Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Rockin' in the Not-So-Free World

The New York Philharmonic Orchestra played in Pyongyang this evening. Amazingly, this did not cause free nations around the region to fall thanks to the "propaganda coup" the show provided Kim Jong-il.

But the show was broadcast live on North Korea's television and radio, and it was the first time an American orchestra had played in North Korea. The Philharmonic played Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, Bernstein’s overture to “Candide,” some Wagner and Arirang.

Most telling about the logic behind the concert were conductor Loren Maazel's quotes about the Boston Symphony performance in the Soviet Union in 1956 and the New York Philharmonic's show there in 1959:
It showed Soviet citizens that they could have relations with foreign organizations and these organizations could come in the country freely. But what the Soviets didn’t realize was, this was a two-edged sword.

By allowing interactions between people from outside the country with people inside, eventually the people found themselves out of power.

Sure, he then played down the comparisons to North Korea today (must be a polite guest), but the parallels were clear.

Andrei Lankov expressed the same logic when I talked to him about the concert last year (as I wrote about here).

Anyhow, I am sure we will all wake up tomorrow and find North Korea to be the same as ever. But I hope the event will in some small way help change a few minds, if only a little bit.

(Note: I "borrowed" that pic from the New York Times website. Credit to Chang Lee, with thanks).

Echo of an Echo...

Over at Korea Gig Guide, I talk a bit about last Sunday's Sanullim tribute show at Club Badabie. Very good show, btw. Hope to have photos soon, too (but not yet).

Korea Weekend Box Office - Feb. 22-25

Looks like work is getting out about THE CHASER, whose box office rose to 4.40 billion won this weekend from 3.59 billion won last weekend. The question is, will the film begin to fade now, after a moderate success, or will word-of-mouth take it to the next level? Honestly, I could imagine either happening. The film is quite good and it could become one of those must-see films that erupt from time to time. But it is also quite dark and gory, which might turn off some audiences. I guess we'll have to wait until next week to get a better idea...

DEATHNOTE L opened okay, I guess. It had about 210,000 admissions as of Sunday night. Down from the 290,000 the original DEATHNOTE pulled in during its opening weekend, but not bad for the third film in a silly franchise.

In case you are wondering, Korean films have now pulled in 59.9 percent of the box office thus far in 2008. Hollywood has 33.9 percent, and just dribs and drabs for the rest of the world.

This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
1.The Chaser (Chugyeokja - Korean) 2.145014.4011.52
2.Jumper 2.143972.128.44
3.Deathnote L: Change the World 2.212980.961.23
4.Spiderwick Chronicles 2.142390.852.60
5. Atonement 2.211660.560.68
6.Once Upon a Time in Corea - Korean 1.312320.329.97
7.Lovers of Six Years (6 Nyeonjjae Yeonaejung - Korean) 2.052150.247.30
8.Juno 2.212030.200.26
9.3:10 to Yuma 2.211760.170.20
10.The Orphanage 2.141780.171.00
(Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 97% of nationwide box office)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Straight, No Chaser

I finally got around to seeing the surprise hit THE CHASER (추격자) today, and quite liked it. For a thriller about a serial killer, prostitutes and their pimp, it was surprisingly fresh and funny (not to mention tense and really gory). It is not as good as MEMORIES OF MURDER, but it is one the best Korean films I have seen in quite a while.

When I first saw the trailer, I scoffed pretty loudly. It looked like a hodgepodge of cliches and lurid voyeurism. The sort of lame crap we have seen 100 times before. Boy, was I wrong.

Na Hong-jin's THE CHASER is not your typical murder mystery, and does not follow the 3-act Hollywood structure at all. For one thing, the bad guy spends much of the film in police custody. He even confesses to his crimes, almost casually.

So where is the suspense? Don't worry, there is plenty to go around. Jung-ho (Kim Yun-seok) is strangely engrossing as the ex-cop pimp looking to find out what happened to his girls. The various people who cross the killer's path come to some grizzly demises. The police, of course, are little help, preferring to argue amongst themselves rather than do any police work.

The various chase scenes in the movie are well done, weaving throughout the alleys and narrow streets in a way that really draws you in. In a movie called THE CHASER, you really need to have good chasing scenes, and fortunately THE CHASER has several.

(One minor quibble, or potential quibble, but is that really Mangwon-dong we see in the movie? Much of the film is supposed to take place on a big hill in Mangwon-dong, Mapo-gu. But I cannot think of any big, hilly neighborhood like that in Mangwon. Maybe such a place exists, but I have never seen it).

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Swords, Shrines and Cinema

A very interesting article on Li Ying and his documentary YASUKUNI in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. The film is apparently stirring up unrest among Japan's far-right nutters, who have been sending death threats to the director as the film's April 12 release date nears.

You can read more about the film here, a review with the director here, and a proper review of it here.

Baik's New Album No Boo-Boo

Thanks to Indieful ROK for pointing out that Baik Hyun-jhin is about to release his first solo album in March. Baik is the main guy behind UH UH BOO PROJECT BAND, one of the more interesting Korean indie bands of the late 1990s. Their mini-album SONIKBUNKIJEOM (Break Even Point?) is generally considered a classic, with its miserable ajeossi/Tom Waits vibe (although Baik dislikes being compared to Waits, I think there are obvious reasons people do so). But for my money, the best UH UH BOO song was “Eohang Sok-ui Dabang - Gaejugeum,” from their second album, DOG, LUCKY STAR.

(Cross-posted at Korea Gig Guide)

Korea Weekend Box Office - Feb. 15-17

Huh? People were interested in seeing JUMPER? I would not have guessed that.

Nice to see THE CHASER doing well. The low-budget thriller got really good reviews and seems to have found an audience. But how long can it hold on? On Thursday, it will have to compete against the 3:10 TO YUMA, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and DEATHNOTE: L.

FOREVER THE MOMENT has now officially passed the 4-million-admissions mark, making it the biggest Korean hit since D-WAR.

This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
1.Jumper 2.144293.724.69
2.The Chaser (Chugeokja - Korean) 2.145073.594.34
3.The Spiderwick Chronicles 2.142071.071.25
4.Once Upon a Time in Corea (Korean) 1.313100.729.25
5. Lovers of Six Years (6 Nyeonjjae Yeonaejung - Korean) 2.052840.716.64
6.The Orphanage 2.141950.470.58
7.Life Is Beautiful (Daehani, Mingukssi - Korean) 2.141970.410.51
8.The Devil's Game (Deo Geim - Korean) 1.312800.409.43
9.Forever the Moment (Uri Saengae Choigo-ui Sungan - Korean) 1.102650.3625.63
10.The Martian Child 2.14180.0600.070
(Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 97% of nationwide box office)

As long as I am mentioning coming films, Feb. 28 sees the Korean release of Hong Sang-soo's NIGHT AND DAY and Cristian Mungiu's Cannes-winner 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS. And RAMBO 4.

March 6 is the happy day THERE WILL BE BLOOD comes out, which is the movie I really, really want to see. Wong Kar-wai's MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS comes out then, too.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Korea Gig Guide Makes Its Debut

Okay, so it looks like I am ready to go public with one of those projects that I have been talking about for the past couple of weeks. It is the KOREA GIG GUIDE, and it is a small attempt at getting out more information about the Korean live music scene.

The idea is simple enough -- I think there is a lot of good live music around Korea these days, but can be surprisingly hard to find. Even for Koreans -- most live venues have terrible websites and publicity. And despite the overabundance of movie magazines, there is much less out there about music.

I am hoping that by making it easier to learn about the gigs and who the best bands are that more people might be able to go and enjoy them. And, if I am really dreaming, maybe better turnout might encourage those bands and lead to more.

It is still early, and I am not entirely sure how this thing is going to unfold. For the moment, though, I intend on listing as many live shows as I can find on the KGG's Concert Calendar.

I am thinking of doing more, too. I might blog about music, too (and may or may not cross-post here). I might add a wiki or some sort of database like that.

Of course, a lot depends on the feedback I get from others. If there is a good gig coming and you want people to know about it, send me an email and I will try to add it. If there is demand, I could add concerts happening in other parts of Korea (and maps or whatever). I do like to make a concert guide as useful as possible to as many people as possible.

So, please drop by, take a look. Feel free to give me feedback, positive or negative.

(PS: Obviously, I am cribbing much of this idea from the Tokyo Gig Guide. Long been a favorite of mine... even if every time I go to Japan, it seems to be two days after some band I love has played there).

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Good Muse From Korea's Underground

Still not many blog updates while I work on some other things.

In the meantime, I have been really impressed at the interest in Korea’s (real) music scene out there in the blog world. Reminds me of the interest in the movie scene around 8-10 years ago.
Indieful ROK
Stuck With Free Music
KOA Zine

While at, I found a very interesting link to this page, which is basically a big list of old Asian rock and pop album covers from the 1960s. Mostly Singapore stuff, with some other tidbits throw in. You have got to love the funky stylings of that era. I am so jealous of that guy’s collection.

  • Oh, and I suppose I should mention that Rain (Jung Ji-hoon) announced his first starring role in a Hollywood film. NINJA ASSASSIN, to be made for Warner Bros, directed by James McTeigue (V FOR VENDETTA) and produced by the Wachowski Brothers. Jung has signed to William Morris, too, which means some pretty powerful people are now working on his career. Good for Jung.

  • Wednesday, February 13, 2008

    Korea Weekend Box Office - Feb. 8-10

    Seollal is always one of the best seasons in Korea for going to the movies. And this year, because Seollal fell on a Thursday, that meant people got most of the week off of work. In other words, last week was a movie-going holiday with limitless potential.

    Unfortunately, the competition was pretty unbelievable. Six new, high-profile Korean films have been released in the past couple of weeks... all of which did okay, but none of which was able to distinguish itself from the others. As a result, a lot of films there did okay, but nothing special.

    The one special film continues to be FOREVER THE MOMENT, which has now topped 4 million admissions... or over $25 million.

    Oh, Korean films are now up to 61.5 percent of the year's box office, in case you were curious.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
    1.Once Upon a Time in Corea (Korean) 1.313533.187.65
    2.Forever the Moment (Uri Sangae Choego-ui Sungan - Korean) 1.103572.8824.83
    3.Lovers of Six Years (6 Nyeonjjae Yeonaejung - Korean) 2.053862.964.90
    4.The Devil's Game (Deo Geim - Korean) 1.313272.918.24
    5. His Last Gift (Majimak Seonmul - Korean) 1.312910.931.47
    6.The Man Who Was Superman (Syupeomaenieossdeon Sanai - Korean)1.312980.923.45
    7. The Warlords1.312360.772.37
    8. Charlie Wilson's War2.061650.580.97
    9.Radio Days (Korean) 1.312290.331.32
    10.Alien vs. Predator 2 1.241340.281.73
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 97% of nationwide box office)

    Sorry for not doing more updates these days. As I said before, am rather busy with regular work, plus I am trying to get a couple of new things off the ground. Hopefully I will be able to announce them soon.

    Wednesday, February 06, 2008

    An In-Depth and Thorough Review of the Newly Redesigned Hite Stout Beer


    Korea Weekend Box Office - Feb. 1-3

    Quite the battle of all-against-all last weekend, with four major new films opening (not to mention the continuing success of FOREVER THE MOMENT). Nevertheless, it was a quite weekend overall, and no single film really took hold of the public's imagination. This long weekend, with the Seollal holiday, will show what people think of those new releases.

    Overall, though, I think it was a decent weekend for Korean movies. The top four movies were all Korean, and five of the top six, and six of the top 10. Not bad. Good enough, in fact, to raise Korean films to 53.9 percent of the box office so far in 2008.

    This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
    1.The Game (Korean) 1.314412.422.88
    2.Forever the Moment (Uri Saengae Choego-ui Suga - Korean)1.104092.0219.91
    3. Once Upon a Time in Corea (Korean)1.313941.872.31
    4. The Man Who Was Superman (Syupeomaenieossdeon Sanai - Korean)1.315141.381.71
    5. The Warlords 1.312930.810.99
    6.Radio Days (Korean) 1.313140.560.68
    7.Cloverfield 1.242550.423.47
    8.Happily N'Ever After 1.242120.281.32
    9.Open City (Mubangbi Dosi - Korean)1.101590.2410.3
    10. Bee Movie1.031180.136.82
    (Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 97% of nationwide box office)

    Monday, February 04, 2008

    Chicks With Picks
    -- Juck Juck Haeseo Grunge

    I just checked out a show by the all-female band Juck Juck Haeseo Grunge (적적해서 그런지). And while they probably are not the band I enjoy the most these days, I would call them the best band in Korea.

    How to describe them? A little Sonic Youth, a little PJ Harvey, a little Patti Smith, a little Led Zepplin... and a whole lotta' rock. Lots of distortion and tempo changes, but a heavier, slightly more metal sound than Sonic Youth. They told me that they have been around since April-ish, so I guess they are still a fairly young group. No idea if their sound is still evolving or what.

    Even rarer for the Hongdae scene, Juck Juck has stage presence. Between songs, they don't just tune their instruments or blather on endlessly, they keep things hopping. And the just FEEL like rock stars, dammit.

    They mostly play at the small club Badabie, but on Feb. 10 they will be playing at Club FF, which I think will be a much better setting for a band like this.

    Sunday, February 03, 2008

    'Night & Day' and other Random Notes - Vol 3, No. 5

    So I got the chance to see Hong Sang-soo's latest film NIGHT & DAY a few days ago. The film officially makes its world premier on Feb. 12 at the Berlin International Film Festival, but, well, there are ways...

    Of course, I am sworn to secrecy about the film. But I can say what the press kits talk about -- it is the story of a middle-aged artist who flees to Paris after smoking a little pot in Korea. While in Paris he meets an ex-girlfriend, makes a new girlfriend, and smokes and drinks a lot.

    It was Hong's longest movie so far, clocking in at 144 minutes, but it felt quite brisk and I never felt bored. Perhaps not as fun as WOMAN ON THE BEACH, but most worthwhile. I will try to write more about it after its official premier in 10 days.

  • Not that anyone asked, but here is my unofficial list of Hong Sang-soo's best films:
    1. A Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors
    2. Woman on the Beach
    3. Night and Day
    4. Turning Gate
    5. The Day a Pig Fell in the Well
    6. The Power of Kangwon Province
    7. Woman Is the Future of Man
    8. Conte du Cinema
    I would not put too much stock in that list, though. Nos. 1 and 8 are fairly entrenched, but the rest of the list fluctuates a lot day by day.

  • After the screenings, a bunch of us went to eat and drink and noraebang (because "noraebang" should be a verb at this point). Director Hong led us in a pretty brutal drinking version of Rock, Paper, Scissors. And there was much merriment. Drinking with director Hong just after watching a Hong film (full of drinking and such), is a pretty amusing experience.

  • I cannot believe I missed this news when it broke (well, actually I can... I have been swamped with work for the last couple of weeks) -- Kim Chang-ik, drummer of the great Korean rock group Sanullim, died a few days ago. Apparently there was some sort of accident in British Columbia, where he lived.

    Like Popular Gusts, I have long considered Sanullim's second album to be one of my favorites. When you have had a couple of adult beverages too many and you are at some old bar at 2 or 3 in the morning, and that great bass line from Nae Maeum-ae Judan-eul Kkalgo comes on the bar's stereo, it is one of my favorite feelings. I am just happy I was able to catch the band live in concert at their 30th anniversary show a couple of years ago.

  • A very sad story in the New York Times a couple of days ago about the fate of Michael Vick's dogs. Wonderful to see that people are trying to nurse them back to health (both physical and mental). But the story of Georgia is really heartbreaking...

  • THE WIRE. I have now managed to see the first five episodes of season five of THE WIRE, and I continue to be as impressed as ever. As I believe I said before, I am especially enjoying this season because it focuses on the Baltimore Sun newspaper, which I used to read regularly in the couple of years I spent in that city.

    What makes it even better for me is that when I was breaking into journalism a few years ago, I was working at the Joongang Daily under Hal Piper, a first-rate reporter and editor who spent most of his career at the Baltimore Sun.

    Season five has been especially controversial to some (journalists, mostly) because of its portrayal of cutbacks and the modern evolution of the news room. Some people think that David Simon, the show's creator and veteran crime reporter for The Sun, has been unduly harsh and petty about the leadership at The Sun when he was there. Others think he was spot on. There have been some great debates.

    As for Mr. Piper, he has not seen THE WIRE, but this is what he had to say about The Sun and Mr. Simon and the others:

    Yes, I knew Simon (not well), Carroll and Marimow. The latter two were my bosses in my last few years at the Sun, and I respected them a lot. I have seen what Simon says, but I think Carroll and Marimow reversed a prior decline in the quality of the Sun. When I left it in 2001 I thought it was a better paper than it had been in 10 or 15 years. Now that I am back in Baltimore, and reading the Sun again, I think it is a worse paper than I can remember in my lifetime. So, acknowledging Simon's talent -- he really was a great police reporter -- I wouldn't trust his evaluation of the paper as a whole. That said, I am dying to see the show. Some of my friends who are no longer with the paper have bit roles as reporters.

    He goes on to say: "The issue, it seems to me, is that management has made a strategic decision in favor of mediocrity (closing foreign bureaus, using mostly wire stuff for travel and book reviews, etc.)." Ouch.

    At any rate, you can read Simon's point of view about the series and Baltimore and more in this fine story.