Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Naxos of Evil

Since the possibility of the New York Philharmonic playing in North Korea is in the news again, here are a few more artistic exchanges happening with North Korea:

  • North Korea's State Orchestra is going to play the UK for 10 days in September 2008. Interesting backstory. The Orchestra will tour thanks to an invitation by Suzannah Clarke, a soprano who has performed in North Korea since 2003. She was invited in part because she is from Middlesbrough, the city that hosted the North Korean soccer team during the World Cup of 1966. In 2002, of course, was when Daniel Gordon's documentary THE GAME OF THEIR LIVES, about North Korea's improbable World Cup run in 1966.

  • Guitarist Jason Carter played in Pyongyang earlier this year (thanks to Philip for the fun entry and all the other good stuff he does). Carter wrote all about his trip in a long blog entry. It is quite a Kool-Aid-drink, but still quite interesting. You can even listen to an MP3 of him playing THE SOUND OF SILENCE in Pyongyang.

  • In August there was an art exhibition of North Korean works in London's West End. Amusingly (or interestingly, depending on your levels of cynicism and irony) the curator met a North Korean artist in Zambabwe in 2001, which is how the whole thing got started.

  • Of course, any planning with North Korea is always pretty dicey. Remember how the Rock for Peace concert in NK turned out.

  • What does it all mean? Heck if I know. But I suspect Andrei Lankov is right, that any and all exchanges mean that more people in North Korea are being exposed to the truth, and truth will inevitably chip away at the regime up there. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, as the saying goes.
  • Korea Weekend Box Office - Oct. 26-28

    A disappointing opening for Lee Myung-se's new film M, making its debut only in third place. That works out to about $1.89 million since its release Thursday night (the KOFIC chart claims it opened on the 26th, but I am certain it was in theaters on Thursday evening). Looks like M will be hard pressed to get to 1 million admissions, let alone the 1.2 million admissions that DUELIST had.

    Most of the rest of the top 10 is basically the same as last week. Top film once again is GOING BY THE BOOK, which took in $2.9 million over the weekend to raise its total boxoffice to something over $8 million.

    SHADOWS IN THE PALACE took the second spot again, with $1.8 million over the weekend and a total boxoffice of just less than $7 million.

    COPYING BEETHOVEN still going strong in sixth after three weeks.

    Most shockingly bad opening in quite some time goes to PUNCH LADY, which had just 22,000 admissions (about $150,000) despite appearing on 240 screens. That does not even come close to paying for 240 prints, never mind the production costs and advertising.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend AttendanceTotal Attendance
    1.Going by the Book (Bareuge Salja - Korean) 10.18402421,5001,173,875
    2. Shadows in the Palace (Gungneo - Korean)10.18381266,723989,715
    3.M (Korean) 10.26451229,919276,336
    4. Resident Evil 310.18253116,701416,109
    5. Love Exposure (Eokkae Neomeo-ui Yeonin - Korean)10.1824756,036251,796
    6. Copying Beethoven10.1110130,123239,095
    7.Tokyo Tower (Japan) 10.257125,21128,901
    8.Happiness (Haengbok - Korean)10.0320923,0701,178,201
    9.Rush Hour 310.0313422,780776,106
    10. Punch Lady (Peonchi Reidi - Korean)10.2524021,44125,863
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 97% of nationwide box office)

    Interestingly, KOBIS claims its boxoffice tracking now covers 97 percent of screens in Korea. That is pretty close to complete. Nice to see the KOBIS system finally getting near total compliance.

    Korean movies now have 51.1 percent of the year's boxoffice. Hollywood is down to 43.2 percent. Quite a change in fortunes from July, when Hollywood was outpacing Korea.

    Tuesday, October 23, 2007

    Catching up on the Past

    I had a nice little surprise at Kyobo Books yesterday -- the Korean Film Archive has put out yet another box set of great old films. This set is called THE PAST UNEARTHED, and it is a collection of movies from the Japanese colonial period. Included are ANGELS ON THE STREETS (1941), SPRING OF KOREAN PENINSULA (1941), VOLUNTEER (1941) AND STRAITS OF CHOSUN (1943).

    The set comes with a booklet about the films and the period (in Korean and English) and a photo reproduction of the original script for ANGEL ON THE STREETS, in Japanese and Korean. It's all pretty funky stuff.

    Nothing in English about the film at the Korean Film Archives website yet, although you can read their Korean entry here. More about the DVD set at the Kyobo Books website here. And at less than 30,000 won, it is quite worth purchasing.


    As long as I am on the subject of the olden days, I should mention a couple of other interesting things I ran across recently.

    First, there are these old Korean singers' videos on Youtube. Totally worth checking out:
    - Kim Choo-ja
    - Kim Choo-ja
    - Kim Jung-mi
    - Kim Jung-mi (short clip)
    - Sandpebbles

    And apparently the nice people at Brothers Entertainment have set up a Kim Choo-ja website.

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Oct. 19-21

    Score another one for Jang Jin. The prolific filmmaker has another hit with the No. 1 opening of GOING BY THE BOOK. Actually, Jang only wrote the initial screenplay for the film, which was directed by Ra Hee-chan. But since Ra got his start as Jang's Assistant Director and has pretty much said he considers this to be a Jang film, let's give Jang the credit.

    I was a little surprised that SHADOWS IN THE PALACE opened only in the No. 2 spot. I guess I should not have been, but I was. SHADOWS was the debut by Kim Mi-jeong, who also was an AD on some high-profile films.

    RESIDENT EVIL 3 opened in third. No way was I going to spend money to see that film in the theaters, but I suspect once it hits cable TV, I will be watching it endlessly (probably whenever I discover it during some late night flicking).

    LOVE EXPOSURE opened in fourth. Is it my imagination, or has there been a minor flood of uninspired movies about relationships, sex, love and cheating over the past few months?

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend AttendanceTotal Attendance
    1.Going by the Book (Bareuge Salja - Korean)10.18438458,834538,352
    2. Shadows in the Palace (Gungneo - Korean)10.18427416,551511,308
    3.Resident Evil 310.18281183,376217,021
    4.Love Exposure (Eokkae Neomeo-ui Yeonin - Korean) 10.18236107,882138,332
    5. Happiness (Haengbok - Korean)10.0328872,4771,126,482
    6. Rush Hour 310.0324559,709735,390
    7. Copying Beethoven10.1117450,601189,149
    8. Becoming Jane10.1122336,570184,148
    9. Nanny Diaries10.0314328,193467,462
    10. Brave One10.1115922,363147,801
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 94% of nationwide box office)

    Up next week -- Lee Myung-se's M.

    Kind of a weird year this year. Chuseok came and went with barely a ripple, but some much more interesting films seem to be coming out now. Kind of playing havoc with people's forecasts.

    Friday, October 19, 2007

    From Mokpo Tears to Vegas Cheers

    I went to an eclectic little party yesterday evening for a new production company that is dedicated to putting together a film and a musical about the Kim Sisters.

    The Kim Sisters were Sook-ja, Mi-a and Ai-ja Kim, a trio that began singing of US troops in 1954. They were the three of the seven children of Kim Hae-song, a classical music conductor who was captured and killed by the North Koreans during the Korean War, and Lee Nan-Young, one of Korea's most famous singers before the War, perhaps best known for THE TEARS OF MOKPO.

    Lee had been singing for the foreign troops, to earn enough money for them to survive, when one day she got the idea of having three of her daughters sing, too. The girls did not know English, so they learned the songs phonetically. Just 13, 12 and 11 years old at the time, the first song they sang was the Hoagy Carmichael tune OLE BUTTERMILK SKY.

    The show went well and soon the sisters were singing regularly, all the popular music and early rock'n'roll of the day. Soldiers would give them chocolate bars, which in turn they would trade in for real food on the black market, but it was enough to get by. In 1958 they were discovered by an American agent who booked them into the Thunderbird Hotel in Las Vegas, as part of a show called the China Doll Review. The three of them earned $400 a month. After a month at the Thunderbird, they were picked up by another Vegas hotel, the Stardust, where they played for eight months.

    In 1959 they got their big break when they were asked to play on the Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan was, of course, huge back then, and being on his show made the Kim Sisters a nationally known act. Over the next 14 years, they would perform on Sullivan 22 times, the most of any performer (at least according to what I have read). They were on all the big TV shows of the day, they were featured in LIFE and NEWSWEEK and other magazines. Far from singing for chocolate, the Kim Sisters eventually were making around $13,000 a week.

    They kept performing in Vegas and elsewhere for years, although after they got married in the 1970s, the act pretty much came to an end. Ai-ja died in 1987 of lung cancer, but they other two sisters are still alive and living in the United States still.

    It certainly looks like a pretty interesting story. Given how popular musicals are in Korea these days, I am guessing they could have the most luck with that genre. But who knows?

    They definitely have some interesting people helping them out. At the opening party was a broad mix of producers, actors, artists, writers, and assorted bigwigs. I'll restrain myself from dropping names, but it was quite a cool event.

    Btw, I am not skipping the production company's name to be coy or because I am forgetful. They had a name chosen, but they found a problem with it, so now they are looking for a new name.

    Btw 2, that first link about the Kim Sisters in turn linked to a long and rather interesting interview with Kim Sook-ja, aka Sue Kim Bonafazio, as part of some oral history project at UNLV.

    Btw 3, I also found this link interesting.

    Tuesday, October 16, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Oct. 12-14
    (and Oct. 5-7, too)

    At long last, Hur Jin-ho lands on the top of the box office. Not just once, but two weeks in a row, with his latest melodrama HAPPINESS. Sure, 967,000 admissions in 10 days is not so impressive, but HAPPINESS has made Hur quite happy anyway because he has never led the box office in Korea before. Good for him. And good for Zip Cine, the company that produced the movie.

    Otherwise, the most notable thing about this week's box office to me is how egalitarian it is. The No. 10 movie, THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, is in nearly 200 theaters! And it made around $350,000. I do not recall the No. 10 films doing 50 percent as well as the No. 3 movie before. Kind of unusual.

    Also surprising is that a new Jodie Foster thriller and a new Clive Owen action film were both bested by a couple of fairly small films -- BECOMING JANE and COPYING BEETHOVEN. I am not sure what that all means, but it is kind of nifty.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend AttendanceTotal Attendance
    1.Happiness (Haengbok - Korean) 10.03341217,117967,790
    2. Rush Hour 310.03270167,384621,617
    3. Nanny Diaries10.0322998,177405,779
    4.Love (Sarang - Korean) 9.2026397,3501,966,448
    5. Becoming Jane 10.1123888,135104,719
    6. Copying Beethoven10.1116586,52799,366
    7. Brave One10.1116981,01495,473
    8. Shoot 'Em Up10.1117255,94766,932
    9. The Happy Life (Jeulgeoun Insaeng - Korean)9.1214952,9941,177,938
    10.Bourne Ultimatum 9.1219949,8011,976,069
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 94% of nationwide box office)

    Last Week's Box Office (Oct. 5-7)
    Title - Weekend Admissions - Total Nationwide Admissions

    1. Happiness (Korean) - 322,400 - 583,565
    2. Rush Hour 3 - 211,069 - 354,381
    3. Love (Korean) - 143,991 - 1,770,649
    4. The Nanny Diaries - 139,852 - 238,029
    5. The Bourne Ultimatum - 98,780 - 1,878,427
    6. The Happy Life (Korean) - 77,188 - 1,084,124
    7. Kidnapping Granny K (Korean) - 58,219 - 1,458,958
    8. Crank - 39,171 - 68,027
    9. The Mafia, The Salesman (Korean) - 31,982 - 867,188
    10. Invasion - 23,316 - 544,173

    Sunday, October 14, 2007

    Symphony for the Devil

    This is an interesting development -- the New York Philharmonic is debating whether to play in North Korea. Apparently the orchestra will be playing in China in February 2008, and since they would be in the neighborhood, they could potentially swing by Pyongyang for a show.

    Bizarre, you say? Or worse, endorsing an evil regime? I hope that is not what you are thinking, because the idea has some interesting possibilities.
    The State Department supports the trip and has helped guide the orchestra in planning. Orchestra management calls the visit purely musical and apolitical, but Korea experts say a concert in Pyongyang by a major American orchestra would be a publicity coup for North Korea.

    “This is going to be a major media event, particularly on the Korean peninsula,” said Frederick F. Carriere, the executive director of the Korea Society, a nonprofit organization that seeks closer ties between the United States and both Koreas. “You couldn’t get that from Ping-Pong, or whatever.” He said that in the view of North Korea, normalizing relations with the United States was “absolutely key” to improving ties with South Korea.

    Besides, if there is anything an orchestra understands, it is following in lock-step to the whims of a madman.

    Okay, I joke. But seriously, though, classical music still has real power to shape people's thinking. I'm reminded of Glenn Gould's trip to Russia back in the 1957. But do the North Koreans take their classical music as seriously as the Russians do (or did)?

    I just talked to Andrei Lankov (the obvious go-to guy for comparing North Korea and Russia), and he said that the North Koreans do take their classical music seriously. They have not politicized it the way the Soviet Union did (although they did ban the public performance of classical music for about 15 years, in the 1960s and 70s), and it is probably the least controversial part of high culture, accepted in a way that painting and the other Western fine arts art not.

    So if classical music is relatively accepted in NK, how can performances by the New York Philharmonic help? Well, it is always good to show Americans in a positive way publicly in North Korea. If it could lead to a North Korean orchestra playing in the United States, so much the better. Since so much of NK is built in propaganda and lies, the more channels you have to bring in outside information and influences the better.

    UPDATE: Thanks to the Marmot for the link. I also have written something of a follow-up.

    Thursday, October 11, 2007

    Spiffy PIFFy Wrap Up

    Sorry (again) for not updating the site over the past week. This year's Pusan International Film Festival was even crazier than usual (at least for me) thanks to the dailies The Hollywood Reporter published.

    In addition to the THR Dailies, though, this year's PIFF seemed different for several reasons:
    - More attention from the West
    - A typhoon
    - Ridiculous complaining by the local press (especially the online variety)


    Important news first -- I got to meet Grace Park. Yes, that Grace Park, of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA fame. She was in town promoting her new film (CJ Entertainment's WEST 32ND) and participating in the Asia Pacific Actors Network.

    No, she was not dressed like that when I met her. She had this 1970s hair thing going on (feathered), but she looked good. Okay, we did not talk very much, just brief chitchat at some loud party, but my inner-geek was pleased.

    By the way, random observation -- Yes, Grace Park is an attractive woman... but doesn't she look like Astro Boy?

    Anyhow, due to the Asia Pacific Actors Network starting this year and the Star Summit Asia (now in its second year), there were more celebrities than I remember seeing before at PIFF. Daniel Dae Kim was there, Jason Scott Lee, John Cho (also in WEST 32ND).

    Gore Verbinski (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN) and Michelle Yeoh also attended. Peter Greenaway, too, but I missed his events, which had me a little annoyed with myself. Sure, his movies are crazy pretentious, but I rather like them. Plenty of agents and other business people walking around, too.

    No shortage of regional celebrities, either, and they were easily the most popular and recognizable stars for Busan film fans. Takuya Kimura and some guy from Super Junior were especially popular with the 13-year-old girls, who turned out in force this year. They were nutty.

    While in general I am not a big fan of actors (nothing particularly wrong with the job, but usually I find the writers and directors to be more interesting), I was very pleased to have met Kong Hyo-jin. What a charming young woman. She and Hong Suk-chon were goofing around and being pretty amusing at the APAN party. Good times.


    PIFF has generally enjoyed pretty good press since it started in 1996. But this year, the complaining and crying by the press was pretty amazing, especially by the Internet press (and by the English-language local media -- you can read a representative whine here)

    There were three major complaints/accusations about this year's PIFF:
    1) Ennio Morricone was treated poorly and left in a huff
    2) The PIFF Pavilion leaked rain badly
    3) The M press conference was a mess

    Okay, the truth about Morricone, as far as I know. Morricone led a concert in Seoul on Wednesday (Oct. 3) night. He flew down to Busan on Thursday and, despite feeling ill (the dude is 80), he agreed to show up to the opening ceremonies, at least briefly. Morricone was picked up at the airport by one of PIFF's programmers (sadly, without a translator) and driven to his hotel.

    Then he was taken to the opening ceremonies. There was a little disorganization backstage for a few minutes because of the politicians who wanted to attend (particularly Lee Myung-bak, who was quite late). PIFF organizers said it was about 5 minutes, while another person I talked to estimated it was longer. Morricone and his wife were then introduced and led to their seats.

    After a few minutes, because he was feeling ill, Morricone went back to his hotel and skipped the opening party. He left early the next day, as scheduled.

    No idea where the rumor started that he felt mistreated by PIFF. After all, he did the hand printing. If he was so angry, why would he have done that? There is absolutely no proof that anything bad happened (besides the delay at the opening ceremonies). Just a lot of silly gossip.

    As for the leaking PIFF Pavilion, well, yeah, it leaked. But there was a tropical depression (the remnants of Supertyphoon Krosa) sweeping through.

    I think a lot of the bad press stemmed from the press conference for Lee Myung-se's new movie, M. It was really overcrowded (again, thanks to the Internet press, whose numbers are as legion as their credentials are not). Thanks to the chaos, Lee talked for only 20 minutes, not the scheduled hour.

    Obviously PIFF has to work out its policy toward the press and online press by next year. But I think this is where PIFF's problems really began. The bad event put a lot of journalists (and "journalists") into a bad mood. And once the Internet turns on you, the griping just keeps on piling up. Really pretty petty, at least in my book. Some people need to grow up.


    This was the first PIFF ever in its 12 fine years to get major rain on opening night. Although it did stop the moment the opening movie, ASSEMBLY, started.

    But a couple of days later, the remnants of supertyphoon Krosa hit Korea. There was not much left after it hit Taiwan and China badly, but it was still impressively rainy and windy. Best of all, the waves at Haeundae Beach were incredible. I went out swimming a little on Tuesday, when they were at their peak, and it was wonderfully scary (especially since Haeundae has a mean undertow). Good stuff.

    Despite the weather, it looks like attendance was still pretty good this year. Something over 190,000 is the early estimate.


    Jonathan Landreth, the Asia Editor of The Hollywood Reporter, snagged the scoop that Korean-American director John H. Lee will remake John Woo's THE KILLER. Jonathan and I sat down with Lee and had a great talk about his plans for the film and his other work and I was pleasantly surprised (you can read the interview in the Day 7 PDF file, or go here).

    Like a lot of people, I was rather surprised when I heard about the remake. Especially since Lee's last film, the melodrama A MOMENT TO REMEMBER, was pretty far from the guns-ablazing style of Woo. But Lee had a lot of interesting ideas for his version. He definitely is not just transplanting the same story from Hong Kong to Los Angeles. He has a bunch of cool ideas.

    But more than THE KILLER remake, Lee has a bunch of other great projects in the works.

    Other fun movie stuff... I met the music director for the coming Korean film GO-GO SEVENTIES, which I am really looking forward to seeing. And Jonathan also interviewed Yi Ling, the director of YASUKUNI, a really interesting documentary about the controversial shrine (THR's review here).

    Sadly, the only movie I was able to see was the opener, ASSEMBLY. ASSEMBLY is about the Chinese civil war, and hte film is most notable for using the special effects team from TAEGUKGI for the (long) battle scenes. The movie was okay to look at, but the big battles in the first half went on and on and on, and the second hour was mostly a lot of histrionics and Communist Party history. I found it boring.


    It was the first time THR printed dailies, and for several reasons we decided to team up with Korea's CINE 21 and publish dailies together. After all, CINE 21 has been publishing their own dailies at PIFF for years (since the beginning?), and rather than try to reinvent the wheel, we decided to work together. Luckily, the cool cats at CINE 21 thought it was a good idea, too, and so a fun partnership was formed.

    Cool things about working together with CINE 21:
    - Great distribution. The publish around 15,000 copies of each issue, so we were really everywhere.
    - Good format. Usually CINE 21's dailies are just a simple matt-finish, basic magazine. So imagine our surprise when we received the first issue on Thursday and it was printed on great, shiny stock. No one told us they were going to change. No one even told CINE 21's dailies editor.
    - Another format point -- THR and CINE 21 are almost the exact same size anyway, so it was natural for our publications to fit together (the other international trade magazines are all printed on larger paper).
    - Again, good people. A very helpful and fun crew.

    If you are interested, you can see PDF versions of all eight dailies at

    Thursday, October 04, 2007

    PIFF Preparations

    So this year is the first time The Hollywood Reporter has published dailies at the Pusan International Film Festival. In order to get the dailies up and running, I had to arrive in Busan on Tuesday, along with a team of people from Los Angeles and some others.

    (The dailies do not appear to be available on the Internet, but you can read our various stories here).

    It was kind of nice to get here a couple of days early and have time to get my bearings before the festival craziness begins. Tuesday night I zipped up to the Pusan National University area (for the first time in years) to check out some of the old haunts and see a friend I had not seen in years. I could barely remember the neighborhood, but it was good to check it out again.

    One of the first things I saw in Busan when I arrived was a really big sign that proclaimed "No Piracy Allowed in Korea", which caused me to nearly hurt myself laughing. Turns out the government is launching a new anti-piracy awareness program (see Gregg Kilday's story here), so the posters are more a statement of intent than a reflection of reality.

    Today the festival begins for real. ASSEMBLY is the opening film. Oodles of people are arriving. I suspect my leisurely pace is about to change radically.

    Monday, October 01, 2007

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Sept. 28-30

    Busy getting ready for the Pusan International Film Festival, so no time for comments this week. Besides, it was a pretty uneventful weekend at the box office.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend AttendanceTotal Attendance
    1.Love (Sarang - Korean) 9.20395216,8581,319,685
    2.The Bourne Ultimatum 9.12314141,2711,588,769
    3. Mission Possible: Kidnapping Granny K (Gwonsunbunyeosa Namchisageon - Korean)9.1236193,5991,256,390
    4.The Happy Life (Jeulgeoun Insaeng - Korean) 9.1230292,908873,298
    5. The Mafia, The Salesman (Sangsabuilche - Korean) 9.2034181,025733,006
    6. Invasion9.2022067,615440,043
    7. The Two Faces of My Girlfriend (Du Eolgul-ui Yeochin - Korean)9.1228235,164661,806
    8. My Father (Mai Padeo - Korean)9.0618922,289829,449
    9. Once9.20128,60732,026
    10. Mother Never Dies (Eomeonineun Jukji Anhneunda - Korean)9.12161,777120,669
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 94% of nationwide box office)