Tuesday, December 30, 2008

First Review for POP GOES KOREA

Another personal milestone -- the first online review of POP GOES KOREA. Kind of exciting to get that kind of feedback, especially from someone who I do not know. And best of all, it is a pretty good review.

POP GOES KOREA is reviewed alongside East Asian Pop Culture: Analysing the Korean Wave (Hong Kong University Press), and the reviewer says:
Both books are highly recommended and complement each other — but Pop Goes Korea is a better starting point for the average reader looking for a basic understanding of Korean pop culture.


Oh, my book was also briefly mentioned in a post at Ain't It Cool, although it was not reviewed. Still, it feels good to be noticed.

Korea Weekend Box Office - Dec. 26-28

Looks like Korean movies will end the year on a bit of a high note, as the No. 1 spot at the box office went to the local film SCANDAL MAKERS (aka OVERSPEED SCANDAL, aka SPEED SCANDAL, aka GWASOK SEUKAENDEUL) (and even SCANDLE MAKERS, which I assume and hope was just a typo).

Anyhow, SCANDAL is still going strong, a month after its release. Buoyed by the Christmas holidays, SCANDAL upped its total take at the box office to about 24 billion won (or $18.7 million, depending on what the exchange rate is doing at the moment). That is about 3.7 million admissions. Best of all, its 487,000 admissions over the weekend is still better than the film's opening weekend four weeks ago.

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL came in second with over $1.7 million. But thanks to the Christmas bump, it has grossed nearly $5 million since its release on Dec. 24.

Miyakazi's latest, PONYO ON THE CLIFF BY THE SEA, is in third, with a decent but not great $1.1 million, bringing its total to $4.5 million. I am surprised. I thought it would have gotten a bigger bump from the holidays.

The only other Korean films were at the bottom of the top-10 -- LOST & FOUND held at No. 7, and ROMANTIC ISLAND bombed with a 10th place debut.

This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
1.Scandal Makers (Gwasok Seukaendeul - Korean) 12.044023.2524.27
2.The Day the Earth Stood Still 12.244902.206.35
3.Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea 12.173671.345.83
4.Yes Man 12.182511.084.20
5. Journey to the Center of the Earth 12.182881.005.47
6.Twilight 12.112590.507.88
7.Lost and Found (Dalkomhan Geojitmal - Korean)12.182770.392.62
8.Australia 12.112140.335.78
9.Niko 12.241470.240.59
10.Romantic Island - Korean 12.242100.240.72
(Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

It really was just a top-10 this week. After the 10th place film, no other movie was playing on more than nine screens in the whole country.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Hollywood Eyes on Korean Movies

A little good news for the Korean film industry at the end of a tough year. Two Korean movies appeared on the International Watch List, an unofficial survey of 50 Hollywood film industry executives and their assistants. They were asked to vote for up to five international features and five short films released in 2008, "to highlight new filmmaking talent from abroad, to inspire creativity and spread the word about the international favorites of the year."

No surprised which two films made the list, as they were the most successful two Korean films last year -- Na Hong-jin's THE CHASER (which tied for third with eight votes) and Kim Jee-woon's THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD (four votes).

I wonder how long that International Watch List has been compiled. Would be interesting to see what films appeared on it in past years.

(Thanks to Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Discovering Hip Korea

Korea Herald (along with countless Korean language outlets and fan sites) is reporting that the Discovery Channel is going to air a couple of documentaries called HIP KOREA this spring. One will be about the singer Rain (Jung Ji-hoon) and is subtitled "Seoul Vibes," while the other is about Lee Byung-hun and is called "Seoul Savvy."

Actually, this was reported in the foreign press over two weeks ago.

As for what it all means, I will excuse myself from commenting for now. But I hope people really enjoy the shows.

Korea Weekend Box Office - Dec. 19-20

After three weekends in a row in the No. 1 spot, seems safe to say that OVERSPEED SCANDAL is a solid hit. In fact, it made more money last weekend than it did the opening weekend. Despite a bad trailer, people really like it and are giving it good word of mouth.

I am a little surprised that PONYO ON THE CLIFF BY THE SEA, the latest animated film by Hayao Miyazaki, did not open better. But with the Christmas holidays, I suppose the film's distributors are hoping to get a kick from the kiddie crowd over the next couple of weeks.

After that, we have a block of Hollywood dreck, with JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH in third, TWILIGHT in fourth, YES MAN in fifth and AUSTRALIA in sixth.

Winner of the butt-kicking-of-the-week award goes to LOST AND FOUND, which despite opening on 480 screens, could only manage $740,000, or 7th place. Ouch.

I was happy to see David Cronenberg's latest (abeit from 2007) film EASTERN PROMISES sneak into the top 10 (albeit is a tiny $20,000). A fun little film from one of my favorite directors. And, of course, some quality gore.

This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
1.Overspeed Scandal (Gwasok Scandal - Korean) 12.045293.5916.50
2.Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea 12.175202.122.55
3.Journey to the Center of the Earth 12.184552.082.60
4.Twilight 12.114211.366.40
5. Yes Man 12.183231.261.66
6.Australia 12.114521.014.83
7.Lost and Found (Dalkomhan Geojitmal - Korean) 12.184800.971.35
8.Portrait of a Beauty (Miindo - Korean) 11.13770.06215.55
9.Tropic Thunder 12.11900.0220.46
10.Eastern Promises 12.10160.0200.094
(Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

FYI, MAMMA MIA is lurking in Korea still, coming in 11th this week, despite appearing on just seven screens nationwide. Not bad for a movie that opened in the beginning of September.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

2008's Indie Music

Hey, Philip finally posted my thoughts about the year 2008 in music over at his London Korean Links. I think 2008 was the best year in music in Korea in ages and really enjoyed writing something so positive.

You can also read Anna Lindgren's choices for 2008 here. I have said it before, but Anna just amazes me with her ability to discover and write so much about Korean indie music from the other side of the world. Check out her music blog if you don't believe me.

Someone names Saharial also wrote on LKL about her 2008 choices. Much more conventional Korean pop, but still well written and interesting.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Korea Weekend Box Office - Dec. 12-14

Despite two big Hollywood openings this week -- TWILIGHT and AUSTRALIA -- the Korean film OVERSPEED SCANDAL held on to the No. 1 spot last weekend, taking in $2.7 million. Its 10-day total is now at $7.3 million.

TROPIC THUNDER flopped badly, but not unexpectedly, as most comedies of this sort flop in Korea. Animated animals do fine, and romantic comedies are okay, but the Ben Stiller, Jack Black, gross-out, school of modern American comedy just does not travel well at all.

PORTRAIT OF THE BEAUTY is slowing down after a month in release, but still did well enough to land in fourth. It also officially moved ahead of QUANTUM OF SOLACE last week.

Oh, and MAMMA MIA may be down to 15th, but it has now topped 30 billion won (about $22 million), a nice, round achievement.

This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
1.Overspeed Scandal (Gwasok Scandal - Korean) 12.044873.649.96
2.Twilight 12.114412.723.57
3.Australia 12.115092.022.62
4.Portrait of a Beauty (Miindo - Korean) 11.133060.5115.19
5. Tropic Thunder 12.111310.260.33
6.Hello, Schoolgirl (Sunjeong Manhwa - Korean) 11.272880.254.56
7.The Accidental Gangster and the Mistaken Courtesan (1724 Gibang Nandong Sageon - Korean)12.043030.211.79
8.Saw V 12.041910.110.98
9.4-Yoil - Korean 12.111600.0890.13
10.Quantum of Solace 11.051040.05114.61
(Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

A big week ahead, as DALKOMHAN GEOJITMAL, PONYO ON THE CLIFF BY THE SEA and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH all square off. I will take the sentimental favorite and guess that Miyazaki's latest will come out on top.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

About iFricking Time...

Looks like Korea will finally be getting the iPhone, the Blackberry and all those other nice, international goodies of the modern age. The Korea Communications Commission has just ruled that started in April 2009, companies will be able to see phones in Korea without its obnoxious WIPI non-standard. Huzzah!

WIPI was a local "standard" developed back in 2001 that, unfortunately, no one else in the world considered worth using. Instead it became a de facto trade barrier, as it was not worth it for non-Korean phone companies to make their phones WIKI-compatible just for this one market. The result -- no Blackberries, no Nokia, no iPhones in this supposedly tech-savvy market. Kind of weird. Definitely inconvenient.

You could tell that the barrier had to fall sooner or later. Blackberry, for example, hosted an event at the Pusan International Film Festival back in October; I doubt they would have done that unless they knew they would be coming to Korea soon.

Now, do I go for the Blackberry or the iPhone... (Since none of my friends like their Heptic or Prada phones, I doubt I will be buying either of those options).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

POP GOES KOREA Comes to Korea

At long (loooong) last, it is done -- I now have copies of POP GOES KOREA in my hands.

(And there was much rejoicing.)

My first thought -- Nice!

My second thought -- Don't let there by a typo on the cover.

My third thought -- Dontlettherebeatypoonthecover-dontlettherebeatypoonthecover...

Fortunately, I am pretty sure there are no typos on the cover.

Many thanks to all the good people at Stone Bridge Press for doing such a nice job. Great design, lots of color pictures, and very catchy. And there is a very well done index in the book, to help out any academic types.

It took a long time to get here. Well over a year (two years?) of just pitching the idea to numerous publishers. Then writing the first draft. Then re-writing, answering questions, and all the work needed to get the book into good enough shape to go to press.

Thanks to the many, many people I bothered and pestered, too. A lot of people had to answer a lot of questions for me to write this. I really appreciate everybody's help very much.

And now, we wait for the reviews...

So... what to do next? Another book? Something totally different? Hopefully I will have something interesting to report here before too long.

(Oh, and so far I have found two typos in the book. Sigh.)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Korea Weekend Box Office - Dec. 5-7

Ack! Like a monster from a 1950s horror film, MAMMA MIA! just won't die. Over three months on, and the silly singing showcase has re-emerged on the top 10. Blessedly, way down in 10th (making less than $20,000). But still, kind of scary.

Anyhow, on with the real top-10. For the most part, this was a pretty good week for Korean films, as they accounted for the entire top 4 films. Plus ANTIQUE down in eighth, that gives Korean movies half of the top-10. Not bad.

After a strong preview release last week, OVERSPEED SCANDAL took the top spot with about $2.2 million or so (at about 1,450 won/dollar); that's about 475,000 admissions. Thanks to its early opening, that brings its total box office to about $3 million.

PORTRAIT OF A BEAUTY continued its strong run, landing in second this week, raising its total to nearly $10 million.

I have no idea what's up with THE ACCIDENTAL GANGSTER AND THE MISTAKEN COURTESAN (as KOFIC calls it) -- or DISTURBANCE IN HER BARROOM (as Darcy calls it). Two very odd English titles.

Down in fourth was HELLO, SCHOOLGIRL, which has not received very good reviews from my friends. As for me, I'll just re-read the comic book.

This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
1.Overspeed Scandal (Gwasok Scandal - Korean) 12.044703.164.38
2.Portrait of a Beauty (Miindo - Korean) 11.133681.1714.17
3.The Accidental Gangster and the Mistaken Courtesan (1724 Gibang Nandong Sageon - Korean) 12.044010.951.27
4.Hello, Schoolgirl (Sunjeong Manhwa - Korean) 11.273580.904.05
5. Saw V 12.041760.540.72
6.Blindness 11.202300.444.19
7.Quantum of Solace 11.052700.4114.46
8.Antique (Seoyang Goldong Yanggwajajeom Antique - Korean) 11.132370.197.30
9.Max Payne 11.20830.0631.61
10.Mamma Mia! 9.04590.2729.14
(Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Pop Wars and Economic Skirmishes (and Random Ramblings)

Hard to say if the global economic downturn is affecting Korea's media market much: popular sentiment here was already pretty dismal, long before Wall Street started to crash and burn.

Even during the record-breaking days of 2006, many producers complained that all the money was just going to a couple of big hits and that average films were being hammered. Which I always found a pretty crazy argument. You're telling me movie attendance can go from 42 million to 160 million in 10 years, but business is bad?

Then when attendance declined in 2007 and this year, the industry really got scared. A lot of apocalyptic talk. Producers trying to move into theatrical musicals (the big growth field in the Korean cultural industry these days). You would think it was the end of days.

So far, though, I have not heard about any interesting projects being canceled because of financing problems (key word, "interesting"). Sure, Park Kwang-hyun's FIST got the axe (along with the entire Motion 101 production company), but that was a most unusual situation (who knows what is going on with parent company Orion?). Plus, I would argue, the movie did not look very interesting.

In fact, from what I can see, there are a lot of interesting projects proceeding quite nicely. All too early to talk about, but there is still plenty of ambition and creativity in the pipeline. And it seems that there is still plenty of foreign money ready to come into Korea. Not in the form of presales, like a few years ago, but for investing and co-productions.

So the biggest problem remains that same problem that the industry has had for several years -- developing new talent. There is no problem finding financing for the Park Chan-wooks and Kim Jee-woons of this world. Where life is toughest is for the budding talents trying to make a name for themselves. The new blood that is so needed to keep an industry fresh and full of life.

  • And to give you an idea how much things are changing, you now have movies and short videos being made just for mobile players (DMB phones, those hand-held screens you see on the subway). Sure, there is no money in that yet, and no one has made a project for mobile that has been a big hit. But it is certainly a sign that yet another medium in Korea is being transformed by the digital age.

  • Just to give you some statistics... According to the latest box office report by CJ CGV (no link, sorry), attendance is well off this year from the last two years -- through November, Korea had 134.9 million admissions, down from 141.5 million last year and 150.4 from the record-breaking 2006. That is down 10 percent over the past two years.

    But what is really interesting to me is where attendance is down. For example, Seoul attendance is down only slightly from 2006, and actually up a little from last year. It is the countryside where attendance has plummeted.

    Not coincidentally, local movie attendance is way down (since the countryside is much more interested in Korean films than Seoul is) -- 98.5 million admissions in the first 11 months of 2006, but 56.8 million this year. That's a plunge of 42.3 percent. Yikes.

  • Btw, for all you screen quota fans out there, even with the plunge, Korean films have still accounted for over 42 percent of all admissions this year, still above the old quota's 40 percent. So no blaming the reduction of the screen quota on the industry's current mess.

  • Btw 2, according to KOBIS, there have been 91 Korean films released this year. About the same as the last couple of years. I am surprised, though, because the story I heard earlier in the year was that many fewer films had been made and released in 2008. Certainly in the first half of the year, very few Korean films were released. I guess they caught up since the summer. Or maybe KOBIS is not accurate. I need to find someone to explain this to me better.

  • Only one South Korean film at Sundance in January (at least in the competitive sections):
    Old Partner/South Korea (Director: Chung-ryoul Lee) - A humble octogenarian farmer lives out his final days with his spitfire wife and his loyal old ox in the Korean countryside. North American Premiere.

  • What's this rumor I heard about a prominent producer taking the money and running? I just called his/her office and the phones were working and the employees were coming in (so the worst stories are untrue). But if it is basically true, it is kind of amazing. I just hope things work out for the employees there.

  • Hong Sang-soo will be one of the three filmmakers making a digital short film for the Jeonju International Film Festival this year.

  • Lately, I have been spending far more time than I would like in Seoul's trendy Gangnam district. But one thing I have been pleasantly surprised by is the number of Indian and ethnic restaurants there. Definitely a good sign for Korea, that it is getting more and more diverse restaurants. Heck, there is an Indian restaurant around the corner from my house (which is not, I assure you, in a hip neighborhood at all).

  • On the other hand, could there be more coffee shops down in Gangnam? Four Coffee Beans just on this one stretch of road by the subway station. Plus all the Starbucks, Twosome Places, Tom & Tom's, etc... Crazy.
  • Tuesday, December 02, 2008

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Nov. 28-Dec. 1

    Five out of the top-10 films this week were Korean, including the top two films. That is a surprisingly strong showing for them. Yeah, Korean movies. Who knows, maybe they can creep up over 45% of the box office for year (at the moment they are just under 42%). No, there is nothing super-exciting coming in the way of Korean movies, but the Hollywood competition looks even more underwhelming. In fact, I would not be surprised if Miyazaki's PONYO ON THE CLIFF BY THE SEA was the biggest hit of December.

    Top film over the weekend was the adaptation of Kang Full's CARTOON ROMANCE comic book, retitled by MNFC as HELLO, SCHOOLGIRL. CARTOON ROMANCE was, of course, the online comic strip that made Kang famous (and went a long way to making online comics popular in Korea). Other movies made from his stories have not fared so well (APT, BA:BO), but I think it is safe to say that CARTOON ROMANCE is Kang's most loved series, so it is not surprising it had a built-in audience.

    A strong pre-opening for OVERSPEED SCANDAL, the latest Cha Tae-hyun film. I have only seen the trailer so far, but I was pretty unimpressed. Especially considering how the biggest "joke" in the trailer was a PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES-esque sequence... but involving a potential father-daughter relationship. Two straight guys in bed together -- funny. A guy and a girl who might be father-daughter -- not funny. Just icky. Or maybe I am just an uptight fuddy-duddy. Who knows?

    PORTRAIT OF A LADY is still doing quite well, with nearly $8 million so far. The new Bond film is doing all right, too, although it is definitely flagging. Oh, and ANTIQUE is not over the 1-million admissions point, which is always nice.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
    1.Hello, Schoolgirl (Sunjeong Manhwa - Korean) 11.274612.012.45
    2.Portrait of a Beauty (Miindo - Korean) 11.134752.0412.10
    3.Blindness 11.202961.043.40
    4.Quantum of Solace 11.054221.0013.75
    5. Antique (Seoyang Goldong Yanggwajajeom Antique - Korean) 11.133740.726.88
    6.Overspeed Scandal (Gwasok Scandal - Korean) 12.042270.480.57
    7.Max Payne 11.201940.281.46
    8.Connected 11.202660.211.03
    9.My Wife Got Married (Anaega Gyeolhonhaessda - Korean) 10.231660.1412.01
    10.Lie With Me 11.13420.0680.41
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

    So I saw PORTRAIT OF THE LADY over the weekend and was pleasantly surprised. No, the film is not a classic. And the last hour or so is a hopeless simpa cryfest. But when the film is light and sexual, it is surprisingly fun and engaging. The sex is at once erotic and amusing (for the most part). These scene with the sex book and the dude calling out numbers was pretty daring, too.

    The cinematographer needs to learn how to film Kim Min-sun, though. Sometimes she looked quite pretty, but other times she looked dreadful. Someone had no idea how to photograph her correctly.

    Anyhow, funny to think how 10 years ago, people were all upset over Jang Sun-woo's LIES, a sexual film about a man's relationship with a high school girl. And now the top two films are all about sex and a man's relationship with a high school girl (although, since I have not seen SCHOOLGIRL yet, I don't know how much the filmmakers changed the storyline from the graphic novel).

    Friday, November 28, 2008

    We'll Be Right Back, After This Word
    — And Why That's a Good Thing

    Some very happy news from the Korean courts Thursday -- Korea's Constitutional Court ruled that the state-run television ad agency KOBACO is unconstitutional.

    Now, that might seem like an obscure thing to be happy about, but I assure you this is great news. You see, the Korea Broadcast Advertising Corporation currently is responsible for all aspects of TV advertising in Korea. It sets the rates and times for ads, collects the money and doles it out, all in one shop. And only KOBACO is allowed to do this. The result is the highly regulated, uncompetitive, and bizarre thing we call Korean television.

    Of course, KOBACO justifies what it does in the name of "fairness" (as bureaucrats always do). But the result of KOBACO is anything but fair.
  • Advertisers get very little control over when their ads air.
  • TV stations do not get as much ad revenue as they could on the open market.
  • Neither advertiser nor broadcaster has much flexibility over the ad market.
  • Therefore TV stations have much less money to create programs, so their programs are that much cheaper and cheesier than they could be.
  • Also, there is little incentive to experiment with program styles, since the channels' revenues do not vary much, regardless of what they air.

    Years ago, a former ad guy told me that KOBACO is a "zombie corporation" -- that is, it is already dead, but it keeps on moving. In fact, the government passed legislation what would have ended KOBACO's monopoly back in 2001, but that was not enough to kill it either.

    Everybody knows that it is a relic from Korea's authoritarian past, but the government loved KOBACO, and was loath to give it up. It was set up under Chun Doo-hwan to keep control over Korea's television stations (way back before SBS began and long before anyone had even thought of cable TV).

    The government tried to dress up KOBACO and make it pretty -- for example, it must use a certain percentage (around 6%) of revenues for public projects. The Press Center, the Korean Broadcasters Center, and the Seoul Arts Center were all built using KOBACO money (and the Arirang TV building).

    With KOBACO's monopoly coming to an end in 2009, this could potentially really open up the Korean TV markets. Which should mean more money for the TV channels, more money for TV programs, and then hopefully better TV programs. And, if we are really lucky, we might get some more diversity, too.
  • Tuesday, November 25, 2008

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Nov. 21-23

    Sorry for the lack of updates last week. I was in Spain and did not have access to my computer. Had a very good time, though. If you are tempted to go, I highly recommend November (at least for the south) -- clear skies and 20 degrees every day, not so many tourists around, plenty of hotel rooms to be found.

    Anyhow, as for movies, the sexy Kim Min-sun film PORTRAIT OF A BEAUTY was the top film for a second week in a row, taking in 2.8 billion won (or about $1.9 million... thanks to the every more depressing exchange rate). After two weeks, it has now made about $6 million, or a decent 1.3 million admissions.

    By the way, isn't it amazing that it has been about nine years since Kim starred in MEMENTO MORI? Definitely one of the most interesting films from the heyday of the Korean film boom.

    Second also went to a Korean film, ANTIQUE, an adaption from a Japanese comic book.

    The latest James Bond film continued to do okay, but nothing overwhelming -- around $8.2 million after three weeks. (I miss the great Bond riots of 2002, when DIE ANOTHER DAY was in the theaters).

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
    1.Portrait of a Beauty (Miindo - Korean) 11.134982.808.59
    2.Antique (Seoyang Goldong Yanggwajajeom Antique - Korean) 11.134371.385.52
    3.Quantum of Solace 11.054351.3712.16
    4.Blindness 11.202841.371.65
    5. Max Paine 11.201970.700.88
    6.Connected 11.202220.440.57
    7.My Wife Got Married (Anaega Gyeolhonhaessda - Korean) 10.232420.3011.71
    8.The Bank Job 10.301330.133.52
    9.Fly Me to the Moon 10.30960.0951.07
    10.Let Me In 11.13420.0940.30
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

    Will try to think of something interesting or useful to say this week, once I have re-adjusted to the Korean time zone.

    Friday, November 14, 2008

    Unearthing the Past II -- Even More Past

    I had a nice little surprise today when I went browsing through Kyobo Books downtown -- I discovered a new volume of THE PAST UNEARTHED, the Korean Film Archive's collection of colonial era Korean films.

    If you recall, I wrote about the first box set of colonial era films here. This set has three films in it -- SWEET DREAM (1936), MILITARY TRAIN (1938) and FISHERMAN'S FIRE (1939). Sadly, I have not had time to watch them yet, but I hope to write about them fairly soon.

    SWEET DREAM in particular looks interesting, as it is the oldest surviving Korean film (at least that we know of). The set also has a few bits of pieces from other films that have survived.

    As usual, the packaging is superb (except perhaps for being too tight... hard to get the booklet and DVDs out the first time). Most interesting to me was the inner DVD box, which had a reproduction of a newspaper page from the colonial era.

    You can buy your own copy of THE PAST UNEARTHED from Kyobo Books. You can even order it online.

    Wednesday, November 12, 2008

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Nov. 7-9

    James Bond has a pretty good opening last weekend. Not record-breaking or anything amazing, but pretty good -- almost 900,000 admissions and $4.3 million. Personally, I thought it was a noisy, annoying film. Exceptionally well done... but so well done technically that it was pretty empty. Also, it gave me a headache.

    Kind of cool, though, that it was released a week before the US market.

    Otherwise, not a lot of insights to add. Yet another film with a ONCE UPON A TIME English title opened, but no one seemed to care. Really, that title should be retired, like Wayne Gretzky or Michael Jordan's jersey.

    Not sure what I think of the manga adaptation ANTIQUE. Very middling advertising campaign. Love that food pr0n, but this was not a great example of the genre.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
    1.Quantum of Solace 11.055744.485.72
    2.My Wife Got Married (Anaega Gyeolhonhaessda - Korean) 10.233861.429/83
    3.The Bank Job 10.302500.692.50
    4.Eagle Eye 10.092880.5814.04
    5. Fly Me to the Moon 10.301790.330.78
    6.Once Upon a Time in Seoul (Sonyeon-eun Ulji Anhneunda - Korean) 11.062410.330.40
    7.Mamma Mia! 9.042100.2828.58
    8.Body of Lies 10.232600.263.59
    9.Antique (Seoyangroldongyang-gwajeom aentikeu - Korean) 11.131810.230.24
    10.Good & Bye 10.301660.140.68
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

    PS: Forget to mention -- Zach Snyder was in town on Monday, shilling for THE WATCHMEN. And like a total idiot, I forgot to go. I am really hating myself right now. THE WATCHMEN is looking great and it is one of my favorite comic books ever. Sigh.

    Sunday, November 09, 2008

    Dancing on the DMZ

    I just noticed that Matthew Harding, the dancing world traveler of Where the Hell Is Matt? fame, has a third video out, documenting yet another global jig.

    And in this video, Korea gets not one, but two segments -- on the DMZ at about 1:45 and in front of Namdaemun at 2:45 (or is it Dongdaemun?).

    As always, a fun and enviable video. I like watching all of Matt's videos, if only to shame myself into seeing more of this big world.

    Or you can go here.

    Wednesday, November 05, 2008

    November 17

    Happy news. I just received the official shipping date for POP GOES KOREA -- Nov. 17. Just a couple of weeks from now. Of course, it will take a little time from then for the bookstores and, etc. to get their copies. But the important thing is that POP GOES KOREA will be on store shelves very soon. And in time for Christmas, so be sure to tell Santa.

    Apologies to everyone who ordered the book earlier in the year when said it would be shipping in July. But you should be receiving yours soon. now says Jan. 1, but hopefully we can speed things up a bit.

    Really looking forward to receiving my first copy...

    Tuesday, November 04, 2008

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Oct. 31-Nov. 2

    A boring weekend at the box office, with no films doing terribly well. MY WIFE GOT MARRIED was No. 1 for the second week in a row and how now topped the 1-million-admissions mark. EAGLE EYE has topped 2 million. Only two Korean films in the top 10 (albeit one is the No. 1 movie).

    Hopefully James Bond can shake things up next weekend, when QUANTUM OF SOLACE is released early.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
    1.My Wife Got Married (Anaega Gyeolhonhaessda - Korean) 10.234711.806.84
    2.Bank Job 10.302750.971.12
    3.Eagle Eye 10.093280.9412.88
    4.Body of Lies 10.232860.682.87
    5. Mamma Mia 9.042640.3428.02
    6.Fly Me to the Moon 10.301930.300.32
    7.Good & Bye 10.302030.260.35
    8.Crush & Blush (Miss Hong Dang Mu - Korean) 10.162250.183.34
    9.Painted Skin 10.231910.120.85
    10.26 Years Diary 10.301830.0920.12
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

    In other box office news... the Joy Division movie CONTROL opened way down in 25th, with less than $5,000. Bong Joon-ho's TOKYO! was 15th, and how now made $136,000 since opening a couple of weeks ago. Moon So-ri's SAGWA/APOLOGY was in 21, and has now made $283,000. Kim Ki-duk's BIMONG is nearly finished, with $455,000.

    (Note: currently using 1,260 won/dollar. But I am sure that will keep changing, hour by hour).

    Saturday, November 01, 2008

    Sanullim on CD (at last)

    Big thanks to Anna and Orienkorean over at Indieful ROK for pointing out that an amazing 17-CD boxset of Sanullim's albums is about to be released (Nov. 26).

    Sanullim is, of course, the biggest Korean rock band from the late 1970s. Their first album was released in 1976 and was a classic. Their second album was probably their best. After Shin Joong-hyun and the rockers of the 1960s and early 1970s got into trouble with the government for various reasons, Sanullim was considered a much safer band, mostly singing about love and food, nothing political. Later on, they made several albums for kids, too.

    Sanullim's albums were all issued in CD format years ago. I bought a couple but always put off picking up the rest of them for one reason or another until it was too late -- everything was out of print. Some details about Sanullim's albums are here and here. Best essay about them is here.

    Hey! Someone even set up a Sanullim Myspace page. That's kind of cool.

    And Shin Joong-hyun at Myspace, too. I fear I am about to be sucked in to a long spell of distraction...

    Tuesday, October 28, 2008

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Oct. 24-26

    A top-11 this week, in honor of Bong Joon-ho's latest film, one-third of the triptych TOKYO!, which opened in eleventh.

    But the top film this week was a Korean film, MY WIFE GOT MARRIED, pulling in just over 500,000 admissions since its release on Thursday. I think I am too depressed by the dollar-won exchange rate to convert its revenues into US dollars... suffice it to say, though, 3.42 billion won is worth a fair bit less than the $3.42 million it would have been worth a couple of months ago (fine, it converts to about $2.36 million at the current exchange rate).

    Then you have a bunch of Hollywood films. Followed by CRUSH & BLUSH, and then the opening of a Korean film that I do not know much about, HEARTBREAK LIBRARY. And, way down in eleventh, TOKYO!

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
    1.My Wife Got Married (Anaega Gyeolhonhaessda - Korean) 10.235042.853.42
    2.Eagle Eyes 10.093591.7911.33
    3.Body of Lies 10.233111.391.61
    4.Mamma Mia 9.042800.5927.40
    5. Crush & Blush (Misseu Hongdangmu - Korean) 10.163210.592.90
    6.Painted Skin 10.232080.460.54
    7.Heartbreak Library (Geu Namja-ui Chaek 198-jjok - Korean) 10.232890.300.36
    8.The Dutchess 10.162440.231.32
    9.Death Race 10.161830.170.89
    10.Under the Siam Moon 10.16760.0790.31
    10.Tokyo! (one-third Korean) 10.23590.0730.087
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

    Wednesday, October 22, 2008

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Oct. 17-19

    It must a strange week when the most interesting movie is a 9th place debut. But that is what we have this weekend, when the coolest film in the top-10 is a stunning four years old.

    I am talking about APOLOGY/APPLE, the Moon So-ri film that was ready way back in December 2004, but finally made it to the theater last Friday. Nearly four years. Bizarre. I saw the film in November 2005 at the Tokyo FilmEx and quite liked it. APOLOGY opened in just No. 9 (No. 11 by attendance), but it is probably the most interesting film in the Korean box office at the moment. Go see it, you'll be happy you did.

    Wish I had more to say, But Shia LaBouef is No. 1 for a second week, so I am less than pleased. Go see APOLOGY or rent something good.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
    1.Eagle Eye 10.094412.828.54
    2.Crush Blush (Miss Hongdangmu - Korean) 10.163511.401.70
    3.Mamma Mia 9.042890.7626.35
    4.The Dutchess 10.162410.630.75
    5. Death Race 10.161790.440.50
    6.How to Lose Friends and Alienate People 10.162390.330.41
    7.Modern Boy (Korean) 10.023060.244.86
    8.Gogo 70s (Korean) 10.022620.223.70
    9.Apology/Apple (Sagwa - Korean)10.161310.170.21
    10.The Divine Weapon (Singijeon - Korean) 9.041910.1624.23
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

    If you like old films, you will have another chance to see a long-delayed film beginning Thursday, when the two-year-old ONCE UPON A TIME IN SEOUL opens.

    Btw, we are now about 10 days away from the Joy Division song, CONTROL from being released. Everyone should check it out. Great band. Very good film.

    Thursday, October 16, 2008

    Dancing About Architect

    Hey there, aspiring architects. Korea's coolest architectural house, Mass Studies, is looking for interns. Come work at the firm that is designing the new Seoul City Hall (and oodles of interesting stuff all over the world).

    Tuesday, October 14, 2008

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Oct. 10-12

    Hey, six of the top 10 films this week were Korean. I cannot remember the last time that happened. Not long ago, Korean dominance at the box office we usually typical, but for most of this year, there have been many fewer films released than in past years, making it harder to fill the top 10 most weeks.

    Despite having six Korean films in the top 10, the top two movies last weekend were both from Hollywood. No. 1 was the Shia LaBeouf thriller EAGLE EYE. Seems like the ads have been on TV non-stop for the past couple of weeks, but I know very little about it.

    No. 2 is the "Waiting for a Girl Like You" of movies, the musical MAMMA MIA. With one week's exception, the ABBA musical has been stuck in the No. 2 spot since it opened six weeks ago. Kind of remarkable, I guess.

    (Foreigner's "Waiting" is remarkable for being the song to spend the longest at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 without ever reaching No. 1... which makes it a pretty imperfect comparison, in addition to being pretty obscure. Oh, forget about it. Sigh.)

    MODERN BOY tumbles to No. 3 and looks like it will not be doing much at the box office. But its distributor, CJ Entertainment, cannot be too sad, since their films currently occupy three of the top 10, including EAGLE EYE.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
    1.Eagle Eye 10.093903.704.22
    2.Mamma Mia! 9.042901.0825.08
    3.Modern Boy (Korean) 10.024030.874.31
    4.Gogo 70s (Korean) 10.023120.723.21
    5. The Divine Weapon (Shingijeon - Korean) 9.042760.4823.91
    6.Dream (Bimong - Korean) 10.091210.270.34
    7.Truck (Korean) 9.252340.243.53
    8.The Women 10.091510.230.28
    9.Babylon AD 10.021970.181.41
    10.Rough Cut (Yeonghwaneun Yeonghwada - Korean) 9.111290.188.82
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

    Oh, some stuff about Kim Ki-duk's DREAM that I forgot to mention in my write-up yesterday. One of the most surprising things about DREAM, given how it was released on Oct. 9, was the film's non-appearance at this year's Pusan International Fantastic Film Festival. I do not recall seeing it even at any industry screenings. Very odd for a director who is usually the king of the film festivals.

    The story as I heard it is that Kim got upset at PIFF when they refused to give DREAM a top spot, in one of the major categories. He was so upset, in fact, that he refused to let PIFF screen his film at all.

    Of course, Kim is no longer the festival darling he once was a few years ago. But, still, it seemed strange to have a Kim Ki-duk film opening in Korea in the closing days of PIFF, but the film was not on the bill at PIFF at all.

    Btw, with DREAM opening on over 100 screens, that is the biggest rollout for a Kim film that I can recall. With over 50,000 admissions for DREAM since it opened, I am guessing Kim isn't exactly crying in his haejangguk over missing PIFF.

    Monday, October 13, 2008

    Last Night I Dreamt That Kim Ki-Duk Loved Me

    Kim Ki-duk's films are famous for their cruelty and violence -- fishhooks, broken glass, golf clubs and good, old-fashioned beatings all feature prominently. His emotional violence is even more graphic and brutal. I think he makes fun, comic films.

    Perhaps I should explain. Back when Kim and his movies were considered fashionable and trendy -- some time between THE ISLE and BAD GUY -- I really was not a fan at all. His callous cruelty did not excite me, and listening to film festival dorks rattle on about whatever is hot at the moment is always a turnoff.

    But Kim, along with Hong Sang-soo, was one of Korea's top art-house directors, so I suffered through his films and his regular appearance on the film festival circuit. I did my best to deflect queries from editors who asked for a story on Kim, preferring instead to profile others who were fascinating me at the time.

    Gradually, Kim fell out of favor. Korean audiences disappeared after BAD GUY, finding his silent, Orientalism boring. I always am fascinated how SPRING SUMMER FALL WINTER ... AND SPRING was the biggest Korean film ever in the West (before D-WAR), even though it sold barely 35,000 tickets in Korea. Then international audiences grew tired of his repetitive brutalities and Orientalisms.

    Around this time, I began to like his movies again. One day I was flipping around the TV dial, when I came across a re-run of BAD GUY (by far Kim's most successful film in Korea). For some reason I left it on, and for once, instead of being annoyed at how it did not accurately represent Korean society, I thought it was funny. Not that forced prostitution, stabbings, rape and assorted trauma are funny. But when I listened to the soft musical cues and suggestive edits, I suddenly realized that, despite the film's brutality, in fact it was at heart a romantic comedy. A sick, twisted romantic comedy, but a rom-com nonetheless.

    The more I thought about his films, the more I began to rethink them all. Instead of taking them so seriously and getting upset about them, I now viewed them as parodies, violent subversions of typical Korean storytelling. I have no evidence that Kim ever intended any of his films to be parodies or funny at all, but that is how I look at them. I think it makes them much more interesting.

    Which is a long way of saying that I caught the new Kim Ki-duk film, DREAM, the other night.

    DREAM is about two people who become linked through their dreams. A guy named Jin (Odagiri Jo) dreams something, then Ran (Lee Na-young) sleepwalks and lives his dream. He dreams of an accident, she drives her car and gets into an accident. He dreams of meeting his old girlfriend, then Ran... well, that would be telling.

    Soon Jin and Ran figure out their connection and try to take steps to sever the unwanted bond.

    At first, the audience in my theater was really put off by this story. Most of all, they disliked Kim's main conceit, of having Jin talk in Japanese, Ran speak in Korean, but have both understand each other. The film moves slowly and illogically, too, which they did not like.

    But about halfway through the film, people seemed to decide that this was also a comedy. And as soon as they started laughing, the movie was much more enjoyable. Seeing Ran struggling to avoid sleep by holding her eyelids open was pretty funny. Jin's more extreme methods were even funnier (well, at first).

    Given that the film is called DREAM (or BIMONG in Korean), it seems unfair to me to criticize the movie for its dream logic. In fact, my criticism is that it was not weird enough.

    DREAM also features plenty of Gahoe-dong Korean traditional houses and exoticisms. Designed to appeal to Westerns with a "thing" for Asia, I guess. Who are these characters? No idea. Where are their friends? Backstory? Is anyone weirded out by the dream merging thing? All details that Kim glosses over in order to focus on pretty interiors and general misanthropy.

    Personally, I think Kim's high point was THE ISLE, with its gorgeous cinematography that worked with its bizarre story. Everything since then has felt like a pale imitation of that better film.

    Although it is safe to say that the poster for DREAM is the most gorgeous Kim Ki-duk poster ever. Really great looking.

    Btw, with about 50,000 admissions since it opened on Oct. 9, it looks like DREAM is Kim's most successful film since BAD GUY (I think... I don't have all his movie's numbers in front of me, but that is what I remember).

    Tuesday, October 07, 2008

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Oct. 3-5

    The long-awaited, big historical drama MODERN BOY opened in the No. 1 spot. But it was not a big opening -- just 330,000 admissions over the weekend (400,000 since it opened last Thursday), and 2.72 billion won ($2.06 million, thanks to the lousy exchange rate).

    MAMMA MIA finally overtook THE DIVINE WEAPON, with about 3.55 million admissions. Actually, WEAPON is still slightly ahead with admissions, even though MAMMA MIA is winning at the box office.

    GO-GO 70'S had a bit of a disappointing opening in third, with just $1.13 million over the weekend. Very sad to think that more people tried out MODERN BOY. With any luck, GO-GO will win out in the long run.

    BABYLON AD had an even more tepid opening, with less than $800,000 since it opened.

    Sad to see MY DEAR ENEMY drop to No. 9 so quickly. Would have been nice to see it get better word of mouth.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
    1.Modern Boy (Korean) 10.024292.242.72
    2.Mamma Mia! 9.043061.6523.29
    3.Go-Go 70s (Korean) 10.024231.501.93
    4.The Divine Weapon (Shingijeon - Korean) 9.043020.9523.17
    5. Babylon AD 10.021750.851.00
    6.Truck (Korean) 9.252490.743.03
    7.Hellboy 2 9.252490.552.26
    8.Rough Cut (Yeonghwaneun Yeonghwada - Korean) 9.111990.468.48
    9.My Dear Enemy (Meotjin Haru - Korean) 9.252560.352.16
    10.The Club 10.021490.260.32
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

    PIFF Report and Random Notes

    Kind of a strange Pusan International Film Festival this year. Usually the festival opens on a Thursday, and the Asia Film Market then opens the following Monday. The result is that the first three days of the festival are more about the movies, with film fans flooding the theaters and snatching up all the tickets, then the business stuff kicks in.

    But this year, with the Film Market running Friday to Monday, the business was going on during the busiest days of the festival, overshadowing the movies and making tickets extremely hard to find. I have returned to Seoul now, but from what I have heard, the festival is quiet empty now. I think PIFF made a mistake moving the Film Market and have disrupted the event's equilibrium. My vote (not that I have one) is to move things back the way they were.

  • On the other hand, the weather this year was almost perfect. Aside from a little rain on Sunday afternoon, the weather was sunny and warm by day, slightly cool at night. Just right.

  • Park Jin-young and Lee Byung-hun were the main celebrities to show up this year, attending the opening party briefly. Moon Bloodgood was there but the Marmot was not (nyeh). There were plenty more actors, of course (like Kelly Lin), but I am more a dork for directors and producers than for actors, so missed most of the actor-heavy events.

  • I think Kim Jung-eun got the biggest response on the red carpet walk during PIFF's opening ceremonies. I was a little surprised, as I never really considered her A-list, but people really went nuts when she showed up.

  • Also, there was so much construction going on in Haeundae, I was really surprised. Had not seen the area like that before. That neighborhood is going to be totally transformed (yet again) in a couple more years. Minus -- losing the old character, and many cheaper lodgings. Plus -- losing the old character and lousy lodgings, and gaining a much better selection of bars and restaurants.

  • Rumor has it that the "technical difficulties" that occurred during the outdoor screening of THE SKY CRAWLERS was actually the equipment operator forgetting to gas up the generator that powered the outdoor projector.

  • I also heard someone say that the Busan city government has told the Pusan Film Festival folks to get with the times and start spelling the festival the same way as the city. Which would make it the Busan International Film Festival, or BIFF.

  • MODERN BOY is not a good film. At all. I wanted it to be good. I hoped it would be good. It is not good. It looks wonderful -- great re-creations of Seoul in the 1930s. But the story is shallow, the history puddle-deep (typical 386 generation nonsense), and the editing a mystery. Plus Kim Hye-soo is totally wrong for her role.

  • This KUNSTHALLE artist thingy looks like it could be interesting. Certainly a well made website.

  • John McCain is the shortest candidate for US president since 1920. If he won the race, he would be the shortest president since William McKinley in 1900.
  • Wednesday, October 01, 2008

    Random Notes - Vol 3, No. 5

  • Just getting ready to head down to this year' Pusan International Film Festival. Which for me principally means ironing a lot of shirts, then stuffing them into a suitcase to get all wrinkled anyway.

    I was thinking that I would be able to cut back on my time there this year, just go for a few days during the film market, but some additional work suddenly turned up and now I need to go down for the opening night, too. But for various reasons, my workload should not be too bad. I might even have the time to watch a few films (what a crazy thought).

  • At the moment, the weather forecast for Busan says warm (but not brutally hot) and sunny... at least until Sunday or Monday, when that typhoon down by Hong Kong now might start moving up this way.

  • The Chosun Ilbo recently had an article on the grand old Dansungsa movie theater going bankrupt. Except that it was not the grand old Dansungsa, at least not in my mind. The original building was one of the great movie theaters (I saw BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS there, soon before it was torn down), but the ugly multiplex that replaced it was not. Anyhow, here is a pic of the original theater and its replacement.

  • PJ O'Rourke has cancer. Odds are he will survive it, but in the meantime, it is good to see him tackling the subject with all the wit and bad taste that O'Rourke is famous for. In fact, that is probably the best column of his that I have read in years.
  • Tuesday, September 30, 2008

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Sept. 26-28

    After three weeks of being the bridesmaid, MAMMI MIA was at last the bride last weekend. Or, to be less annoyingly cute, MAMMA MIA took over the top spot in the box office after three weeks of landing in second, behind THE DIVINE WEAPON. Pretty amazing staying power for the ABBA tribute film and yet another sign of the power of the musical in Korea. Just imagine how well the film might had done if Pierce Brosnan could sing?

    Just 60,000 admissions behind THE DIVINE WEAPON, could MAMMA MIA end up being the more successful film by the time their runs are over? Oh well, I guess the horserace really does not matter much... but still, it has been fun to watch.

    As for new films, TRUCK, HELLBOY 2 and MY DEAR ENEMY all opened this weekend, with TRUCK doing the best. Not surprising HELLBOY 2 did not do so well, as the theater I saw it in was pretty much empty. Still, it did much better than the original HELLBOY, which opened in seventh with just $250,000, and dropped out of the top 10 less than two weeks later.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
    1.Mamma Mia 9.044131.8420.68
    2.Truck (Korean) 9.253371.411.66
    3.Divine Weapon (Shingijeon - Korean) 9.044391.4121.67
    4.Hellboy 2 9.253551.201.36
    5. My Dear Enemy (Meotjin Haru - Korean) 9.253891.151.36
    6.Rough Cut (Yeonghwaneun Yeonghwada - Korean) 9.113050.927.60
    7.Our English Teacher (Ulhakgyo Iti - Korean) 9.112190.214.08
    8.Don Quiote 9.25870.180.19
    9.Mirror 9.182450.141.28
    10.In Bloom 9.251280.100.12
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

    Plenty of interesting looking Korean films at the moment, but I am going to try to catch them at PIFF, I think. If I have any strong opinions about them, I will try write about them soon.

    Friday, September 26, 2008

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Sept. 19-21

    Another neck-and-neck weekend for THE DIVINE WEAPON and MAMMA MIA!, with WEAPON winning by just 12,000 admissions and only $10,000 (I guess WEAPON sold more student tickets, giving MAMMA MIA a revenue advantage). After three weeks, both films are doing quite well, both on the verge of zipping past the 3 million attendance mark.

    Similarly, OUR ENGLISH TEACHER beat THE MIRROR by attendance, but since I rank by revenue, THE MIRROR came out on top. THE MIRROR is, of course, the Hollywood remake of that goofy Korean horror film INTO THE MIRROR.

    I wonder how HELLBOY 2 will do in Korea. I saw it last night and the theater was just about empty.

    Johnny To and Wai Ka-fai's violent cop thriller MAD DETECTIVE opened in 15th, so did not make this chart. Just $15,000 on 8 screens.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
    1.The Divine Weapon (Shingijeon - Korean) 9.045682.7419.34
    2.Mamma Mia! 9.044682.7317.52
    3.Rough Cut (Yeonghwaheun Yeonghwada - Korean) 9.113671.615.99
    4.The Mirror 9.182480.760.89
    5. Our English Teacher (Ulhakgyo Iti - Korean) 9.113600.753.67
    6.The Children of Huang Shi 9.182780.460.57
    7.Loner (Oetoli - Korean) 9.182410.290.35
    8.Earth 9.041490.141.2
    9.Flower Over Boys 9.111900.110.81
    10.Bangkok Dangerous 9.111960.111.25
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

    Wednesday, September 24, 2008


    Sorry for not updating. Crazy week. Hopefully I will have more time tomorrow evening to do the box office and make a couple of comments.

    But if you must know, THE DIVINE WEAPON and MAMMA MIA are once again neck-and-neck at the box office. Both are doing quite well.

    Thursday, September 18, 2008

    C'est Fini

    At long, long last, it looks like I finally finished my book, POP GOES KOREA. I mean, sure I had "finished" it several times before... But there is finished and then there is finished, if you know what I mean. There are so many phases to making a book, it can be a little drawn out and frustrating.

    First you finish your writing. Then you finish the editing (or answering your editor's questions). Then you finish the color insert. And just now, I finished going over the galleys and re-checking everything.

    By the way, the color insert looks really great. It took a little work and some back-and-forth, but the final product looks sharp and cool. I like the design concept for the section, and, despite space restrictions, I think we did a decent job at getting a large array of actors, singers and other entertainment icons in there.

    Now POP GOES KOREA is off to the indexer, which will likely take a couple more weeks. Then my publisher, Stone Bridge, just needs to prep the book for actual printing.

    Current plan calls for the printed book to be ready by November, and on store shelves by December. In time for the Christmas gift season (hint hint).

    Wednesday, September 17, 2008

    I'm Being Eaten by a Boa Constrictor

    Well, looks like Boa is finally ready to make her big push into the United States. The teaser video for her first American song and video is online. It's called I'll Eat You Up.

    American Version:

    Asian version:

    Or you can go here for the American version. Or here for the Asian version.

    Certainly respect in the American market has been the Holy Grail of the Korean music industry for some time. But with the exception of the reggae singer Skull (and, back in the 1950s and 60s, the Kim Sisters), there has been very little success by Korean pop singers over there.

    I cannot claim to understand the tastes and trends of hip young people anywhere in the world, so I will refrain from speculating about how Boa's American promotion will go. But best of luck to her.

    Tuesday, September 16, 2008

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Sept. 12-14

    Much like last weekend, THE DIVINE WEAPON and MAMMA MIA! fought neck-and-neck for the top spot at the box office. And just like last weekend, THE DIVINE WEAPON won (although for some strange reason, Variety and Hollywood Reporter box office stories claimed that MAMMA MIA won. But not true).

    FINAL CUT, the movie-within-a-movie tale of gangsters in the film business, had an okay opening, landing in third. Kim Soo-ro's latest comedy was fourth.

    Two Japanese films in the top 10 -- 20TH CENTURY BOYS in sixth and BOYS OVER FLOWERS in seventh.

    Looks like THE DARK KNIGHT is pretty much finished. But it did crawl past 4 million admissions, for a solid showing (although far, far from the records it set in North America).

    WALL-E fell out of the top 10 this week, coming in at 11th. WALL-E's run in the theaters is nearly finished, but at least the film topped 1 million admissions. Would be a crime for a film that good to have done anything less.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
    1.The Divine Weapon (Shingijeon - Korean) 9.045983.9712.04
    2.Mamma Mia! 9.045163.7010.83
    3.Rough Cut (Yeonghwaneun Yeonghwada - Korean) 9.114021.852.23
    4.Our English Teacher (Ulhakgyo Iti - Korean) 9.113831.231.41
    5. Bangkok Dangerous 9.112310.530.64
    6.20th Century Boys 9.112690.450.64
    7.Boys Over Flowers 9.111850.270.34
    8.Dark Knight 8.071210.2026.48
    9.Earth 9.042130.170.77
    10.Star Wars: Clone Wars 9.042490.0980.48
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

    Friday, September 12, 2008

    Oh, Hell(boy) Yeah

    I was pleasantly surprised a couple of nights ago when I suddenly started to see a flurry of ads on TV for HELLBOY 2. I was getting worried the film might not be released in Korea.

    Anyhow, here is a little list of some notable films coming out in the next couple of months:
    Sept. 18
    - Mad Detective

    Sept. 25
    - Hellboy 2
    - My Dear Enemy (the new Jeon Do-yeon film)

    Oct. 2
    - Burn After Reading
    - Gogo 70s
    - Modern Boy

    Oct. 8
    - Dream (the new Kim Ki-duk film)

    Oct. 16
    - Sagwa (will the three-year-old film finally see the light of day?)

    Oct. 23
    - Body of Lies

    Nov. 5
    - Quantum of Solace

    Btw, I am really curious about a lot of the coming Korean films. MY DEAR ENEMY is the latest by Lee Yoon-ki, who directed the much praised THIS CHARMING GIRL and the absolutely lousy LOVE TALK (and AD-LIB NIGHT, but I did not see that). So I consider MY DEAR ENEMY to be something of a tie-breaker. In ENEMY, Jeon Do-yeon plays a jobless, broke 30-year-old who tries to collect some money from an ex-boyfriend. But he is broke, too, so together they meet up with his various ex-girlfriends and try to get money from them. Intriguing set up and Jeon looks great in the trailer.

    Why MODERN BOY and GO-GO 70'S are being released head-to-head, I have no idea. They are both looks back at Korea's past -- MODERN BOY at the 1930s and GO-GO 70'S at the 1970s (obviously).

    I was really looking forward to MODERN BOY when I first saw some still images in the spring. Plus I quite like its director Song Hae-sung (FAILAN) Chung Ji-woo (HAPPY END). However, advanced word I heard from the film was not good, which is allegedly why the film's release was delayed five months. Regardless, I think the trailer for MODERN BOY looks pretty promising -- great cgi of Seoul from the 1930s, great clothes and production design. I still have hope for this film.

    The trailer for GO-GO 70'S does not inspire confidence. The music sounds way more like Korea's 1980s music than 1970s. And the clothes and concert scene looks like a hyperactive cabaret. Very, very dubious.

    As for SAGWA, I saw it at the Tokyo Filmex in 2005 and quite enjoyed it. Not a great film, but definitely worth a watch. Moon So-ri is great, as always. No idea why it took Chungeorahm so long to get it into the theaters.

    Tuesday, September 09, 2008

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Sept. 5-7

    Whoops. Forgot to click "Publish" after writing this post. It has been sitting on my browser for hours.

    Anyhow, CJ Entertainment's historical drama THE DIVINE WEAPON was the top film in its opening weekend, taking in a respectable $4 million. Well, quasi-historical. The hwacha was a pretty interesting piece of military hardware that was cooked up in the 15th century. But it was not terribly effective on the battlefield. Personally, I was more impressed by those big wooden spike cannons that the Joseon armies used to use.

    THE DIVINE WEAPON has now topped 1 million admissions, including the advanced screenings that were held last weekend. With Chuseok holiday weekend coming and no major competitors on their way, THE DIVINE WEAPON could end up a decent haul.

    The screechy giggle-fest MAMMA MIA! also had a pretty decent opening (and, like THE DIVINE WEAPON, had many advanced screenings the previous weekend), with $3.5 million over the weekend to bring its total to $5.3 million. But I have ABBA bred in the bone, so I enjoyed it. Especially the encores at the end (Pierce Bronson's voice, not so much).

    I was pleasantly surprised to see the documentary EARTH open in No. 4. Few documentaries do well in Korea these days, so it was nice to see do well. If you like that sort of thing, be sure to check out the EBS Documentary Film Festival, opening Sept. 22.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
    1.The Divine Weapon (Singijeon - Korean) 9.046674.156.56
    2.Mamma Mia! 9.045163.685.49
    3.Dark Knight 8.073330.9226.07
    4.Earth 9.042110.450.51
    5. Star Wars: The Clone Wars 9.042610.310.34
    6.Wall-E 8.071750.206.70
    7.Blood Bell (Gosa - Korean) 8.071750.1410.24
    8.An Eye for an Eye (Nunenuen Nun Ieneun I - Korean) 7.311110.08313.39
    9.The Good, the Bad, the Weird (Joheun Nom, Nappeun Nom, Isanghan Nom - Korean) 7.171320.08445.84
    10.Midnight Meat Train 8.14840.0531.94
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

    Thursday, September 04, 2008

    Random Notes - Vol 3, No. 4

  • An interesting little story on Mongolian hiphop in the UB Post. Unfortunately, it does not mention many bands (just Tartar and Har Sarnai, who have been around forever). But interesting to hear that hiphop continues to spread its influence.

    The first time I went to Mongolia, back in the 1990s, the live bands were mostly rock. But each time I go back to Ulaanbaatar, it seems like there is more and more hiphop. I can still remember sitting beside my van once, in the middle of nowhere Mongolia, as this family on horseback rode by; the teenage kid in the family takes one look at me and reflexively said "Yo, gee!" and made a bunch of hiphop-esque sounds.

  • I'm sure you have heard by now, but the Wonder Girls have been named by Virgin Media as one of the top up-and-coming girl groups to watch. Kind of neat that they are getting noticed abroad. The cynic in me will try to overlook the difference between "groups to watch" and "groups to listen to."

  • Congratulations to Sangsang Madang, the arts space in Hongdae that is run by the Korea Tobacco & Ginseng. Until Sept. 7, Sangsang is holding the Sangsang Festa, featuring outdoor concerts, art exhibitions, movies and more.

  • What the heck? I just went to the Sangsang Madang website and found a post for a free Hongdae tour for foreigners. The tour is Sept. 28 at 1:30 and goes to 5pm. Tour will be lead by the singer for Band the Mu:n (never heard then, although I have heard of them, I think). Tour is limited to 20 people, and you need to apply by Sept. 15.
  • Tuesday, September 02, 2008

    Tale of Two Festivals

    A couple of big festivals coming up this week -- the CHUNGMURO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL IN SEOUL and the GWANGJU BIENNALE. Both are looking quite good this year. You can read more about them over at the Korea Gig Guide.

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Aug. 29-31 (Philip K. Dick edition)

    A very strange box office report this week -- the No. 2 and 3 films have not been released yet. Officially, they hit the theaters on Sept. 4. I guess their distributors decided to take advantage of the weak competition and open them a week early.

    Either that or else the Matrix of our reality just accidentally revealed how our whole fabric of existence is just a preplanned, preordained sham, a shell covering our base programming. As if Time were Out of Joint. I guess it depends on what numbers KOBIS gives us next week.

    Anyhow, THE DARK KNIGHT held on to the top spot for one more week. And, I suspect, one last week. MAMMA MIA, No. 3 in pre-release, is doing very well in advanced registrations for the coming weekend. It has been a big musical hit in Korea (several times), and I would not at all be surprised if it does really well in the theaters.

    THE DIVINE WEAPON looks a little more dicey, although it has the potential to be a decent mid-range hit, especially with the big Chuseok weekend coming soon.

    Hey, GOSA has an English title -- BLOOD BELL. I had missed that. Anyhow, fixed it for this week.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
    1.Dark Knight 8.075032.0224.42
    2.The Divine Weapon (Shingijeon - Korean) 9.044051.501.58
    3.Mamma Mia! 9.042720.940.99
    4.Wall-E 8.073310.556.35
    5. Blood Bell (Gosa - Korean) 8.073280.519.92
    6.CJ7 8.213340.381.80
    7.Eye for an Eye (Nuneneun Nun Ieneun I - Korean) 7.312170.3313.07
    8.Midnight Meat Train 8.142960.351.73
    9.The Good, the Bad, the Weird (Joheun Nom, Nappeun Nom, Isanghan Nom - Korean) 7.172840.3245.55
    10.Mummy 3 7.313210.2426.19
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

    Since summer is over, perhaps it is worth summarizing the top films of the summer season:
    1. The Good, the Bad, the Weird - 45.6 billion won
    2. Kung Fu Panda - 29.3 billion won
    3. Another Public Enemy - 28.3 billion won
    4. Iron Man - 27.8 billion won
    5. Mummy 3 - 26.2 billion won
    6. Indiana Jones 4 - 26.1 billion won
    7. Dark Knight - 24.6 (and rising)
    8. Wanted - 19.8 billion won
    9. Hancock - 17.9 billion won
    10. Eye for an Eye - 13.1 billion won

    Why do I think I am forgetting something? Anyhow, Kim Jee-woon's Manchurian Western was easily the most popular film of the summer. Then there were only two other Korean films in the top ten, Kang Woo-suk's ANOTHER PUBLIC ENEMY and the hardboiled thriller AN EYE FOR AN EYE. There were a lot of Hollywood superheroes. KUNG FU PANDA became the most successful animated film ever in Korea. And I would rather not contemplate the meaning behind the success of WANTED...

    Another odd action film, TAKEN did very well, with about 15 billion won. But it was released in April and made only 5.9 billion won since May 1, so it did not make the summer chart.

    All together, 16 movies pulled in over 1 million admissions, but only five Korean films. Korean films now account for 40 percent of the boxoffice for 2008, up from June, but still their worst year since 2002 or so.

    Wednesday, August 27, 2008

    R.I.P. AFKN

    Well, it came several months late, but at least AFN Korea has been taken off of my cable dial.

    I wrote in the beginning of the year about how AFN Korea was getting removed from Korean cable TV services because the cable service operators are not licensed to retransmit the channel. AFN was supposed to be all gone by May, but it continued to linger, at least on my cable system.

    Some time a few months ago, my analog cable service stopped carrying AFN (not sure exactly when, as I very rarely use the analog service). And finally on Tuesday, the digital cable channels were all rearranged, and in the process, AFN Korea was removed from it, too.

    I use C&M Cable, which is the biggest cable company in Korea, so this looks pretty final. No more AFN for me ... unless I buy a big ole' antenna, so I can get it free-to-air for another three or four years. But I doubt that is going to happen.

    I have so many found memories of AFN Korea, from when I first moved to Seoul. Back when Korean TV was truly dire. In the 1990s, there were very few cable channels, and few of them had much in the way of foreign programming. Deathly dull.

    Back then, AFN offered a whole bunch of first-rate American programs, usually within months of being broadcast in the United States. For special broadcasts, like the last episode of Seinfeld, they would show the program just a few hours later. We also got to watch plenty of sports, most of the NCAA basketball tournament, most of the NBA playoffs, and a whole lot of football. (And oodles of NASCAR, but that is not really my thing). Plus there was all those old, heavily edited movies AFN played from 1am until 5am on weekdays.

    Gradually, however, American TV execs got pissed off that people like myself (ie, non-military types) were watching all that US programming for free. Even worse, they really were upset that the cable companies were making money off of programs that were supposed to be only for US servicemen. When the Korean TV industry was tiny, no one cared, but as the 1990s went on, it began to grow into a much more lucrative market. So the US television companies started to deny AFN Korea the right to retransmit their programs. The sports quickly dried up. The TV programs grew older and lamer until there was seemingly nothing but Star Trek Voyager and Judge Judy. Then the news disappeared, too. For the last few months, FAMILY GUY and the other Tuesday animated shows (and GENERAL HOSPITAL) were just about the only reason I watched AFN.

    So, bye-bye AFN. Thanks for the fond memories. The Anthrax Ninja. The great advice (Don't use a beer bottle as a weapon. Don't ruin OPSEC. Don't waste your tour. Don't commit suicide.) The Eagle. (Btw, who would win in a fight between the AFN Eagle and the Anthrax Ninja?).

    Tuesday, August 26, 2008

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Aug. 22-24

    Looks like the Olympics have hastened our descent into the summer doldrums, with no film really doing a whole lot of business last weekend. This was a remarkably equal weekend, with the No. 10 film doing about half the business of the No. 2 film. No one film dominating the theaters. In fact, a couple of films did not even make the top 10, despite appearing in over 200 screens (X-FILES and SUPERHERO).

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
    1.Dark Knight 8.074182.8621.05
    2.Gosa (Korean) 8.072970.959.01
    3.CJ7 8.212880.911.05
    4.Wall-E 8.072960.795.40
    5. Midnight Meat Train 8.142520.790.96
    6.Mummy 3 7.312910.6525.72
    7.The Good, the Bad, the Weird (Joheun Nom, Nappeun Nom, Isanghan Nom - Korean) 7.172370.5744.96
    8.Dachimawa Lee (Korean) 8.142910.553.43
    9.Baby & I (Agi-wa Na - Korean) 8.142350.442.16
    10.Eye for an Eye (Nuneneun Nun Ieneun I - Korean) 7.311910.4812.45
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

    Friday, August 22, 2008

    Digging in the Historical Records

    So I recently picked up an unpleasant habit... potentially more dangerous than drugs, more costly than gambling, more insidious than drinking. I bought a turntable. Worse -- I started buying old records.

    Over the past couple of years on this blog, I have written about classic Korean rock music a few times. There is a lot of music from the 1960s and 1970s in Korea that I really enjoy. However, not a whole lot of music from that period has been reissued on CD. Yes, a lot of the biggest names are available on CD, especially from the Shin Joong-hyun family, but there was a heck of a lot of other stuff that never made it to CD.

    Then one day, I was strolling through Hoehyeon Underground Mall, near Myeongdong, when I noticed all the used record stores there. I mean, of course I have seen them before, but I never really paid much attention to them. Why would I? But one this one occasion, I decided to ask about old Korean rock and pop music.

    What a happy discovery that was. Plenty of interesting stuff to be had. Sure, if you want to buy mint-condition Shin Joong-hyun, you are going to pay a lot of money. But if you go off the beaten track and try out some less famous artists, the prices are not nearly as bad.

    I think my best find as far has been The Trippers. Not as psychedelic as I might like, but not bad. Plus hearing a 1971 Korean version of "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" is just too cool (RIP Isaac Hayes).

    The Bunny Sisters seem to have not aged well, as wherever I went, there was plenty of their albums for pretty cheap. Sure, they are a little saccharine, but not a bad addition.

    I also managed to find a He5 album. Granted, it was not in good condition (hence, I could afford it), but it still feels good to have a big album like that.

    Very interesting (and more expensive) was '71 King Hit Album, a compilation featuring songs by Kim Choo-ja, Kim Sang-hee, the Pearl Sisters and a whole bunch of other female singers.

    And then there was the totally random. I also picked up some early Lee Soo-man albums, if only to get a sense of the man who would create SM Entertainment and the biggest pop music hit machine in Korea.

    Once upon a time, the Daelim Sangga, running down Jongno 4-ga to Toegyero 4-ga, used to be the best place in Korea for old records. Sadly, those days are gone. I know because I took some bad advice and looked all over those concrete bunkers looking for old records. Plenty of people selling old turntables and stereo equipment, but only one person selling old records that I could find (and he was mostly selling old Journey and Judas Priest era albums).

    Most of those old shops have moved, either to the Hoehyeon underground shopping arcade, or else to the Yongsan Jeonja Land mall, second floor. A great way to waste some time and money.

    Anyhow, I don't mean to bore anyone. But it is rather fun and interesting to have a whole new part of Korea to dive into. Hopefully I will not go overboard.

    Tuesday, August 19, 2008

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Aug. 15-17

    Not a lot of change this week in the top-10. The new films -- DACHIMAWA LEE, BABY & I, X-FILES -- all failed to impress audiences, and did little business. DARK KNIGHT, MUMMY 3 and (to a lesser extent) WALL-E and GOSA continued to hold their audiences for a second week.

    Looks like THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD is rapidly running out of steam. It might make it to 7 million admissions, which would make it by far the most successful Kim Jee-woon film ever, but would barely be breaking even for its investors.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
    1.Dark Knight 8.074653.6314.58
    2.Mummy 3 7.313161.4923.60
    3.Gosa (Korean) 8.073021.376.46
    4.Dachimawa Lee 8.143421.091.71
    5. Wall-E 8.073120.983.78
    6.The Good, the Bad, the Weird (Joheun Nom, Nappeun Nom, Isanghan Nom - Korean) 7.172960.9740.47
    7.Baby & I (Agi-wa Na - Korean) 8.142480.650.97
    8.An Eye for an Eye (Nuneneun Nun Ieneun I - Korean) 7.312580.7011.12
    9.X-Files 8.142670.570.87
    10.Keroro 8.07670.190.70
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

    Not a lot of excitement on the horizon. Will be interesting to see how MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN does next weekend, followed by STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS and MAMMA MIA in early September. MAMMA MIA could be especially interesting, given how well that musical has done in Korea over the years.