Monday, March 31, 2008

Mind the Gap

Okay, this has nothing to do with Korean entertainment, but I found it wildly entertaining. GAPMINDER is a great website about world health and economics, with amazing tools for graphically displaying those statistics.

For example, here is a graph comparing North Korean and South Korean incomes-per-person and life expectancy from 1960 to the present.

It is a big database so it might take a couple of minutes to load, but it is pretty cool stuff. Once it is loaded, you can look at so many things:
- Comparing the percentage of people in Korea living in cities to income since 1960 here.
- South Korea's Internet users per 100 people since 1990 here

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Don't Let It Bring You Down
I Don't Think Neil Young's Coming...

Some thoughts on the recently announced and rather dubious Flower Power Peace Festival over on my other blog, Korea Gig Guide. The part that makes it more media related is that the organizer is apparently the Gangwon Broadcasting Network, the company that bought MK Pictures late last year.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Book Update

Well, we are getting pretty close to the publication of POP GOES KOREA (nee KOREA POP WARS). I am currently grinding my way through a reback of the entire book, which can be a little interesting (to see what an editor did with my words), but is mostly tedious (because of what the editor did with my words).

Once I get through all of this, then I just need to finish off a snapshots section and I am pretty much done. I believe Stone Bridge will send me a copy of the page proofs some time in April, for one last fact check. And then we will be done.

Of the writing, anyway. I gather the marketing department intends on giving the book something of a push, so it could be I get some new publicity responsibilities. Not sure what that might entail, but I will do what is needed to help the book sell.

I think POP GOES KOREA could be on store shelves in May. If not, then June.

I suppose I should be thinking of the next book...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Korea Weekend Box Office - March 21-23

Looks like the March Blahs are in full force once again this year, with pretty lousy box office across the board. Each year we get a lull between the Lunar New Year and the summer movie season (which, of course, begins in May).

Top film was the Kwon Sang-woo film FATE. If you are into looking at Kwon with his shirt off, this could be the film for you. But it does not seem like the kind of film for me.

Otherwise, not a lot of changes from last week. 10,000 BC, then CHASER then STEP UP 2 (even upper and steppier than the first).

THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL really sucks, by the way. Avoid it at all costs.
This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
1.Fate (Sukmyeong - Korean) 3.203341.892.30
2.10,000 BC 3.133261.255.52
3.The Chaser (Chugyeok - Korean) 2.143091.2129.33
4.Step Up 2 3.132511.164.22
5. The Other Boleyn Girl3.201260.680.78
6.Vantage Point 2.281500.266.41
7.Babo (Korean) 2.281580.246.08
8.Amazing Grace3.20570.240.29
9.Brave Story 3.20560.100.10
10. My New Partner (Korean)3.06880.0621.63
(Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 97% of nationwide box office)

Loved the Youtube parody for THERE WILL BE BLOOD, titled THERE WILL BE BUD (it's not about beer). Yeah, I'm not exactly breaking new ground here, but I was impressed nonetheless.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Hong Kong Filmart 2008 - Wrap Up

I guess I should write a little conclusion to my trip to the Hong Kong Filmart, now that I am back, safe and sound.

This year's Filmart was busier than ever. As usual, not a lot of actual deals going down at the market, but there was plenty of talking and schmoozing. (What usually happens is that people meet at Filmart, make and renew acquaintances, but do most of the deal signing later, like at Cannes). But some people think that Filmart has some momentum behind it and is rapidly turning into the main Asian film market.

Sorry PIFF, but you are losing ground... plus your hotel room venue just does not seem as professional to some exhibitors.

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER published dailies at Filmart for the first time (you can download them here). I think we did a decent job of covering the event, all things considered. And, as always, it was fun to see everyone from all over, many of whom you only see once a year at Filmart.

As usual, there were plenty of parties and receptions, although THR kept me too busy to attempt most of them, I'm sad to say. But Hong Kong is Hong Kong, and there is always plenty going on, plenty of old friends to see.

The last night was particularly amusing, as I went drifting around from place to place, bumping into friends and people I only vaguely know. Around 2am or so, I stumbled into some upscale place where a big Hollywood mogul was hanging out, with his sizable entourage. I resisted the temptation to be all fake-friendly, though, and mostly stayed with my decidedly non-mogul friends. But it was a fun, late night.

* * *

Oh, for those of you interested, I have written a little review of Yozoh's debut album over at the KOREA GIG GUIDE.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Korea Weekend Box Office - March 14-16

This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
1.10,000 BC 3.134013.123.55
2.The Chaser (Chugyeokja - Korean) 2.143742.0727.33
3.Step Up 2 3.133372.012.33
4.Babo (Korean) 2.282530.585.70
5. Vantage Point 2.282420.565.98
6.Humming (Heoming - Korean) 3.132100.320.39
7.My New Partner (Korean) 3.062310.241.49
8.27 Dresses 3.062310.231.41
9.My Blueberry Nights 3.061540.120.87
10.Spiderwick Chronicles 2.14650.0554.09
(Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 97% of nationwide box office)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Hong Kong Filmart 2008 - Mini Report 2

It has been interesting getting to Filmart so far ahead of time, for once. The Hong Kong Filmart runs Monday to Thursday (March 17-20... although most people leave on Wednesday), but this year THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER is publishing dailies, so I arrived a few days early to set up.

Our office is just above the market floor, in a nice, spacious location. We have a window that overlooks the floor, reminding me of the VIP room in some colossal disco. Best of all, our room number is "14" -- the most unlucky number for Chinese people of a superstitious bent (it's even worse than 4 is in Korea).

After a couple of days of mad, hectic rushing, the exhibition crew has just about finished setting up everyone's booths. Packing wrap is being pulled down. Paint is almost dry. I'm told the registration booth will be issuing ID cards within an hour.

It is always great to be in Hong Kong. We went to a great Peking Duck place last night. Already checked out Happy Valley. Done some shopping. Went to Ebenezer for kebabs and biryani and didn't get dysentery. It's been a full trip.

Maybe I should do some real work now...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hong Kong Filmart 2008

I'm off to Hong Kong for the Hong Kong Filmart (March 17-20, but I need to get there early), so I will not have much news to report for the next week or so. If something really interesting happens in Hong Kong, I might try to write it up, but I fear I am going to be too busy to do so.

Anyhow, Hong Kong Filmart is always one of the more interesting events of the year, on the Asian film calendar. HK in the spring and Pusan in the autumn. Plenty of events, parties, stress and fun.

There is a major film festival going on, too, but I never really get out of the market, so I do not know much about it.

This year, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER is publishing dailies at the market for the first time, so quite a crew of us should be there, from Los Angeles and all over. Should be interesting to see what they think of the Filmart and Hong Kong.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Korea Weekend Box Office - March 7-9

Another good week for THE CHASER, which has now raced past 3.6 million admissions. Four million is a certainty, and I suppose 5 million is looking increasingly possible. Very good news for Showbox (the distributor) and Na Hong-jin (director).

Otherwise, not a lot of note this week. There is a lot of parity in the top-10, with even the No. 10 film on 145 screens.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD opened way down in 17th (which I saw an quite liked, in a great-bad-movie sort of way).

Hong Sang-soo's NIGHT AND DAY was in 19th, and now has slightly over 7,000 admissions.

This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
1.The Chaser (Chugyeokja - Korean) 2.144243.1023.72
2.Vantage Point 2.282791.354.86
3.Babo - Korean 2.282841.314.59
4.My New Partner - Korean 3.062650.800.92
5. 27 Dresses 3.062620.740.84
6.My Blueberry Nights3.061910.430.55
7.Assembly 3.061890.260.31
8.Jumper 2.141740.2310.88
9.Spiderwick Chronicles 2.141490.214.00
10.Rambo 4 2.281450.0710.64
(Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 97% of nationwide box office)

Friday, March 07, 2008

CHASER Running West

Na Hong-jin's THE CHASER is heading to Hollywood. According to a story in today's HOLLYWOOD REPORTER (by me, hah!), Warner Bros. bought the remake rights for $1 million (plus other considerations).

If you are not a fan of remakes, you should be able to catch the original soon enough ... provided you live in Hong Kong, the Benelux, France or Greece. They all bought distribution rights to the original.

Which reminds me -- at long, long last, THR's Asia website is finally up and running. I think it looks pretty nice... although apparently a lot of changes are on their way.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Korea Weekend Box Office - Feb. 29-March 2

Looks like THE CHASER continues to hold up nicely, taking the top spot at the box office for a third weekend in a row. THE CHASER has a little over 3 million admissions now, making it a solid hit, and since it is still No. 1, I am guessing it has a good shot at beating FOREVER THE MOMENT to become the biggest hit of the year so far.

Not much else noteworthy in the top-10 this week. But down at No. 15 is the sad, sad opening of Hong Sang-soo's latest, NIGHT & DAY. Just 3,800 admissions in its first three days (or about $28,000). Wow. Is that the worst showing ever for a Hong Sang-soo film?

Looks like Korea is no country for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. In its second weekend, NO COUNTRY landed in 13th, and has had just 37,000 admissions since it opened.

This WeekTitle............................................Release DateScreens NationwideWeekend Revenue (bil. won)Total Revenue (bil. won)
1.The Chaser (Chugyeokja - Korean)2.144904.2918.90
2.Vantage Point 2.283532.342.75
3.Babo - Korean 2.283422.172.58
4.Jumper 2.143250.9110.43
5. The Spiderwick Chronicles 2.142290.623.73
6.Deathnote L: Change the World 2.212790.352.06
7.Rambo 42.282620.340.45
8.Fool's Gold2.281680.240.28
9.Kungfu Dunk2.281900.200.25
10.War 2.281700.190.22
(Source: KOBIS - Figures represent 97% of nationwide box office)

Crazy week coming up for new releases. THERE WILL BE BLOOD (yeah!), MY NEW PARTNER (ugh), 27 DRESSES (I'm always the bridesmaid...), ASSEMBLY (starts okay, but turns into Chinese propaganda in the second half), and MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS (getting a massive push on OCN, but I fear it is an inferior Wong Kar Wai film). Lots of competition for early March.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Myth-takes About the North Korean Concert Myths

UPDATE: Ben Rosen over at the Huffington Post (shudder) writes about his first-hand experiences about the North Korea trip made by the Symphony, and far more eloquently than myself describes what was good about it. Perhaps the biggest thing that I forgot to mention is the soon-to-be-opened Pyongyang Institute of Science and Technology. A science university, with classes in English? With three of the four directors Americans? That's pretty wild stuff for North Korea. Could outside exposure be nearing the tipping point? Once enough people know the truth, will NK be forced to change? For the first time in ages, I actually have some hope.

Griping about the New York Philharmonic Symphony's trip to North Korea continues, with a column in the Wall Street Journal. Terry Teachout rebuts five "myths" about the NK concert... but most of those can be turned on their head just as easily to say the opposite. Typical of someone making assertions without facts or research to back them up.

- The fact that the audience responded warmly to the concert proves that it was a good idea. "We just went out and did our thing," Mr. Maazel told reporters, "and we began to feel this warmth coming back. . . . I think it's going to do a great deal." Bunk. All it proves is that apparatchiks can be sentimental, too,

You could just as easily say that just because apparatchiks can be sentimental it means the concert was a bad idea. And you would be just as wrong.

Yes, most people living in Pyongyang are from North Korea's elite. They appreciated the concert, although that does not mean much. Who would not appreciate a great concert? What, are they going to 'boo' because the second violin sucks? What else do you expect from any audience?

The audience responded warmly because that is what most audiences do. This means little one way or the other.

(Although Kim Cheol-woong said he was surprised by the warm reaction. Who is Kim? Keep reading...)

End of story.

Not a fan of anyone who writes like he is a professional wrestler. "End of story" my ass.

- Any direct contact between North Korea and the U.S. is by definition desirable. Not if it makes things worse for the North Koreans -- and it may.

Once again, not much in the way of evidence for this. Teacher's big proof of this assertion was a quote by Kim Cheol-woong, a NK musician who defected in 2001.
Kim Cheol-woong, a musician who defected from Pyongyang to the West in 2001, warned the Journal's Melanie Kirkpatrick that "there will be educational sessions . . . [on] the triumph of Kim Jong Il's political leadership, which resulted in the fact that even the American artistic group is coming to knock their foreheads on the floor in front of General Kim."

Yeah, well, Kim has also been cited (in Reuters and elsewhere) as saying the concert had the potential to could help change hearts and minds. Here is his Yonhap quote:
"Watching North Koreans listen to the U.S. national anthem courteously, on their feet, I felt the mood of respecting each other. The New York Phil performance will likely serve as a stepping stone for improving relations between North Korea and the U.S."

Oops. Apparently Kim's opinions are a little more nuanced and ambivalent (if not positive) than Teacher realized.

Back to Teacher's article:
- Even if only a handful of North Korean musicians heard the concert and found it inspiring, it was worth giving. Really? Are musicians more important than "ordinary" North Koreans?

The concert was broadcast live on NK radio and TV, so more than a handful of NKs heard it.

And I do not see how this makes musicians "more important" than ordinary North Koreans. Classical music concerts tend to be disproportionately attended by the upper class just about everywhere. Not a lot of "ordinary" citizens in the average concert hall. But NK is such a shuttered society, any time you have people coming into contact with foreigners (especially Americans) and seeing that they do not have horns and are normal, you are striking a blow against NK propaganda (as Andrei Lankov likes to say).

- People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

Ah, the bogeyman that is moral relativism. Of course the United States is not North Korea. There are few states (if any) that are on North Korea's level.

I do not see how this is a mistaken idea about the NK concert. If Maazel has a problem with the US justice system, that really has little to do with whether or not it is okay to hold a concert in North Korea.

But if it is okay to do business with China, Russia, and a whole host of "bad" countries, is any dealing with NK beyond the pale? Where is the line? Is it impossible to think that the benefits of openness might outweigh the negatives of going to a repressive state?

(Btw, maybe, just maybe, the US (like all democratic countries) should aspire a higher moral standard than NK? When the US falls short of its ideals and has problems, it is a much bigger deal than when an oppressive dictatorship does far worse.)

- Great art can change the world.

Myeh. A pretty wishy-washy complaint. Does anyone really expect a story or song or painting to change large political systems? Anyone out of high school, at any rate...

On the other hand, art does change the world... but not in some kind of simplistic, one-to-one, cause-effect way. For example, learning art and music and the like change the way you think, the physical hardwiring of the brain (just as reading and writing do).

More to the point, Western classical musicians going to the Soviet Union in the 1950s and later did matter. Even though the Soviet Union kept chugging along for years, those concerts did matter, they changed the way people thought about the state and its enemies, they helped to undermine the legitimacy of the system.

Irene Breslau, a member of the Philharmonic's viola section, got it right on the nose: "I've had a lot of moral reservations based on wondering what a concert for the elite is going to do to help the people starving in the street,"

Could say the same thing about any classical concert in almost any major city in the world.

Anyhow, I have spent far longer on this rebuttal than I intended. My basic point is, a lot of people have gotten hot and bothered about that NY Philharmonic Orchestra concert. And most of those complainers are approaching this issue with more self-righteousness and heavy-handed ideology than brains, nuance or practicality.

The truth is, cultural exchanges do not matter a whole lot when it comes to fixing the North Korean problem. There are far larger forces at work. But when dealing with a closed society that depends on isolation to maintain its legitimacy, outside contacts have the potential to help break down the isolation, if only a little.