Saturday, March 31, 2007

To Bae or Not to Bae...

Friday I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of Bae Doona's travel photography book DOONA'S LONDON PLAY (big thanks to Taste Factory for that). LONDON PLAY was published by Taste Factory together with the entertainment company Yellow Media in summer last year, and features pictures by and about the actress Bae Doona as she traveled in London.

Of course, Bae Doona has been in a lot of TV shows and movies, including THE HOST, LINDA LINDA LINDA, BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE and TAKE CARE OF MY CAT (although the less said about TUBE or SPRING BEARS LOVE the better).

I would never claim to know any celebrities based on their characters or how they appear at press conferences, but I have long liked Ms Bae. Not sure why, but there has always been something appealing and real about her. A little odd, but in a good way.

If you are a big fan of Ms Bae, good news, she has another book coming out soon -- BAE DOONA'S TOKYO PLAY.


So I checked out the Slacker show on Friday, and I must say it was really good. Not just Slacker, but Kingston Rudieska and Suck Stuff, too. And I am not a ska/punk fan, either. Good crowd, too... A very nice mix of Koreans and foreigners, old and young, cool and me. Hopefully Matt and the DGBD crew will have more shows like that in the future.

Suck Stuff was the punk band... but either they have really gotten better since I last saw them, or else I am remembering a totally different band. Usually I quite dislike punk, but I thought they were solid.

Kingston Rudieska, on the other hand, I outright enjoyed. Nice brass section, mellow, hipsters without being annoying. Very much in the mood of Asoto Union, although different genres. Their homepage is here, and their Cyworld page is here. Their CD was recorded at Cavare Studios, of course, where so much of Korea's most interesting stuff is done (although they are not a Cavare band, I think, given their non-status on the Cavare website).

And The Slackers were also very good. I do not know much about the band, but I gather they have quite a following. Really reminded me of the neo-hipster scene that used to hang out in swing circles a few years ago (not that I am intimately acquainted with either scene... but that was the impression I received).

Will try to get some pics up from the show some time soon.

UPDATE: Here is an image of Kingston Rudieska that their manager just sent me.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Random Notes - Vol. 2, No. 5

  • THE HOST just topped $1 million in revenue in the United States, in just its 17th day of release there. Production company Chungeorahm is claiming this is the fastest that any Korean film has hit the $1 million mark in the United States... not that there is much competition. SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER ... AND SPRING was the most successful Korean movie in the US, earning $2.4 million, but taking six months to do so. TAEGUKGI made $1.1 million in three months (most of that in the opening couple of weeks, but I guess it took a while to hit $1 million. OLDBOY never made it to $1 million, earning just $707,391.

    One good sign for THE HOST -- the number of screens it is on has increased. It opened on 71 screens and has moved up to 94 now. In comparison, SSFW&S opened on just 6, but grew to 71 during its run. TAEGUKGI opened on 29 and made it to 34, but declined pretty quickly. OLDBOY grew from 5 to 28.

  • More interesting, imho, is how well THE HOST is doing in China. Chungeorahm says it has now made about $1.5 million on some 280 screens (the most ever for a Korean movie). The press release claimed this is the first time a Korean film has been the top movie in China for over a week (it kept the top spot for its first two weeks, but was overtaken last weekend).

  • American ska band The Slackers will be playing at DGBD on Friday night. Tickets are just 20,000 won. Sign claims the show starts at 8:30, but I have never seen a show start on time there.

  • Art Gallery Ssamzie Space (in the Hongik University area) has a new show by Global Alien opening on Friday (March 30). Titled "Freedom of Speech", the show will run until April 14. I do not know much about Global Alien, but I feel like I should be talking about art shows more. Will try to mention them from time to time.

  • Chung Jiho asked me to mention the kickoff of the first Subtitle Film Festival from April 12 to 15 at the MPark 4 Theater in Los Angeles. Do I have (m)any readers in LA? Anyhow, it will feature nine Asian films, including AFTER THIS OUR EXILE, HANGING GARDEN and MEMORIES OF TOMORROW. Check out Subtitle Media's homepage for more information.
  • Tuesday, March 27, 2007

    Aye! Of the Tiger

    Hi all. As you can see, I am giving advertising a try out on my site for a while. I'm sure there will be plenty of fiddling with the design and such over the next day or so while I work the bugs out (and get those ad links to work). Please be patient.

    And drink lots of Tiger Beer.

    Korea Weekend Box Office - March 23-25

    300 continued its reign of terror this week, accounting for over 38% of all tickets sold and easily taking the No. 1 spot. The $3 million it took in over the weekend brings its 10-day total to around $12.7 million.

    The second place film, PERFUME was a big surprise to me. I had barely heard of the movie before, although I have been quite enamored of its poster for the past few weeks.... Hrm, apparently the ignorance was mine. I bit of Googling revealed this was quite a big movie. The $65 million period movie has made over $120 million around the world. Mostly in Europe, though. Just $2.22 million in the United States since its release at the very end of 2006. In only three days in Korea, however, PERFUME pulled in around $2.1 million.

    Jim Carrey's THE NUMBER 23 made about $1.3 million, good enough for third. Better than I might have guessed, considering the movie's reviews and how Carrey's films have rarely done well in Korea.

    Jennifer Aniston's THE BREAK-UP opened quite tepidly in fourth.

    Much more interesting is the No. 6 debut of MUG TRAVEL. Is this Korea's first computer 3D animated feature film? I think it is. Clips from MUG TRAVEL have been scattered around the Internet for quite some time now, and I cannot recall how many years I have seen segments at trade fairs. According to the movie website, MUG TRAVEL is the story of little Bebe, who gets a magical pendant one Christmas, then travels to magical lands in a big magic mug. Or something like that. The movie also features a bear named Backkom, but I do not know his relationship with Bebe. It looks well rendered, but I don't know about the story. I might check it out this weekend if it is still around. I am rather curious about it.

    You can check out stills here. And clips of animation here. From the website, it looks like its creators, Aaron Lim and RG Animation, will be making more.

    This WeekTitle........................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Attendance (Seoul only)Total Attendance
    2.Perfume: The Story of a Murderer3.2223285,200317,600
    3.The Number 233.2217062,400203,800
    4.The Break-up3.2215046,000132,000
    5.Lyrics and Music2.2813135,400984,900
    7.Mug Travel3.223714,20050,400
    8.The Illusionist3.0817913,400565,800
    9.Big Bang3.1423710,600332,300
    10.The Painted Veil3.14846,800113,000

    (Source: Film2.0)

    Thursday, March 22, 2007

    Hong Kong Filmart - Mini Report

    Well, so much for posting daily reports on the Hong Kong Filmart. I intended to, but I have just been way too busy. Which is a good problem, I guess.

    The big news, from opening night, was that South Korea's THE HOST was the big winner at the inaugural Asia Film Awards, picking up awards for Best Cinematography, Best Actor Best Effects and Best Film.

    As for the market itself, it has been fairly hopping, especially the opening day. It does tend to lose a little steam as the week goes on, but there is still plenty happening. Filmart is housed in the Hong Kong Convention Center, a huge, bulbous structure built on reclaimed land in the Hong Kong harbor.

    Filmart is quite different from the Pusan International Film Festival and market. Although there are films being screened and an accompanying film festival, it is much quieter than PIFF. The market is bigger, or at least it feels a lot bigger, since it is held in that huge convention center (PIFF's film market is held in a beachfront hotel). Just the vibe in general is different -- more business, less art, perhaps. Still, I quite like Filmart, and I quite like coming to Hong Kong.

    The most personally notable part of the market for me was the surprise visit of a big nose pimple, right on opening night. Nothing like having a thousand meetings lined up, and suddenly having this nasty red thing growing in the middle of your face. Sigh. Luckily, the harsh convention center lighting made it a little less visible.

    Tuesday, March 20, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - March 16-18
    Hong Kong Edition

    Greetings from Hong Kong! The Hollywood Reporter has graciously sent me to the Hong Kong Filmart, to spend the week writing about movie deals and industry schmoozing and the like. For my money, the Pusan International Film Festival is more fun, but HK Filmart has perhaps more in terms of movie business. This week is always incredibly busy, but I will try to check in once or twice to comment on how things are going.

    Meanwhile, back in the world of Korean movies, 300 had the big opening, just like we suspected -- took in just over $7 million, counting from the early Wednesday night opening.

    MUSIC AND LYRICS BY continues to chug along, once again in second place.

    Otherwise, not a whole lot to note. 300 kind of overpowered most of the competition... plus I need to get some sleep for a long day tomorrow. Cheers.

    This WeekTitle........................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Attendance (Seoul only)Total Attendance
    2.Music and Lyrics By2.2813160,600837,500
    3.The Illusionist3.0824039,700467,100
    4.Big Bang3.1422434,300210,100
    5.The Painted Veil3.1410528,00076,000
    6.Pursuit of Happiness2.2814021,900573,600
    7.Miracle on 1st Street2.1422214,0002,683,000
    9.Little Runner3.141358,90029,200
    10.Smokin' Aces3.081335,200147,000

    (Source: Film2.0)

    Thursday, March 15, 2007

    Sam Baek

    Just checked out 300 last night and it was a total blast. Totally over-the-top, totally violent and totally fun. Totally unhistorical, too, but that was not the point.

    Even though just about everyone has heard all about 300 already (and probably seen it, too, judging by its monstrous opening box office), and even though it has nothing to do with Korean pop culture, I liked it enough that I am going to prattle for a bit.

    In fact, I think most critics (judging by comments over at Metacritic) have been really off base about 300, calling the film a video-game wannabe or a glorification of fascism and militarism. In fact, the 300 is a celebration of spectacle for its own sake, very much in the vein of Francis Ford Coppola's BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA, with its beautiful excess and blood-drenched style.

    There is a definite Frank Frazetta thing going on, too. Compare these two images. First from the movie:

    And Frazetta:

    Rather liked this image, too:

    It amazes me how often movie critics do not "get" was some films are about. Like how so many people thought STARSHIP TROOPERS was a defense of fascism, when it was clearly a parody of it.

    Frank Miller revolutionized the comic book industry back in the 1980s and 90s with his crazy violence and sex, and then he kept turning up the volume (until reaching the SIN CITY books). People are going to his comics as source materials for their movies, not because of the plots, but for their style, tone and atmosphere. In the process, they are creating something new (at least for movie-goers). Which is something a lot of jaded, over-movied critics seem to forget sometimes -- the average movie fan wants not only spectacle, but also new kinds of spectacle. Which is one reason that comic books are such a fertile source of new ideas... not only do they have visual stories, but they suggest a whole visual vocabulary and atmosphere.

    (Amusingly enough, many critics go in the other direction. After seeing too many (bad) movies, they often prefer originality in story, with less interest in technique and style. Same basic urge, but expressed in a very different way.)

    Anyhow. 300. Liked it oodles. But your results may vary.

    UPDATE: It is looking like 300 will be big here in Korea, too. On Wednesday alone, on less than 300 screens, 300 pulled in around $820,000. Sounds like it should top 1 million admissions by Sunday night (which for March is pretty impressive).

    Monday, March 12, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - March 9-11

    Well. This week's box office could have been posted three hours ago. But as I was compiling it, I was confronted by the question: "What the heck is SMOKIN' ACES?" Never heard of the film. A quick Metacritic search later and I had my answer: A dumb mobster/hitman movie, starring Jeremy Piven. Lots of guns and insubstantial style and, again, dumbness. So I did a quick check on the Internet and discovered a screening was starting in 20 minutes near my house. I went. I saw.

    I was mildly amusing, but not as much as I had hoped. I am still relying on 300 to slake the violence-loving-nerd beast within. In the meantime, I am back from the theater, ready to report on the top-10.

    Anyhow, leading the box this week, once again, is MUSIC AND WORDS BY, now having earned about $4 million since its release. At least it lead this box office report. KOBIS had the No. 1 spot going to THE ILLUSIONIST (like SMOKIN' ACES, lots of technique and style, but rather dumb). But on this chart, THE ILLUSIONIST was No. 2.

    In general, not a lot happening on this chart. MIRACLE ON 1ST STREET had now sold over 2.5 million tickets, making it a solid (although not spectacular) hit. Even YOBI: THE FIVE-TAILED FOX made a mini-surge, rising to 12th this week (up from 19th last week), having now topped 458,000 admissions.

    Look for lots more excitement next week, as oodles of new releases hit the screens. Will 300 be as big a surprise in Korea was it was in North America last weekend (where it made $70 million)? I doubt it. But I know I will be sending at least $7 to Warner Bros.

    This WeekTitle........................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Attendance (Seoul only)Total Attendance
    1.Music and Lyrics By2.2813687,400609,900
    2.The Illusionist3.0824273,900255,300
    3.Pursuit of Happiness2.2814055,000482,300
    4.Miracle on 1st Street2.1427444,0002,551,000
    6.Smokin' Aces3.0813633,000111,000
    7.Highway Star2.1423720,1001,601,700
    8.Shim's Family3.0116818,500290,500
    9.Hannibal Rising2.2818212,900247,500
    10.Hoola Girls3.01695,00045,000

    (Source: Film2.0)

    Monday Morning Host

    Early word coming in THE HOST, which was released in the United States and China last weekend. Box Office Mojo reports that THE HOST pulled in $320,000 in 71 theaters. That works out to No. 23...

    But since it was on a relatively small number of films, that gives it the 8th best per-screen average. And 4th best among films on over 20 screens.

    China numbers will not be out until later today or early tomorrow... will update as soon as I know.

    Friday, March 09, 2007

    No Hosting THE HOST

    The New York Post is reporting that Magnolia (the distributor of THE HOST) is taking Google to court, demanding Google turn over the identities of the users who uploaded the entire films THE HOST and ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUY IN THE ROOM. THE HOST, of course, is getting its big North American release in March, so Magnolia is worried that is people watch it online for free, then they will not see it in the theaters (not to state the obvious).

    I made a quick check on Youtube, and could not find THE HOST (just some trailers and behind the scenes stuff. However, I did find the complete BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE (no subtitles).

    (And for no particular reason, here are some Youtube Muppet links -- opening theme,Rita Morena and Animal, Peter Sellers and whiskey and wild wild women, Banana Boat song, Beaker singing Feelings, Muh-na-ma-nah, Swedish Chef).

    Oh, the New York Times likes THE HOST, too.

    UPDATE: Not just the New York Times. Rotten Tomatoes currently gives THE HOST a 94% freshness rating -- 50 good votes, only 3 negative. Impressive.

    Thursday, March 08, 2007

    Coming Attractions

    Looks like the coming movie line-up is beginning to take shape, as more films are making the release schedule over at Cine 21. This is an interesting time of year, as local studios unload a lot of films ahead of the summer crunch, when the Hollywood big guns come out (and local big guns, like THE HOST). And with SPIDER-MAN 3 getting released on May 4 in Korea, the big summer season will be starting earlier than ever.

    Some notable releases (in my humble opinion) on the way:

    March 22 - SOO. This is the first Korean-language film made by the famous Korean-Japanese director Choi Yang-il (better known as Yoichi Sai, who made BLOOD AND BONES, DOING TIME and WHERE IS THE MOON?).

    April 5 - THE SHOW MUST GO ON. The new Song Gang-ho film that Lotte Entertainment has high hopes for. I do not know much about it, but I will mindlessly brag that I have a ticket to the world premiere in Hong Kong in a couple of weeks.

    April 12 - ACROSS THE YEARS. The latest film by Im Kwon-taek, a follow-up to his huge 1993 hit SOPYONGJE. Oh Jeong-hae, who played Song-hwa in SOPYONGJE, returns to her famous role, but no Kim Myung-gon, who is now the Minister of Culture & Tourism.

    April 19 - BREATH. Kim Ki-duk's latest, about a man on death row and the woman who loves him. Not to be confused with MAUNDY THURSDAY.

    MEET MR. DADDY. The new film by Park Gwang-su. About a man who meets his estranged daughter for the first time in a long time while on his way to a soccer game during the 2002 World Cup.

    May 3 - ADEUL. The latest by Jang Jin.

    May 17 - SECRET SUNSHINE. Lee Chang-dong's first film since stepping down as Minister of Science & Technology. Maybe for his next film, he could direct Kim Myung-gon?

    Tuesday, March 06, 2007

    (If Free Use Is Wrong)
    I Don't Want to Be Copyright

    Kind of interesting, imho -- the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has opened a website full of items whose copyrights have expired, and so are available for free use. Literature, music, art, just oodles of interesting stuff. The Ministry claims over 10,000 works will be available at first, with more to come, although I have not tried counting. It is all in Korean, but even blind clicking can turn up some interesting artworks (try poking around this area).

    As I have mentioned before, the Ministry of Culture is currently pushing "Han Culture" (traditional Korean culture) as a way of moving the Korean Wave to a second phase, beyond just pop culture. I am pretty ambivalent about this idea for many reasons... I mean, I like the idea of better presenting traditional Korean culture. But I have doubts about how receptive the world will be on a popular level to this campaign. And I am in general skeptical anytime governments get involved in culture.

    Instead of creating a new campaign, I would be much happier if the government just cleaned up its existing palaces (get rid of the linoleum and mold and put in real traditional paper floors) and created interesting brochures and audio tours (written and performed by professionals... not some vice-minister's niece or whatever). Or give Ryu Seung-whan a few dollars to set his new violence fest in the Chosun Dynasty, that could be fun.

    Sure, Korean culture has a lot of great stuff -- but so has Thai culture, and Mongolia, and Kenyan, and Maori, and... and... and....

    Point being, if you want to raise your profile and become significant to the world, you need to present works that capture people's imaginations. You cannot just sit back and expect the world to come to you and love you.

    Monday, March 05, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - March 2-4

    Another quiet week in Korean cinema, with everyone claiming victory this week. Well, not everyone, but things were quiet enough that three different titles were boasting they were No. 1.

    Tops on my chart was the Drew Barrymore romantic comedy MUSIC AND LYRICS BY, which pulled in 89,100 admissions in Seoul. Nationally, however, MIRACLE ON 1ST STREET was by far the most popular film (according to our friends at KOBIS). KOBIS gave MIRACLE 19.3% of the weekend's audience share, versus 15% for MUSIC.

    And another film claimed the top spot -- the No. 2 film on my chart, PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. HAPPINESS claimed to be the top film, based on ... uh, I do not know. They just seem to be claiming the top spot (by audience share).

    Jeong Yun-cheol's second film, SHIM'S FAMILY, looks like it will not begin to approach the success of his debut, MARATHON. Okay, so maybe he was not trying to top MARATHON... but still, that was a pretty weak response to a movie in 170+ theaters.

    Very strange to see the top two films this week appearing on so few screens, just 143 and 141. I cannot remember the last time something like that happened. Korea is usually pretty quiet in March and April. But with Warner Bros really pushing 300 at the moment, it will be interesting to see how that film does when it makes its debut on March 15.

    This WeekTitle........................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Attendance (Seoul only)Total Attendance
    1.Music and Lyrics By2.2814389,100315,400
    2.Pursuit of Happiness2.2814169,800283,900
    3.Miracle on 1st Street2.1429062,0002,273,000
    5.Shim's Family3.0117131,500176,200
    6.Highway Star2.1425228,6001,447,000
    7.Hannibal Rising2.2818526,000157,500
    9.A Day for an Affair2.0819511,6001,798,600
    10.Hoola Girls3.016910,30028,500

    (Source: Film2.0)

    Friday, March 02, 2007

    Early K-Rock Photos

    Ken Leighty, who runs the Korea a Tour of Duty website (for veterans who served in the US 8th Army Korea), has posted some pictures of club and stage shows in Korea in the 1950s.

    Needless to say, I love that sort of stuff. Most interesting among them are pictures of a Korean band called "Keys". Judging from the sign behind them, "Lock and Key," this was the earliest days of the Key Boys (Lock & Key was their original name). The Key Boys were one of the first and most popular rock bands (or "Group Sound") in Korea (at least in the pre-Pearl Sisters era). You can read more about them and Kim Jong-hak here.

    (And, of course, Gusts of Popular Feelings has talked already about this music and era).

    Anyhow, Korean rock from that era is some of my favorite music, and I love hearing stories and stuff from that time period. Thanks much to Ken for posting those pictures. I also link to this pic. Not because it is significant or anything; it just kind of creeps me out... like something from LADY VENGEANCE.