Hrm... End of the year. I guess I am supposed to offer some sort of wrap-up of 2008. Or top-whatever lists. Or some sort of words of wisdom.
Too bad I don't really have anything like that. At least nothing earth-shattering or brilliant or controversial.
The movies had their worst year in quite a while, with Korean films dropping to their lowest level of support since 2002 or so (still waiting on the final figures). THE CHASER was probably my favorite film of the year, although it was more of a B+ than an A. THE GOOD THE BAD THE WEIRD was fun but not great (and a little shaky in spots). Hong Sang-soo's and Kim Ki-duk's latests were duds. Most everything else felt... well, typical. Some good, some bad (some terrible)... but nothing really weird. Nothing surprising. Artistically, things are in a bit of rut.
But despite their money problems, the fact is attendance is still way up from what it was 10 years ago, new movie theaters are still being built. And, most importantly, good films are still being made. Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook have their new films coming soon. And there are a lot of really interesting, big projects in the works. Sorry I cannot talk about a couple of the more fun ones I know. But things like the cgi animation of Robot Taekwon V or Bong Joon-ho's Snow Train are just way too cool. Certainly Hollywood's interest in Korea is bigger than ever. And I would not overlook the behind-the-scenes stuff going on with China and Japan, either.
People claim that financing is so tough, but last year saw over 100 films released -- still way more than a few years ago, and probably more than is healthy. Yes, some previously popular sources of financing have dried up. But most of them probably were not so good anyhow, and the industry has a whole is stronger without it. Stupid money investing in bad movies helps almost no one (except the crew members, who could use all the help they can get).
The music industry has, for the most part, completely adjusted to the digital age. I don't see anyone seriously expecting CD sales to recover any time soon. Now the business is more about all-round celebrities, with money coming from a hundred sources aside from CD sales. Kind of sucks for the indie artists... But then, it always did for them.
The new system just highlights how hollow the business model is for real, live bands. The fact that there are more and better indie bands in Korea than any time I can remember, despite the end of CD sales, indicates to me that something very different drives music. Who knows, maybe with a little luck and hard work, the live music scene might get its act together in 2009 and try to present something to people that the pop music industry is not supplying.
(Since I am not much of a K-pop guy, I will refrain from commenting on the music itself this year, aside from saying it seems pretty much the same as always. But as I said before, my choice for most interesting CDs of the year is posted over at London Korean Links).
Korean TV continues to move toward independent productions. Lee Byung-hun has his IRIS series coming. Bae Young-joon has an interesting new project on the way (which I guess is not necessarily a TV thing... not sure what it is from that article, but I assume it will have a TV angle) (Taewangsasinggi vs. the Wondergirls?).
I guess if I were to summarize 2008, we are in a period of change... but then, aren't we always? Internationalization is growing ever more important (but again, not really an original insight). I am not saying the stories here are uninteresting... It is just that I have been talking about them all year. It may be the end of a calendar year, but it does not feel like any kind of natural break in the Korean entertainment scene. Maybe by later in 2009 we will have a better idea what the next big things are.