Friday, August 31, 2007


We are now most of the way through the annual BroadCast WorldWide exhibition and conference, otherwise known as BCWW. BCWW has been going on for seven years now, and I have been attending since around the second year (although I have skipped a couple along the way).

BCWW is definitely an industry event. No celebrities or glitz. Just exhibitions halls and conference rooms and oodles of buyers and sellers walking around. I doubt many civilians would find it too interesting (actually, I doubt how many professionals find it interesting, but we all have jobs to do).

All day long, people not in meetings can amuse themselves listening to endless talks about the state of the industry, new media, trends and the like. See how many times each speaker can use words like "convergence" or "IPTV" (hrm... some real drinking game potential there).

This was the biggest BCWW yet. Thanks in part to organizers wisely flying in as many buyers as possible. If you have buyers, you have happy exhibitors. BCWW has come a long way since the first couple of years, although it certainly does not compare to the mega-markets, like MIPTV and MIPCOM (both held in Cannes, France). But I heard a lot of exhibitors saying nice things about the event.

Personally, I wish the nice BCWW folks would merge their event into the Pusan International Film Festival's movie market. Or at least hold BCWW at the same time in Pusan. Yeah, Pusan is a pain in the butt for all the Seoul-based VIPs, but the schmoozing synergy would be intriguing.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Korea Weekend Box Office - Aug. 24-26

After a three-week break, MAY 18 is back on top of the box office, proving to be the tortoise to D-WAR's hare. Or something like that. Anyhow, CJ Entertainment's big movie of the summer, about the Gwangju Massacre, has now pulled in 6.61 million admissions, or about $45 million.

D-WAR may be declining fast, but it is still raking in the money. As of the end of Sunday, it had topped 8 million admissions (or about $54 million). D-WAR is now the sixth-biggest film in Korean history and is a lock to pass FRIEND to become No. 5. But considering how quickly D-WAR is falling now (down by over 50% from last weekend, which was over 50% from the weekend before that), it looks like it will not make the magical 10 million admissions level.

Even better than last week, Korean films accounted for the entire top-5 and eight of the top-10 movies this week. Impressive.

Also impressive was the staying power of STARDUST. Despite a mediocre opening and plenty of competition, Neil Gaiman's fairytale dropped barely 11% from its opening weekend. As I said in yesterday's post, the Art Reon theater in Shinchon actually moved STARDUST from the smallest screen to the second-largest.

SIMPSONS - THE MOVIE had a less than impressive debut, with just over 140,000 admissions. At the screening I attended over the weekend, everyone seemed to enjoy the film a lot, and very few jokes got lost in translation.

This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend AttendanceTotal Attendance
1.May 18 (Hwaryeohan Hyuga - Korean)7.26336326,3196,229,145
2.D-War (Korean)8.01375319,8957,545,029
3.Swindler in My Mom's House (Sarangbang Seonsu-wa Eomeoni - Korean) 8.22345232,569318,690
4. Underground Rendezvous (Mannam-ui Gwangjang - Korean)8.14284199,8261,017,975
5. Love Now (was "Changing Partners," or Jigeum Saranghaneun Saram-gwa Salgo Isseumnikka? - Korean)8.14297162,143785,354
6. Stardust8.14223160,707610,595
7.Simpsons - The Movie 8.23202109,334138,584
8. Someone Behind You (Du Saramida - Korean)8.23232105,360154,980
9.Jukeodo Haepiending - Korean 8.2320686,986113,798
10. Return (Riteon- Korean)8.096422,687614,886
(Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 94% of nationwide box office)

Buena Hongdae Social Club

You know that experience where you walk past some place (a sign or an entranceway or wherever) hundreds of times without giving the location a second thought, then one day, for no particular reason, you decide to go inside and discover an amazing place? Something really special was right under your nose the whole time, but you had no idea. Well, that happened to me on Thursday night.

The location in question was MOONGLOW, a jazz club kind of in Hongdae, kind of outside the usual Hongdae limits (somewhere between Hongdae proper and Hapjeong Subway Station).

Moonglow is owned and operated by Shin Kwan-Woong, one of Korea's early jazz musicians. He's apparently been playing professionally since 1966, and is an interesting character. He plays piano pretty much every night at the club, with the band accompanying him changing each night.

I have not been there every night of the week, but Thursday nights are pretty cool, as the band consists of all his old friends and bandmates from the 1960s. Some pretty solid names playing him, and they still can groove. Somewhat like the guys in BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB (to use a rather uncreative comparison).

According to the Moonglow website, on drums is the amazing 76-year-old Choi Se-jin, who has been playing since 1947 (but last Thursday, I think someone else was playing... looked different from the photos of Choi).

Anyhow, I'll try to write more about these guys some time soon.

If I have a complaint (and me being me, of course I do), it is how typical their repertoire was. If I could get through the rest of my life without hearing Chuck Mangione, I would not be unhappy (Feels So Bad). But I imagine they playlist reflects what people are always asking them to play. And at least the band played the hell out of those tunes, turning them into something special. That club is definitely a great find. Highly recommended.

(Sorry, could not find an English map).

  • This is kind of random. STARDUST had a pretty understated opening on Aug. 14 across Korea. I saw it at the local Art Reon theater, where it was playing on the smallest screen they had. Well today I checked out the Art Reon movie listings, and lo and behold, STARDUST is now playing on the second-biggest screen in the multiplex. Is this a sign the movie is getting really good word of mouth? Or is it just one of those inexplicable things?

  • I finally checked out SHIM"S TAPAS in Hongdae. Wow, their food is really first-rate. Coffee, too. Homemade bread, plenty of choices... The group I was with ordered about eight things (not including dessert), and seven of them were excellent (their pizza was okay, but not great). Another big recommendation -- if you can get a seat. I will post a map if I can ever find one. It is located in Seogyo-dong, if that helps, not far from Sanulim Theater (even closer to the bar Stereo, if you know where that is).
  • Thursday, August 23, 2007

    Last Chance to Hear an Echo

    One thing I am trying to enjoy, now that the weight of my book is off my shoulders, is a little more live music. Last weekend, for instance, I went to the album release party for ANAKIN PROJECT, a quirky "folk punk" band that has Zho Yoonsuk on bass. Very much a stripped-to-the-basics affair over at Yogiga (an art/music space that I quite enjoy), but it was fun little evening.

    This weekend, however, promises a fairly significant show -- the last Korean concert ever for Jet Echo. And Jet Echo is not alone. They will be playing with Sato Yukie, Mineri, Galaxy Express and a bunch of other bands (which can be seen on this incredibly funky poster below).

    To be honest, Jet Echo was never really my favorite band. Although the last time I saw them play, in January, it was quite a good show -- a lot of energy and fun. I think they have gotten a lot better since the first time I saw them play, 2-3 years ago in Gongjung Camp. Since then, Jet Echo has become quite a staple of the Hongdae live scene. Definitely worth a look now, while you still can.

    The concert begins at 9pm at Club Ta. Strangely, though, the Club Ta website seems not to have a map of their venue (unless it is hidden somewhere my Mac browser cannot see). Somewhere in Seogyo-dong (the north side of Hongdae).

    Monday, August 20, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Aug. 17-19

    It was a fairly busy week last week, thanks to the 8.15 holiday, which saw plenty of new films released on Tuesday. The top two films remained unchanged, D-WAR and MAY 18.

    D-WAR keeps on wreaking havoc, having now topped 7.45 million admissions (about $50 million) (well, maybe a little less, considering how many tickets are lower-priced children seats). That makes Shim Hyung-rae's dragon movie the seventh biggest film in Korean history, and it is certain to at least make it to fifth soon -- FRIEND and WELCOME TO DONGMAKGOL are going down. But I still doubt the "big four" (SILMIDO, TAEGUKGI, THE KING AND THE CLOWN and THE HOST) are in danger.

    As of the end of Sunday, MAY 18 has officially passed 6 million admissions, or about $40 million. That makes it the 12th biggest Korean film ever, as is certain to pass MY BOSS, MY TEACHER and SHIRI this week. I think it should make it past the 7 million mark, depending on the new releases over the next couple of weeks.

    It is going to feel strange, though, living in a world where SHIRI is not even in the top-10 biggest Korean films anymore. What a completely different movie country Korean has become since SHIRI blew everyone away back in 1999.

    Two new Korean movies took the Nos. 3 and 4 spots, with respectable openings - UNDERGROUND RENDEZVOUS and CHANGING PARTNERS. I hope having the top four movies going to Korean movies (and four of the top six) will quell the worst of the fears of local filmmakers.

    STARDUST did pretty good in Korea, at least in contrast to its lousy opening in the United States, taking in $2.4 million. I actually found it a little loud and heavy-handed for my tastes (fairy tales should be delicate, not bombastic, imho), but the other people in the cinema seemed to quite like it.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend AttendanceTotal Attendance
    1.D-War (Korean)8.01491580,8466,902,034
    2.May 18 (Hwaryeohan Hyuga - Korean) 7.26443416,7475,609,005
    3.Underground Rendezvous (Mannam-ui Gwangjang - Korean)8.15325309,768609,807
    4.Changing Partners (Jigeum Saranghaneun Saram-gwa Salgo Isseumnikka? - Korean)8.15356227,538435,770
    5.Stardust 8.15221180,388315,243
    6. Return (Reteon - Korean)8.0924772,013539,493
    7.Zodiac 8.1512055,367107,619
    8. Mr. Bean's Holiday8.1516950,35991,977
    9.Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer8.0826743,930553,889
    10.Surf's Up 8.0916443,403243,525
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 94% of nationwide box office)

    Tuesday, August 14, 2007

    D-War on the Rise

    Showbox is reporting that Shim Hyung-rae's silly monster movie just broke the 6-million-admissions level. In fact, by the time I type this (5:10 on Tuesday), it has probably topped 6.1 million, to make it the 10th-biggest Korean film ever. That is enough to knock MY BOSS MY TEACHER out of the top 10 altogether, which brings me no end of happiness. SHIRI will doubtlessly fall tomorrow.

    I was feeling somewhat ambivalent about D-WAR (it is pretty dumb and bad, but marginally tolerable for a children's movie), but reading Shim's latest is rapidly making me downgrade my already low opinion.
    "If this movie had been made by James Cameron, it would have turned the whole world upside down."
    Uh, no. Feel free to read the VARIETY review for a good sense of the movie. (I do not mind linking to the competition because they just linked to my blog the other day).

    Monday, August 13, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Aug. 10-12

    Another big weekend for D-WAR, as Shim Hyung-rae's monster movie topped the 5-million admissions mark with ease. And that is just for the 94% of the nationwide box office that KOBIS tracks. In fact, as of the Monday, D-WAR is now over 5.71 million admissions according to Showbox (that's about $39 million).

    MAY 18 is also chugging along, quite respectably, as it too is nearing 5 million admissions. (UPDATE: CJ Entertainment just said that MAY 18 topped 5 million on Monday).

    Marvel Comic's latest superhero film, FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER, had a more modest debut, with just 336,429 admissions.

    With RETURN in fourth, that gives Korean movies three of the top four spots... just like old times. Unfortunately, 280,000 admissions is not exactly stellar.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend AttendanceTotal Attendance
    1.D-War (Korean)8.16211,143,6765,062,142
    2.May 18 (Hwaryeohan Hyuga - Korean)7.26524596,6734,446,397
    3.Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer8.09399227,690336,429
    4.Return (Riteon - Korean)8.09292189,284284,575
    6.Surf's Up8.0920883,038100,739
    7.Epitaph (Gidam - Korean)8.0122082,005497,642
    8.Die Hard 4.07.1720265,3563,129,894
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 94% of nationwide box office)

    Personally, I am more interested in the movies coming out this week, such as STARDUST and ZODIAC. But I fear they will both get pummeled fairly badly by MR. BEAN'S HOLIDAY. But who knows? Maybe Michelle Pfeiffer has the star power to give STARDUST a nice boost.

    Sunday, August 12, 2007

    New Book Title

    Well, it looks like my book has a new title. No more KOREA POP WARS. The new title is going the be POP GOES KOREA: BEHIND THE REVOLUTION IN MEDIA, MUSIC AND INTERNET CULTURE.

    A little less zippy than the old title, I guess. But more accurate. The stories I have been telling turned out to be too good natured to be called a "war." I think they are still engaging and fun stories, just not so warlike.

    But important thing is that my first draft of the book is done. Just submitted the conclusion to the publisher on Saturday evening. I am sure there will be questions and revisions and other changes, but the important thing is that my book is written. So I am pretty excited.

    Still many more miles to go before the book hits the shelves. The cover is just being designed now, and the editing has just begun. But early word is that sales response has been "very good," so that is encouraging.

    Not sure if I am going to stick with this blog name or if I will switch to POP GOES KOREA. Would make some sense to switch... but I do have a year's worth of inertia at this site. I'll try to figure out how I feel some time soon.

    Tuesday, August 07, 2007

    Like Water Through a Skull...

    After all the articles about how Rain or Se7en or BoA or whomever would be invading the American pop charts, who thought that Korea's first big chart success would be from a dredlocked guy doing dancehall reggae/hiphop? Anyone? Anyone at all?

    Well, I'm amazed -- the first US single by Korean singer Skull, BOOM DI BOOM DI, has now hit the No. 5 spot on Billboard's R&B/hiphop singles chart. That's a solid five-spot jump from last week. He's also No. 17 on the hot pop singles chart.

    I remember watching a video by Stoney Skunk (a duo Skull is a member of) on television a while back and thinking "What the hell?" After seeing acts like the Bubble Sisters, I was ready for the worst, and could not really listen to their music impartially.

    But having listened to BOOM DI BOOM DI a couple of times (and seen the video), I find it catchy and interesting (and that is coming from a guy who usually loathes reggae/hiphop).

    I just hope with all this success, he will earn enough money to buy a shirt. Poor guy looks chilly...

    UPDATE: Well, here is a dubious note. No signs of Skull's single anywhere on the other Billboard singles charts except the sales charts -- the easiest charts to manipulate (because CD singles in the United States are so low, it only takes a couple hundred to make a big impact).

    Look at the No. 1 song on the R&B sales chart -- Big Face's "Get My Weight Up" -- which does not appear anywhere on the regular R&B singles chart. That sort of thing does not look good.

    Maybe there is a simple explanation. Or maybe I do not understand the charts well enough. I certainly hope my cynicism is misplaced. I guess we shall see...

    UPDATE 2: I just talked to my editors at BILLBOARD, and they said it is not unusual for an artist to chart on the sales charts but not elsewhere, especially when an artist is just starting out. So it is very possible that my earlier reaction was off-base. Interesting how quickly the rumors get going in Korea, though. Jealousy, I guess.

    UPDATE 3: Newest charts are out. BOOM DI BOOM DI is up one to No. 4 this week on the R&B/Hiphop Sales chart... but down two on the overall singles sales chart. You can use the same link in the main story. Apparently BILLBOARD does not offer historical sales charts (at least not for free).

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Aug. 3-5

    The big-budget, cgi-fest D-WAR continued its strong opening over the weekend, taking in 2.95 million admissions, or about $20.1 million, since its opening Wednesday, according to its distributor Showbox. That works out to the second-best opening ever in Kore, ahead of SPIDER-MAN 3, and just behind THE HOST.

    (Note: I have no idea where Film 2.0 got their low numbers from this week. The official boxoffice system, KOBIS, had 2.7 million admissions off of 94% of the national boxoffice. But Showbox's official number was 2.95 million).

    Given the weak word of mouth on D-WAR, I would be surprised if it makes it to 10-million admissions. It will do well, but I think THE HOST's record is safe.

    The No. 2 spot went to CJ Entertainment’s MAY 18, earning nearly $5 million over the weekend to bring its 11-day cum to about $23.2 million (3.4 million admissions, according to CJE).

    The Korean horror film EPITAPH, distributed by Studio 2.0, opened a somewhat disappointing fifth, earning about $2 million.

    Together, those three films accounted for over 78% of the national boxoffice last weekend, a nice turnaround after three months of Hollywood domination.

    Title - Weekend Admissions - Total Nationwide Admissions
    1. D-War - 1,931,947 - 2,770,563 (Korean)
    2. May 18 - 932,557 - 3,219,124 (Korean)
    3. Die Hard 4.0 - 259,631 - 2,956,606
    4. Ratatouille - 188,553 - 703,101
    5. Epitaph - 185,414 - 296,580 (Korean)
    6. Transformers - 115,260 - 7,276,979
    7. 1408 - 108,793 - 170,965
    8. Harry Potter and the Long Title - 70,703 - 3,652,325
    9. Evan Almighty - 26,269 - 228,447
    10. Hitcher - 10,873 - 18,268
    (Source: KOBIS)

    Sunday, August 05, 2007

    Putting the "D-" in D-War

    Okay, I was wrong about Shim Hyung-rae's dragon tale D-WAR. It is not a guilty pleasure movie. It is not a movie for 10-year-olds. It is just plain old bad. Possibly -- just possibly -- amusing for university sophomore geeks who are really liquored up and/or burning through a garbage full of weed. But even for a mindless dork like myself, it was pretty brutal.


    Fortunately for the producers and distributors, "good" is not a terribly important quality in getting people to go to the theaters. Exhibit A - HULK. Which, the more that I think about it, is an apt comparison. HULK was a lousy, lousy film, with bad CGI and a non-story. And Shim once starred in the not-so-classic film HYEONG-RAE AND THE HULK.

    HULK pulled in $130 million or so at the US box office back in 2003, and D-WAR is apparently going to quite well, too (2.2 million admissions, as of Saturday night).

    I assume I do not need to recount the plot at this point. It is widely known already... plus there is not much to recount. Big snake wants girl. TV news guy tries to keep girl from snake. There is much exposition. There are flashbacks. The flashbacks have flashbacks. Words like "Imoogi", "Baruki" and "Yowijoo" get mentioned a lot, but no one laughs. Finally the special effects kick in.

    More than the wooden acting and silly story, the entire film has an odd, through-a-prism feel to it. It looks like an American action/fantasy film on the surface, you can recognize all the bits and pieces... but it feels constantly unreal from start to finish. As if the whole film was out of focus (mentally/metaphorically, that is). It was like an abstraction of an abstraction.

    As far as design goes, it totally looked like LORD OF THE RINGS meets CHINESE GHOST STORY.

    The best part of D-WAR, hands down, was Craig Robinson (who plays Darryl in THE OFFICE). He must have re-written all his lines, because they are the only natural-sounding, believable lines in the whole film. He was even funny in parts.

    Second-best part - it is barely 90 minutes long. Down from the 107 minute version Variety reviewed last November (although it felt even longer than PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 3: AT WORLD'S END).

    Luckily, when I got home, I discovered that FOX-TV was showing a 16-hour BATTLESTAR GALACTICA marathon. A few episodes washed away the worst of the mental grime.


  • In happier news, nice article about Neil Gaiman's STARDUST at the New York Times. I hope the film is good.

  • And in other news, the latest Yangpa post is priceless.
  • Friday, August 03, 2007

    D-War Demonstrates Delightful Digital Designs

    Against the odds, the expert predictions, and good sense, D-WAR looks like it is going to be a hit in Korea. The $32-million monster movie was released on Aug. 1 with a bang, and it is looking strong. D-WAR made about $2.8 million on Wednesday alone (417,000 admissions), then made another $3.3 million yesterday.

    With such a good start, Showbox is now predicting D-WAR will pull in around 2-2.5 million admissions by the end of Sunday (up to $17 million). That's like THE HOST and SPIDER-MAN 3 money. I don't think anyone would have predicted an opening that good.

    The question now is how well will it sustain. What will the word of mouth be? The story might be weak, but with the kids out of school now, things could be looking good for the creature feature.

    And, really, why not? Giant dragons, monsters with rocket launchers attached... Sounds like the stuff of dreams, when I was back in my Lego days.