Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Korea Weekend Box Office - June 22-24

Yet another week where the top film in Seoul and the top film in the rest of the country differed. BLACK HOUSE was the top film nationwide, according to the official KOBIS report.

And yet again, OCEAN'S 13 was the top film, even though there were four movies (BLACK HOUSE, SHREK 3, PIRATES 3 and HWANG JIN-YI) with more screens than the George Clooney casino movie. Amusingly, three of those films (all except PIRATES 3) were distributed by CJ Entertainment, a credit to the company's clout. HWANG JIN-YI, despite finishing in seventh this week, is still playing on 286 screens.

Sad to see HOT FUZZ open so poorly. But audiences here clearly missed out on most of the jokes in the first two-thirds of the movie -- especially the puns (which is to be expected, I guess) and the homoeroticism (no comment).

Title - Weekend Seoul Admissions - Total Nationwide Admissions
1. Ocean's 13 - 120,300 - 1,014,700
2. Black House - 119,000 - 494,000
3. Shrek 3 - 80,000 - 2,563,000
4. Captivity - 31,600 - 134,300
5. Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End - 27,500 - 4,867,000
6. Love & Other Disasters - 23,800 - 216,400
7. Hwang Jinyi - 18,700 - 1,196,500
8. Hot Fuzz - 16,000 - 60,000
9. Never Forever - 15,100 - 47,000
10. Secret Sunshine - 10,700 - 1,634,300

Fun Korean Lesson: babari maen (aka "Burberry Man") - A flasher.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Korea Weekend Box Office - June 15-18
(Mini Edition)

Sorry the box office was late this week. Busy busy.... but I just finished another chapter on my book (and there was much rejoicing).

Title - Weekend Seoul Admissions - Total Nationwide Admissions

1. Ocean's 13 - 166,800 - 510,100
2. Shrek 3 - 134,000 - 2,198,000
3. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End - 47,000 - 4,717,800
4. Hwang Jinyi - 46,300 - 1,044,700
5. Love and Trouble - 38,400 - 115,300
6. Secret Sunshine - 24,700 - 1,538,400
7. The Messenger - 8,000 - 240,500
8. Kiiroi Namida - 7,500 - 17,000
9. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time - 7,400 - 12,300
10. The Wonder Years - 700 - 3,000

Kind of a fun week for disproportionate results. OCEANS 13 was the top film, despite appearing in many fewer theaters than the Nos. 2-4 films (249 screens for the Steven Soderberg film, vs. 450, 350, and 424 for the next three). Heck, even SECRET SUNSHINE was in 246 screens, despite doing less than 20% of the business OCEANS did.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Byte Lights, Big City

I have long heard about the "factories" of Chinese gamers, playing games like World of Warcraft to earn money on the black market, but this short New York Times video is the the first I have actually seen it. The video is only 80 second long, but it gives you decent sense of what it is like to be a young gamer, playing World of Warcraft for 25 cents an hour.

Beginning with Lineage around 1998, gaming companies created virtual online economies for their games, with virtual items and virtual cash. This worked well for the gaming, however it had the side effect of creating virtual black markets, too (which I wrote about in NEWSWEEK a couple of years ago). Supply and demand -- you have people who want to play at a higher level, who have money but not the time to go up levels naturally. The result, people will pay others to do their gaming for them.

It is not just the Chinese kids playing the games for money. I have long heard stories about organized crime groups in Korea employing the disabled in much the same way (in Korea, it can be even harder to be accepted in public life than in the West, so any sort of job a disabled person can do from home can get a good reception).

UPDATE: Okay, I am a moron (once again). The full New York Times article is here (as usual, registration required, and after a week you will probably have to pay for it). It is a fairly interesting article, although I would have preferred more history and analysis of the online black market phenomenon.

For example, the article quotes one EA exec saying about the black marketing of gaming items:
If you bust the buyers, you’re busting the guys who are paying to play your game, who you want to keep as customers and who will then go on the forums and say really nasty things about your company and your game.

In fact, I have had a different EA bigwig go even further, and say that the popularity of many of those online games comes from the virtual black markets. In effect, the markets greatly increase game play, which gives your game more size and more profits. I have especially heard that allegation leveled at Lineage. Gamers say they do not like these professional players joining in and selling items and levels to lazy dolts, but for the gaming company, the black marketers more than pay for themselves.

The other funny thing about online gaming communities is how different countries have such different ideas of gaming etiquette. A lot of Americans do not like how Koreans use item trading. But Koreans often think the Chinese go too far (especially with gaming 'bots, that keep playing and earning points, even when no one is at the computer... although I do not know if that is still an issue, or if the gaming companies have found a way of eliminating that problem).

But what do I know? I play solitaire.
An altogether credulous article about the latest New York Asian Film Festival. But while I may not share Mr. Kehr's enthusiasm for many of the films on display, I do think he wrote a good article. Many films there definitely worth checking out. Congratulations to Goran and the Subway Cinema people for pulling off another fest, despite the obstacles this year (not that Goran is their leader...he's just the only one there I know).

Friday, June 15, 2007

Like Making Love in a Canoe

JoongAng Daily writer Cho Jae-eun gives us an odd, brief history of Korean beer. I am tempted to fisk the article, but I fear I would be here all evening. The article has a little bit of useful information in it, but, sadly, it is obvious the writer does not know much about "real" beer, and so had to recycle a lot of OB and Hite PR material. I do not want to sound all mean and negative... Oh, who am I kidding? I am mean and negative.

Suffice it to say, Korean beer is bad. Really, really bad. I do prefer Cass and Hite and Hite Prime/Max (whatever they are calling it this week) over Budweiser and Miller and mainstream American beers. But that is not saying much. Japanese beer is rarely much different, although there are a couple of brands that are marginally nicer.

As for Canadians who love Labbats or Molsons -- you need to be quiet. Contrary to popular opinion in Canuckland, mainstream beer there is nearly as bad as in America.

The other Korean beers -- Cafri, OB Blue, Cass Light -- are pretty much undrinkable. And Cass Red is just nasty. It tastes like syrup, not beer. It is the Majuang Port Wine of beers. (I mean the Majuang stuff they used to sell at convenience stores for 1,800 won... count yourself lucky if it never passed your lips).

I am slightly ambivalent about Hite Stout. It certainly is no stout. I can remember when it tasted a little bit like a dark mild, but (as they story states) it has been rejigged and watered down for local tastes since then.

Whatever happened to Hite's ExFeel? That was another terrible beer. The name was supposed to mean "Excellent Feeling," but instead sounded like a way of referring to an former girlfriend.

Korea's brew houses are a little better, but not much. Very uneven. They often start out okay, then the brewmaster takes off and quality quickly goes down the toilet (Exhibit A: Platinum... such a sad decline and fall of a once good beer joint). I am told Big Rock in Gangnam is pretty good, but I do not get down to that part of town much.

I wish I had a most useful way of ending this article, but I do not. Oh, yes I do. Watt's on Tap in Shinchon has a decent pale ale on tap (from Canada). Good weather for sitting on the roof and drinking that.

Anyhow, I hope someone comes up with the bright idea of offering well-made, natural, flavorful beers to the public. Bring in Sleeman's or some German microbrewery or somesuch. It is just crazy enough an idea that it might work.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Korea's Communication History

While doing research for a story, I just accidentally ran across KT's history of communications in Korea, as part of the company's Korea Telecom Museum. And I must say, it is one of the most fascinating websites I have run across in ages. It begins with some general stuff about early communication systems in Korea (like Fire Beacons, runners and antennae to the gods), then moves on to things like Korea's first radio, Korea's first TV station, and first coin-operated phones. Hours of good stuff there.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Fat Man Sings: Goodbye Sopranos

One last SOPRANOS post, now that the series is over. There will be SPOILERS, so feel free to skip if you do not want to find out what happened (although good luck at avoiding the thousands of other stories out there.



You have been warned...


Anyhow, like everyone, I was wrong about how the series would end. Although count me among the people who really loved the ending. Confusing, sure, along with frustrating, surprising and more, but I still loved it. But what does that cryptic cut-to-black ending mean? As I see it, there are two possibilities:

1) We were seeing the world through Tony's eyes, his constant paranoia that he lives with. He once again "won" a power struggle, his family is together and safe, but it is a Pyrrhic victory. Tony knows he is never really safe, and lives in constant fear of it being taken away from him (by being whacked, arrested, whatever). Or,

2) Tony was killed. At first, I thought (1) was the more likely meaning of it all. But the more I think about it, the more I think (2) is likely. The Bobby flashback at the end of "The Second Coming" really supports this view, I think. As do the hints that New York was not entirely satisfied with the post-Phil situation.

However, the great thing about the episode is how open-ended it was. I am sure once people go through each frame, it is possible they will be able to work out a more definite theory. But either way, I thought it was a great end to a (usually) great show. (I am, however, disappointed to hear the Dante's Inferno theory of the last nine episodes was wrong).

Also amusing to learn that superstitious Italians think about cats the same way Koreans do. Although I did like the mysterious cat in that episode (which I think could have been Adrianna).

Monday, June 11, 2007

Korea Weekend Box Office - June 8-10
(Mini Edition)

No time for more than another quick rundown of the box office this week. Plus my hand is busted, making it tough to type.

Title - Weekend Seoul Admissions - Total Nationwide Admissions
1. Shrek 3 - 291,000 - 1,616,000
2. Hwang Jin-yi - 104,200 - 715,600
3. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End - 75,400 - 4,485,100
4. Secret Sunshine - 48,600 - 1,360,200
5. The Messenger - 19,300 - 157,600
6. Confession of Pain - 3,400 - 79,900
7. Factory Girl - 2,000 - 14,300
8. Death Water - 1,600 - 62,800
9. Unstoppable Marriage - 800 - 1,249,200
10. Spider-Man 3 - 600 - 4,931,900

Waitaminute... Is that right? FACTORY GIRL, on just 10 screens, outdid SPIDER-MAN 3? Wow.

Their War. Our Theaters:

So, TRANSFORMERS is one of the big action movies this summer, and Korea is getting it first. Which is rather unusual and cool. Japan has gotten the honors several times over the years (most recently with SPIDER-MAN 3). But Korea is, after all, a sort of home for THE TRANSFORMERS, since the animation on the 1980s TV show and movie was done here -- at both Sunbow Productions and Akom Pictures. I had quite the little nerd-out a few years ago when I went to the Akom office, just south of Seoul, and met Nelson Shin (who also animates much of THE SIMPSONS and did the MY LITTLE PONY movie).

The press screening was this morning, and I believe it was the first screening of the film in the world. Press from all over Asia has been flown in to see the film and interview Michael Bay and the lead actress. There will be some kind of big press conference later this evening, but I must miss it. I am told there will be some kind of big Bumblebee robot there, which could be some quality geeky fun.

Unfortunately, Paramount wants an embargo on stories about the film until June 29 (when the trades publish their reviews). But I think it is safe to say that the film is quite good. And the robots are even cooler than what you have seen in the movie trailers.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Random Notes - Vol. 2, No. 8

  • Early word I am hearing about the box office on Song Hye-gyo's costume feast HWANG JINYI is not good. It opened Wednesday, on the holiday, but its attendance so far is quite poor. Strangely, HWANG JINYI's distributor, CJ Entertainment, also released SHREK 3 on the same day. Maybe they were thinking the two films had a totally different target market, so would not interfere with each other? Anyhow, victory goes to SHREK 3.

  • According to local media reports in Korea (and, of course, the thousands of obsessed fans over at, Rain's North American tour has been canceled "postponed." This Soompi account is basically correct. No big surprise there. Rain is a very nice young man, but his break from JYP Entertainment was one of the more spectacularly poor career moves I have seen in quite some time (imho). Anyhow, I hope he manages to straighten out his various troubles soon and gets back to making his fans happy.

  • Speaking of JYP... Look for a big media blitz coming out soon for the opening of the JYP Entertainment office in New York. Billboard will have Park Jin-young on the cover (with substantial stories inside), along with all the major media you would expect in New York. JYP may have lost Rain, but the company still has a lot of really interesting stuff in the works.
  • Tuesday, June 05, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - June 1-3
    (Mini Edition)

    Title - Weekend Seoul Admissions - Total Nationwide Admissions

    1. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End - 227,500 - 3,887,600
    2. Secret Sunshin - 114,200 - 982,800
    3. Confession of Pain (Seung Sing) - 19,100 -57,200
    4. The Evil Twin - 17,300 - 373,800
    5. Spider-Man 3 - 14,400 - 4,912,600
    6. Unstoppable Marriage - 13,700 - 1,262,400
    7. Next - 13,000 - 469,000
    8. Death Water - 11,400 - 42,700
    9. Factory Girls - 4,100 - 6,500
    10. Marie Antoinette - 900 - 7,400

    Monday, June 04, 2007

    D-Day for D-War

    Hey, look at that. We finally have a release date for D-WAR, the humungous dragon/action movie. And that date would be August 2. You can go to the D-WAR website to check out the trailer and posters and things (only Korean, sorry).

    UPDATE: I need to check my press releases more carefully. The D-WAR release also says that the monster movie is going to be released in the United States in August, on around 1,500 screens. By the distributor Freestyle Releasing, if you are interested. At any rate, 1,500 would be by far the biggest release ever for a Korean movie in the United States... or anywhere for that matter. Even half that number would be pretty impressive.

    Incidentally, Showbox (the Korea distributor) is now downplaying D-WAR's budget. Instead of $70 million, they are now saying $30 million... The other $40 million was apparently for technical development and related investments at the production house, and so is separate from the movie's actual budget.

    Saturday, June 02, 2007

    On the Korean Wave

    I have been critical of Park Jin-young before, but this message was spot on.

    Friday, June 01, 2007

    Shrek Free

    Kind of a funny story I heard about SHREK 3 and CJ Entertainment, the local distributor of SHREK 3. On Monday, they held the early press screening for the film... however that was when news broke about Jeon Do-yeon's big win at Cannes, so very few people apparently turned up for it.

    The next day, CJE had a press conference with Cameron Diaz (who does the princess' voice in SHREK 3). But it was scheduled for the same time as the Jeon Do-yeon press conference, so again there was a pretty light turnout.

    Poor Dreamworks, foiled by Jeon Do-yeon at every turn.

    (At least that is what people are saying... but it is a funny story, even if exaggerated).


    In other news, expect very light blogging for the next month or so. My book deadline is rapidly approaching and I have a lot of work to do still. Will try to do the weekly box office still, but I am not sure if I will have time for much else.