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).