Friday, March 26, 2010

Meanwhile, over at the other blog...

Some thoughts on Korean movies in America, live music websites, and other things over at my new blog. I guess I should get into the habit of writing over there. Feel free to check it out if you like.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


More news from Bong Joon-ho's MOTHER, this time from Hong Kong, where it picked up three prizes at the Fourth Asian Film Awards, including Best Picture. It also won Best Screenplay and Best Actress.

Korea has done quite at the Asian Film Awards in general, picking up Best Picture at the first Awards for THE HOST (which also won for Best Actor, Cinematography and Visual Effects), and at the second Awards for SECRET SUNSHINE (which also won for Best Director, and Best Actress).

Meanwhile, MOTHER continues to do well in the United States, and has now made over $100,000. Last weekend, it grew to 19 screens (up from six from the previous weekend) and its box office topped $53,000 (up from $36,000). It will be interesting to see if it can keep it up for long.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

MOTHER in America

Bong Joon-ho's MOTHER opened last weekend in the United States. Just six screens, but it opened to nearly $6,000 a screen -- good enough to be the No. 2 movie by per-screen average (for movies on more than one screen).

So, just $35,000 so far... not sure if distributors are planning on growing MOTHER's release. Since my last post about the film, its Rotten Tomatoes rank is up 1, to 88, but its Metacritic score is down on, to 79. Still, pretty good -- it has the fourth-best score on Metacritic and ninth-best on Rotten Tomatoes.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Band of Brothers, The Pacific ... The Korean War?

I came across a great interview with Bruce McKenna, the head writer and showrunner for the epic HBO series THE PACIFIC (and a writer for BAND OF BROTHERS). Totally worth a read.

But at the end of the interview, they ask him if he would like to move on to the Korean War next. And this is what he said:

HitFix: Do you think, though, that if this works out as well for HBO as they're obviously hoping, that they're going to go looking for that next war? Are we off to Korea next? Do we skip ahead and do Vietnam?

Bruce McKenna: I don't know. We'll see how well "The Pacific" does. I think it will do well. For me personally, the one war story that I would write is the story of the Chosin Reservoir. The Korean War is the forgotten war. Forget the Pacific, nobody knows anything about Korea. It's a Marine story and it's quite moving. Whether HBO does it or not, I hope they do. They did "Generation Kill" and I think something on Korea would be a great idea.

HitFix: Does that feel like another miniseries to you? Can you even think in a two-hour format anymore or are you stuck thinking in 10-hour blocks?

BM: Believe me, I think in whatever format they're willing to pay me to write. The Chosin Reservoir would be a better movie than a miniseries, because it was a very contained event. Now Korea? That's a miniseries.

So perhaps it is not likely at this stage. But just the thought that someone like McKenna would like to tackle the Korean War is a nice thought. Maybe we will get lucky some day.

Friday, March 12, 2010

MOTHER Comes to America

Bong Joon-ho's MOTHER gets a limited release in the United States today, and so far the reviews are very good -- 87 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, and an 80 metascore on Metacritic (which I find more useful than RT).

Manohla Dargis at the New York Times gives the film a glowing review. And even more interesting, the New York Times has Bong himself describing a scene from the film, talking about how and why he shot it the way he did.

I am not sure how big the release of MOTHER is (I suspect it is rather small), but will update this post once I find out.

I find it remarkable that a quirky film like MOTHER would get such a strong response in the West. MOTHER has almost none of the typical features you see in an Asian film that gets released in the West. No martial arts. No ghosts. No gangsters (well, almost none). It is like audiences in the West are growing much more comfortable with international cinema. Like it is getting normalized. Which I think is a great thing.

* * *

In a completely different vein, I just came across this fascinating little article about cinema in Saudi Arabia. Apparently all theaters there were closed in 1980 and just now some people are trying to bring them back. In general, I find the history of world cinema a great subject in general, and especially so in the Arab world. For instance, how many people remember that Egypt once had a very strong movie industry? I once met a filmmaker from Bahrain (perhaps the only filmmaker from that small island state), Bassam Al-Thawadi and he told me a lot of great stories about what it was like for him trying to make movies in Bahrain.

Maybe the same forces that are making Korean movies more normal in the West are also, in some small way, liberalizing the Arab world? Is this an example of the soft power of culture in globalization? Maybe not, but it is something I like to think about these days.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Epik High No. 1 on iTunes

Well, I never would have imagined it, but Korean hiphop group Epik High is currently sitting on top of the iTunes US hiphop chart.

Also currently are No. 1 in New Zealand, No. 2 in Australia and No. 3 in Canada. Pretty wild.

Epik High's new album, Epilogue, was just released on iTunes on Monday (March 8). I am told that it has bounced around on the charts for Japan (as high as #9), France, Germany and the UK. Good for EH.

Very encouraging for a more "real" group to make some noise outside of Korea, as opposed to a more manufactured teen-pop group. But, as I have argued many times over the years (along with many other folks, of course), real music is much more likely to get noticed around the world. Hiphop and indie rock are the real futures of K-Pop around the world.

(Again, there is room in the world for teen-pop, too, just as there is a place for the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus and the like. But that sort of music is not majority of the music industry. Artists who write their own songs have a lot more "weight" with critics).

If you are interested, here is the music video for Epik High's lead-off single Run. I have never been a huge fan of the group, but this song is rather catchy.

Don't forget, Epik High will be on CNN's Talk Asia on April 21.

(UPDATE: I added a link to the iTunes chart, that I forgot to add when I originally posted. Although I am not sure how long Epik High will be on top, which is why I posted a screen capture).

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Bong Joon-ho in the Press

Bong Joon-ho's latest film, MOTHER, is getting a release in the United States, and with that comes a bunch of publicity. The Wall Street Journal has a nice blog entry about Bong here. And the Harvard Crimson here.

Will post more as I find them.

Movie Magazine Suicides, Part 1000 (or so)

The long, slow suicide by Hollywood's trade magazines continues, as Variety just axed their best movie reviewers, including their top Asia reviewer Derek Elley.

Now, I can see getting rid of some expensive reviewers, especially in Hollywood (where, let's face it, reviewing the latest blockbuster means pretty close to nothing). But for less well known markets, like Asia, having reviewers who know the countries, the creatives and the history is pretty important. And Derek has long been one of the smartest and more important reviewers of Asian films.

Perhaps the modern economics of media just do not include a place for reviewers anymore. Film companies have other ways of getting out word about their movies. And just about anyone can blog their opinions, no matter how facile (hello!). But I still think Variety is losing more than they are saving by getting rid of someone like Derek.

This is just the latest in a long line of moves the movie trade magazines have made to eviscerate their publications. Variety created Variety Asia Online, then shut it down. The Hollywood Reporter had THR-Asia, then shut it down. Screen still has an Asia presence (the strongest of the three), but for how long? Film Business Asia is off to a promising start, but is still just that, a start -- and it does not have reviews.

Movies in Asia pull in over $6 billion a year, in theatrical revenue alone. Maybe nearing $7 billion, depending on how you measure these things. I find it hard to believe that there is not room for or need for a decent publication (online or offline) about the Asian film industry.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

New Beginnings, Portugal and More

Now that I am not living in Korea and POP GOES KOREA has been published, I have been wondering how much sense it makes to continue a blog called Korea Pop Wars. So I have been slowly developing a new blog, that is more general and reflects the things I am working these days --

If you are interested, feel free to check it out. If you are only interested in Korea things ... Well, I might cross-post Korea-related content here, at least for a while. Or I might not. I am not sure yet.

Many thanks, though, to everyone who lent their eyeballs here over the years. When I started this blog, it was primarily done to work up interest for the book (then titled Pop Wars: The Koreans Strike Back, which is why this blog is called Korea Pop Wars). I thought about talking about the latest Korean celebrity news, but around the same time all those K-Pop blogs got started, and no need to be redundant, so that idea fell by the wayside.

I also thought about talking about some of the more fun things I saw and heard about from the Korean entertainment scene, but I was a journalist back then, and if I talked about all the off-the-record stuff, it would not be long before no one told me anything anymore. So that idea did not go anywhere. So eventually the blog became what it was. Maybe not as dynamic as I hoped for, but judging by the traffic, there were a few of you out there who liked it. Thanks much.

Anyhow, I am currently in Porto, Portugal, at the Fantasporto Film Festival. So far, it has been great fun, and I hope to talk more about it over at the new blog.