Saturday, September 29, 2007

PIFFLE of a Book Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Sept. 21-23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Saturday, September 22, 2007

    PIFF Pusiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Sept. 14-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Saturday, September 15, 2007

    Random Notes - Vol. 2, No. 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 14% fresh.

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

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

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

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

    Taewang Sonata

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Sept. 7-9

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

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

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

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

    Saturday, September 08, 2007

    Rank Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Monday, September 03, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Aug. 31-Sept. 2

    A quiet, wimpy weekend at the box office as we have entered that lull between summer and Chuseok. With not many people going to the theater and nothing too popular, we have some strange things going on, such as the No. 10 movie appearing on more screens than the No. 1 movie.

    At long last, neither D-WAR nor MAY 18 were the top movies. Instead, DISTURBIA led the box office. Zzzzzz.

    D-WAR is really crashing hard and fast now. On Friday, barely 15,000 people went to see it. As of Sunday, though, D-WAR's total admissions were now at 8.22 million, officially making it the fifth-biggest movie in Korean history. With zero chance of moving up the charts, thankfully.

    MAY 18, on the other hand, still has some legs, chugging along in third. Unfortunately, I have not heard from CJ Entertainment what its "real" total is so far, so I only have the KOBIS estimate of 6.52 million admissions.
    (UPDATE: Aha. Just got the CJ email. As of Monday evening, MAY 18 has just topped 7 million admissions. 7.003 million to be exact).

    Nice to see STARDUST still holding up, despite being such a non-hit. All the films launched last week that made their debuts above STARDUST have quickly fallen below the quirky fantasy film.

    After dipping to just 42 percent of the year's box office at the end of July, Korean films have now recovered to a more presentable 48.5 percent. Quite a nice rebound in just one month.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend AttendanceTotal Attendance
    1.Disturbia8.30 210177,017211,464
    2.Nae Saengae Choeak-ui Namja (Korean)8.30306164,436199,030
    3. May 18 (Hwaryeohan Hyuga - Korean)7.26282159,4606,528,717
    4.No Reservations 8.30168104,544138,023
    5. D-War (Korean)8.0126698,0197,714,468
    6. Stardust8.1514373,945756,776
    7. Love Now (Jigeum Saranghaneun Sarang-gwa Salgo Issseumnikka? - Korean)8.1520060,093945,574
    8. Underground Rendezvous (Mannam-ui Gwangjang Hanguk - Korean)8.1520057,8721,151,617
    9.Flyboys 8.3015855,77766,777
    10. Swindler in My Mom's House (Sarangbang Seonsu-wa Eomeoni - Korean)8.2223153,176458,374
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 94% of nationwide box office)

    Sunday, September 02, 2007

    Happy Birthday to Blog

    While posting my previous story about the fake degree scandal, I suddenly realized that KOREA POP WARS is exactly one year old. That is kind of nifty. The first article I wrote is here. Kind of amusing that it was about a Japanese band, but such are the gentle ironies of life.

    For the first couple of months, almost no one knew about KOREA POP WARS, with just a couple of visitors a day. Then in November, Darcy Paquet mentioned the blog over at KOREANFILM.ORG, and that gave me a little bump... to around a dozen or two visitors a day. Things changed pretty radically in early December when I posted the first online review of Park Chan-wook's I'M A CYBORG, BUT THAT'S OK. That grouchy little review got linked and quickly my hits spiked into the hundreds. Things died off, but then spiked again for my even grouchier RESTLESS review (both those articles still regularly show up in my Google search results).

    Feb. 1 was my biggest day ever, thanks to a prominent endorsement at THE MARMOT'S HOLE. I appreciated his enthusiasm, but honestly I would not consider this blog a "must read" by any stretch of the imagination.

    All told, KPW's first year, I wrote 187 articled (about one every other day, on average), and received 45,992 page loads and 35,834 unique visitors. Not exactly DEADLINE HOLLYWOOD DAILY, but not bad, I guess, considering the subject matter.

    Certainly the blog has unfolded differently than I thought it would. At first, I thought I might do something anonymous and full of all the fun gossip and stories I come across in my work. But I quickly realized that if I wrote the really good stuff, it would be rather obvious who I was, and people would stop talking to me about the good stuff.

    Then I thought I might be publishing extracts from my book... try to get a little feedback from people as I cranked the thing out... kind of like Chris Anderson's THE LONG TAIL. But that did not work out, either. For one, my writing process did not work like Anderson's, and did not lend itself to excerpting.

    For a while, I thought about translating the tabloids and sports newspapers, but there are already plenty of people doing that (Shenyue, Pop Seoul, etc.) ... and besides, those papers' considerable inaccuracy would have driven me bonkers quickly.

    So, in the end, what you see before you is what I did. Not quite sure how I got here or where this little project will continue to go. But for now I am here. Thanks for reading.

    6 Degrees of Obfuscation

    There has been much ink spilled over the last couple of months in Korea over the fake degree scandal, with dozens of leading figures and celebrities caught having lied about their university education and other qualifications. Good overview of the story at the IHT here (and at the New York Times, too, but the IHT links do not expire after a week).

    I find this whole scandal to be particularly amusing because years ago I was actually on the receiving end of the exact opposite situation, where I was denied a job because the prospective employer did not believe my credentials were real (even though, I assure you, they are).

    Many years ago, before this journalism thing was working for me, I applied for a teaching position at a university outside of Seoul, and I needed a Master's Degree for the position. Which I have. But the strange thing is, I earned my Master's while I was still an undergraduate. It is called "submatriculating," which is starting work on graduate school while still an undergraduate. Not all universities allow this, but mine did, and through a quirk of scheduling and my idiosyncratic interests, I ended up taking a lot of graduate level classes in my junior and senior years. End result was that I received my BA and MA at the same time.

    But the school to which I was applying had not heard of submatriculating and they told me they did not believe I could really have earned both degrees at the same time. This was despite my having original transcripts and diplomas for both degrees. They had not heard of this before, therefore I was lying. They did not bother calling my university to check out my degrees.

    Which is, I suppose, how my story intersects with all the fake degree stories in the news now -- not checking. Anyhow, I thought it was kind of an interesting flipside to the current scandals.

    Personally, I am pretty ambivalent about the whole idea of "qualifications" in the arts and writing. I never took a journalism course in my life, but I seem to have figured out how it works okay (thanks to a lot of help from some very kind journalists and editors). And the world if full of MFA graduates who make terrible art. When I go to the doctor, I want someone who is qualified. When I get legal advice, I want someone who is bar certified. But for writing, art, criticism? Screw it, I want someone creative, intriguing and who can do a good job.

    The interesting follow-up story on the fake-degree scandal I would like to read is how good of a job did all those fakers do. What did people think of Shin Jeong-ah's work as a curator/critic? Were Lee Chang-ha's buildings well designed? Were they even structurally sound? Did the monk Jigwang have less enlightenment because he never really graduated from Seoul National University? Heck, he should have just claimed to have transcended transcripts and overcome the materialism of the degree.