a terrible story, although since the author never mentions how well titles from the US or other parts of the world are selling in Korea, it is impossible to get a proper sense of how significant the sales of Japanese books really is, or how sales have figured over the long run.

    Anyhow, in a similar vein, the Japan Times had a story about the movie "Anata wo Wasurenai" ("We Will Not Forget You"), the story of Lee Soo-hyun, the South Korean guy who died while trying to save a drunk Japanese businessman on the Tokyo subway in 2001. The Japanese Emperor and Empress attended the preview screening and spoke to Lee's parents. Truly an Oprah moment.

    So, what does it all mean? Are we in a new renaissance of Korea-Japan relations? Has the media gotten it wrong all these years?

    Hell if I know. I cannot speak for the 200 million people who reside in the two countries (including North Korea). But from what I have seen, I think there is far less emnity than many would like to believe. Sure there are freaks full of hatred. Both countries have their John Birchers. And Internet warriors (ugh). But from what I have seen in my time in Asia, especially in the arts (and even more so with women), I think there is a lot of affinity between the two cultures.

    When I first came to Seoul, many years ago, the selection of movies on TV or at the video store was a lot more limited than today. And Japanese pop culture was totally banned. But we did use to have "video cafes," where the proprietor would play movies on the big screen for whoever wanted to see. At first I used to go to them (especially Joy of Kino in Shinchon) to see movies like BRAZIL or FULL METAL JACKET. But I quickly realized that Western movies were in the minority at most cafes. I would say 60-70% of the films were Japanese. Mostly anime, but a lot of other good stuff, too. Similarly, any trip to the black markets in Yongsan Electronics Mart would turn up a huge amount of Japanese titles.

    Because of my various jobs in Seoul, I have spent a lot of time with designers, who I have found to be perhaps the most receptive to things Japanese. But artists and musicians in general have long flown over, whether for vacations or to live for a while. One of Korea's most interesting indie performers, Yoonki, could barely move a CD here, but in Japan he sold over 10,000 copies of his first album, toured a bunch, and did quite well for himself.

    In Japan, I have met no shortage of filmmakers who enjoy Korean films, who come here as often as they can, and who have plenty of friends in Korea. Seigo Tono, of the Short Shorts Film Festival, travels here a lot (and is a hell of a good guy). The musician Sato Yukie is a one-man cultural embassy for Japan (he is back in Japan now, but should be returning to Korea before too long).

    I do think there was a year (2005) when Japanese distributors were getting far too excited about Korean films and TV shows, and getting into needless and silly bidding wars for projects that were not even started yet. Business has cooled since then, but there is still a lot of dealing going on between the two countries. Not so high profile. Smarter. But still significant. Japanese TV shows, while not ratings juggernauts, are still common on Korean cable TV. In short, I think we are seeing a more mature, healthy relationship developing between the entertainment businesses between the two countries.

    So when politicians and other politically minded dolts try to get people riled up about this or that alleged problem between the two countries, I would not worry about it much. But in the deeper, more important ways, the two countries are growing closer. The most popular film in Korean history, THE HOST was made with Japanese money (about 1/3 of the film's budget). CJ Entertainment and Kadokawa have a pretty serious relationship. The Pusan Film Festival got started, in part, because of the Yamagata Documentary Film Festival. It's not all smiles and sunshine. It's not all nationalist anger. It's a far more complicated and intertwined relationship.

    Random Notes - Vol 2, No. 3

    • Just got word that THE HOST will be making its US debut on 60-70 screens in March. Originally, there was talk that it would open on well over 100 screens, but apparently THE HOST's poor showing in European markets has spooked Magnolia a little, so now they will open the film more conservatively.

    • THE HOST just came out on DVD here in Korea. I already have my copy of the uber-fancy, super-special edition, and I must say it is a nifty package (even if it is a strange shape that fits awkwardly in my DVD cabinet. The menus inside the DVD are a little awkward, too, with odd English, and few of the extras are subtitled. But overall, I still quite like it. There is a monster gag reel, featuring the creators at the Orphanage screwing around with the special effects. And Bong Joon-ho's short film that was kind of his test for shooting around the Han River was pretty amusing. Most importantly, though, is the movie itself, which looks gorgeous. They blues and greens of the Han riverside in the rain just pop off the screen, and the whole movie is so richly textured. I think I like it more after looking at it at home that I did the first time around in the theaters.

    • THE HOST has a first printing (is that the right term for DVDs?) of 33,000 copies in Korea, including rentals. Plus another 20,000 on VHS. Which might not sound great, but that is pretty spiffy for Korea these days. THE KING AND THE CLOWN had just 30,000 (plus 24,000 on VHS). No word on how it is doing in Japan yet.

    • Oh, in my box office report a couple of days ago, I forgot to mention BORAT. BORAT opened in just 15th, with 7,271 admissions. No idea how many screens it was on, sorry.

    • Big congratulations to Japan for a great year in movies. EIREN (Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan) announced that Japanese films accounted for 53% of the box office in 2006. First time Japanese movies have taken a majority of the box office in 21 years.

      (UPDATE: Jason Grey has a good post about the year's box office here. Then he proudly says he will not talk about box office for the rest of the year, concentrating on content instead. But I am not intimidated by someone daring to talk about art instead of commerce. No, I'm not. Really. And a couple of posts earlier, he talks about the year ahead.)

    • On the other hand, admissions were up just 2.4% from 2005, reaching 164 million -- nearly the same number Korea had last year, despite having just 40% of Japan's population. But since tickets in Japan cost double what they do in Korea, Japan remains a much bigger market.

    • As I indicated in the comments section of another post, still no word when CHILDREN OF MEN will hit the screens in Korea. But now that the Universal Pictures Korea office has been reorganized, hopefully they will get their act together and bring it sooner rather than later.

    • Just ran across Brian Yecies' article FILM CENSORSHIP AS A GOOD BUSINESS IN COLONIAL KOREA. Great stuff. Download it and read it yourself for a fascinating look at the early days of cinema in Korea. One of the many money quotes:
      During this time [1934-36], Fox, Paramount, Warner Bros -- First National, Universal, independent agent J.H. Morris and others who represented Columbia, MGM, RKO, and United Artists -- had direct distribution offices in Seoul. Korea was unquestionably a key territory for Hollywood distributors. There was no better market in Asia for Hollywood films than colonial Korea.

    • A follow-up to my post on the new Daniel Gordon movie, CROSSING THE LINE. CBS's 60 Minutes had a segment on the movie last Sunday. And, to be honest, it was a little weak. The producers basically just repeated the documentary in (very) short form, with no additional insights or analysis. You can see it for yourself here. Or, better yet, see the original documentary for yourself. The actual film is much more in-depth and interesting than the 60 Minutes abbreviation. For those of you reading from the US, it sounds like the odds are good that the film is going to get distribution in the United States. Hopefully you will not have to wait long to see it.