Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Month: January 2007 (page 1 of 2)

Random Notes – Vol 2, No. 3

  • Just got word that THE HOST will be making its US debut on 60-70 screens in March. Originally, there was talk that it would open on well over 100 screens, but apparently THE HOST’s poor showing in European markets has spooked Magnolia a little, so now they will open the film more conservatively.

  • THE HOST just came out on DVD here in Korea. I already have my copy of the uber-fancy, super-special edition, and I must say it is a nifty package (even if it is a strange shape that fits awkwardly in my DVD cabinet. The menus inside the DVD are a little awkward, too, with odd English, and few of the extras are subtitled. But overall, I still quite like it. There is a monster gag reel, featuring the creators at the Orphanage screwing around with the special effects. And Bong Joon-ho’s short film that was kind of his test for shooting around the Han River was pretty amusing. Most importantly, though, is the movie itself, which looks gorgeous. They blues and greens of the Han riverside in the rain just pop off the screen, and the whole movie is so richly textured. I think I like it more after looking at it at home that I did the first time around in the theaters.
  • THE HOST has a first printing (is that the right term for DVDs?) of 33,000 copies in Korea, including rentals. Plus another 20,000 on VHS. Which might not sound great, but that is pretty spiffy for Korea these days. THE KING AND THE CLOWN had just 30,000 (plus 24,000 on VHS). No word on how it is doing in Japan yet.
  • Oh, in my box office report a couple of days ago, I forgot to mention BORAT. BORAT opened in just 15th, with 7,271 admissions. No idea how many screens it was on, sorry.
  • Big congratulations to Japan for a great year in movies. EIREN (Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan) announced that Japanese films accounted for 53% of the box office in 2006. First time Japanese movies have taken a majority of the box office in 21 years.

    (UPDATE: Jason Grey has a good post about the year’s box office here. Then he proudly says he will not talk about box office for the rest of the year, concentrating on content instead. But I am not intimidated by someone daring to talk about art instead of commerce. No, I’m not. Really. And a couple of posts earlier, he talks about the year ahead.)

  • On the other hand, admissions were up just 2.4% from 2005, reaching 164 million — nearly the same number Korea had last year, despite having just 40% of Japan’s population. But since tickets in Japan cost double what they do in Korea, Japan remains a much bigger market.
  • As I indicated in the comments section of another post, still no word when CHILDREN OF MEN will hit the screens in Korea. But now that the Universal Pictures Korea office has been reorganized, hopefully they will get their act together and bring it sooner rather than later.
  • Just ran across Brian Yecies’ article FILM CENSORSHIP AS A GOOD BUSINESS IN COLONIAL KOREA. Great stuff. Download it and read it yourself for a fascinating look at the early days of cinema in Korea. One of the many money quotes:
    During this time [1934-36], Fox, Paramount, Warner Bros — First National, Universal, independent agent J.H. Morris and others who represented Columbia, MGM, RKO, and United Artists — had direct distribution offices in Seoul. Korea was unquestionably a key territory for Hollywood distributors. There was no better market in Asia for Hollywood films than colonial Korea.

  • A follow-up to my post on the new Daniel Gordon movie, CROSSING THE LINE. CBS’s 60 Minutes had a segment on the movie last Sunday. And, to be honest, it was a little weak. The producers basically just repeated the documentary in (very) short form, with no additional insights or analysis. You can see it for yourself here. Or, better yet, see the original documentary for yourself. The actual film is much more in-depth and interesting than the 60 Minutes abbreviation. For those of you reading from the US, it sounds like the odds are good that the film is going to get distribution in the United States. Hopefully you will not have to wait long to see it.

Korea Weekend Box Office – Jan. 26-28

Zhang Yimou takes the top spot this week with his latest costumed, schmuck-foo drama, CURSING THE GOLDEN, FLYING DAGGER FOR THOUSANDS OF MILES (or something like that), taking in a healthy 461,000 in admissions, or about $3.1 million. Someone should force Zhang and Hong Sang-soo to swap their next projects (two extremely talents directors who have both gone to the same well too often).

Once again showing us the Seoul/jibang effect, THE PERFECT COUPLE came in No. 2 in Seoul with 88,100 in attendance (24% behind GOLDEN FLOWER), even though it was No. 1 nationwide with 520,600 in attendance (13% ahead).

Huzzah. 200 POUND BEAUTY just passed MY BOSS, MY TEACHER to become the top comedy of all time in Korea (not to mention the ninth-biggest box office draw). With 6.16 million in attendance and still at No. 3 on the weekend chart, BEAUTY is certain to pass by SHIRI to become the eighth-biggest film ever in Korea. Next in line after SHIRI would be TAZZA, at around 6.8 million in attendance.

Korean animation continues its tepid run with the opening of Lee Sung-gang’s YOBI: THE FIVE-TAILED FOX in No. 7, with 186,000 in attendance. While not a great opening, it already has beaten most Korean animation, though. AATCHI & SSIPAK pulled in just 107,154 in its run last year, EMPRESS CHUNG with 75,957, OSEAM with 60,000 (approx.) and HAMMERBOY with 47,502. WONDERFUL DAYS did around 400,000 or so back in 2003, but I am trying to track down the exact number. So there is still a chance that YOBI could become the biggest Korean animated film ever, or at least in recent memory, especially with the Seollal holidays still to come.

In the meantime, it looks like the biggest animated Korean film is the re-release of the 30-year-old ROBOT TAEKWON V, with 473,8000 in admissions this go-around alone.
(Btw, something I did not know, but apparently the Korean golden age movie great Yu Hyun-mok produced the film… kind of cool). I wish I knew how TAEKWON V did in its original release, but alas I do not.

This Week Title…………………………………. Release Date Screens Nationwide Weekend Attendance (Seoul only) Total Attendance
1. Curse of the Golden Flower 1.25 278 116,200 461,000
2. The Perfect Couple 1.25 284 88,100 520,600
3. 200-Pound Beauty 12.14 237 78,900 6,157,900
4. Miss Potter 1.25 196 65,300 185,900
5. Mapado 2 1.18 337 63,000 1,318,000
6. Herb 1.11 236 46,500 1,286,300
7. Yobi: The Five-Tailed Fox 1.25 105 38,000 186,000
8. Deja Vu 1.11 134 37,400 772,100
9. Robot Taekwon V 1.18 189 36,600 473,800
10. Blood Diamond 1.11 93 26,600 441,300

(Source: Film2.0)

Random Notes – Vol 2, No. 2

Some random notes from around the media about Korean pop culture:

  • 200 POUND BEAUTY is now officially the 10th-biggest Korean movie of all time, beating out JSA for the No. 10 spot. Does it have what it takes to surpass MY BOSS, MY TEACHER? 200 POUND is still selling around 45,000 tickets a day (during the weekdays), but starting yesterday, a lot of new competition hit the screens.

  • Boa is now five for five in Japan, as her latest album there has gone No. 1. Too bad she is not selling much in her homeland any more (her last album, in 2005, was just the 14th-biggest seller of the year). Also funny that the reporter called her the “Korean Britney Spears”. Too many inappropriate jokes there to even know where to start.
  • Singers Se7en and Rain both seem to be going through rough patches at the moment. Seven’s new TV drama, GUNG S (aka PRINCE WHO), has kicked off with less-than-stellar ratings (remember, you can always read the cached version of any Korea Herald article, even after the link turns into a for-pay archive story). And Rain apparently did not impress several journalists in his recent swing through Singapore and Hong Kong. I can echo those comments. Rain came to the press club here in Seoul back in October to talk about his tour, but he was so vague, evasive and inarticulate in this answers, he really annoyed most of the foreign journalists who showed up. Nice of him to take the time, but if he is going to take the trouble, he really should come prepared.
  • Bae Yong-joon paid the most taxes of any Korean entertainer in 2006. Last year he made over $15 million (it is unclear in the article if they meant overall or just in Japan), despite not appearing in any movies or TV shows. Not bad for a down year. Look for his taxes to soar in 2007 as he appears in LEGEND (or what the KT calls “The Four Guardian Gods of the King Taewangsasingi”), beginning around May-ish. LEGEND should be the most expensive TV show ever made in Korea (topping $40 million), and a good chunk of that will be for the cast (of course, a much bigger chunk will go to sets and special effects).
  • Incheon airport the world’s best? I think not. Nor do I put much faith in any survey that calls the desolate hole that is Narita the world’s No. 7 airport. Incheon Airport is certainly clean and modern, but it has a lousy selection of restaurants (compare it to, say, O’Hare, which has a Wolfgang Puck’s, Pizzeria Uno’s, Quiznos and more), and ridiculously bad immigration queues. Nothing like waiting in one of the three huge lines for foreigners while Koreans zip through in one of 20 empty rows. Certainly lets you know your place in a hurry. Extra-annoying because it is such an easily solvable problem.
  • Too much negativity in today’s post? Sorry about that. So do yourself a favor and check out the new Lee Sung-gang animated film, YOBI (or YEUWOOBI, depending on who you ask). It is a little childish, but, still, Lee Sung-gang does good stuff.

My Award Show Has a First Name, It’s O-S-C-A-R

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for the 79th Academy Awards a few hours ago. In general, I am not a fan of the Oscars and think it is a big mistake to put much stock into the awards; however, I must say I am fairly pleased with this year’s nominees. All five Best Picture films seem quite solid (even THE DEPARTED, despite my griping).

Two favorites, PAN’S LABYRINTH and CHILDREN OF MEN, both received several nominations. Hopefully these awards will spur local distributors here in South Korea to release some of those movies a little quicker (I’m talking to you Warner Bros, and I’m talking about LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA). FYI, THE QUEEN comes out Feb. 15, BABEL on Feb. 22, and LAST KING OF SCOTLAND on March 8.

No big surprises that Korea’s nominee, THE KING AND THE CLOWN, did not get a nod for Best Foreign Language Film. I thought that was an incredibly weak selection that had no chance (it did not even make the short list, announced a few weeks ago). Not sure if THE HOST would have done any better… could not have done worse, I guess. In general, I thought 2006 a pretty weak year for Korean movies (artistically, anyhow).

But as I indicated in the beginning of this post, I am not a big Oscar fan, especially for the Best Foreign Language Film category, and I think we would be far better off if we ignored the whole silly thing.

Nikki Finke, as always, has all of the political and box office analyses, while completely ignoring any thought of art or quality (worse, she actively campaigns against such considerations, as in the middle of that link when she says that UNITED 93 did not deserve a nomination, despite being well-directed and having a great script, just because it had no A-list actors in it).

Oh, nearly forgot, if I am going to mention Korean movies getting the love from foreign critics (as I did here), then it seems only fair to mention when they get the raspberries, too. Japan’s Bunshin Raspberry Awards named one Korean movie to their list of the 10-worst films of 2006 — Choi Ji-woo’s silly melodrama NOW AND FOREVER, which was ranked No. 7 among the most rank. TALES OF EARTHSEA was the runaway winner (loser?) of this year’s Raspberries.

Korea Weekend Box Office – Jan. 19-21

A remarkably stable weekend at the box office. Despite having a new No. 1 film, many films in the top-10 experienced very little drop-off from last week. 200 POUND BEAUTY took in just 200 fewer viewers last weekend in Seoul compared to the previous weekend. Not bad for a movie that has been out for a month and a half.

DEJA VU and BLOOD DIAMOND also experienced only small declines, BLOOD DIAMOND so much so that it rose from seventh to sixth. ERAGON, on the other hand, did have a pretty substantial drop, falling from first to fifth.

The new No. 1 movie is MAPADO 2. Did not see it. But it is interesting to see how its Seoul weekend box office was only a little more than ERAGON did last week, but its national attendance since Thursday was more than 200,000 bigger. Just another sign of how tastes differ between Seoul and the countryside in Korea.

The restored print of ROBOT TAEKWON V made its debut in eighth (well, almost debut, since it was first screened at the Pusan International Film Festival in 2005). Not great, but not bad for a 30-year-old movie that most people already now. In fact, if you look at the nationwide numbers, it opened in fifth (same effect as MAPADO 2). Incidentally, the nice people at RTV’s production company rediscovered the English subtitles for the movie, so the next time it comes out on DVD, it should include them.

Michel Gondry’s SCIENCE OF SLEEP may be all the way down at No. 17 last weekend, but the film has now sold just over 40,000 tickets, or a little over $425,000. Not bad for an odd little film on so few screens. And the Japanese film HONEY AND CLOVER has now sold over 32,000 tickets.

This Week Title…………………………………. Release Date Screens Nationwide Weekend Attendance (Seoul only) Total Attendance
1. Mapado 2 1.18 385 110,000 737,000
2. 200-Pound Beauty 12.14 262 101,400 5,718,700
3. Herb 1.11 275 80,000 951,800
4. Deja Vu 1.11 182 69,000 583,500
5. Eragon 1.11 239 57,600 867,800
6. Blood Diamond 1.11 120 42,600 338,100
7. Night at the Museum 12.21 196 42,300 4,476,200
8. Robot Taekwon V 1.18 209 41,800 230,100
9. Deathnote: The Last Name 1.11 200 25,900 546,100
10. Barnyard 1.18 110 19,000 82,000

(Source: Film2.0)

Take My Breath Away, A Kim Ki-duk Set Visit

Local journalists (even myself) were invited on Thursday to the set of Kim Ki-duk’s latest film, BREATH (숨), to get an early glimpse at the movie, talk to the actors, and see how Korea’s arthouse bad boy is doing these days. Around 50 of us press types showed up, despite the-less-than-stellar commercial appeal of Kim these days, confirming my general belief that it is a lot easier to be famous than successful in Korea.

Anyhow, filming is taking place at Seodaemun Prison, nestled in the narrow valley between Mount Inwang (Inwangsan) and Mount An (Ansan). The former prison closed in 1987 and has been a museum since 1992 or so, so it is a convenient site to shoot a prison story.

The story of BREATHE, as I understand it, is about a woman who falls in love with a death-row inmate. Or an inmate who falls in love with a woman at the prison. Or something like that. Said inmate is being played by the Taiwanese actor Chen Chang, known for CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON and THREE TIMES. Even though this is a fairly low-budget project, Kim apparently wrote the role with Chang in mind and, I was told, referred to the character in the script as “Chen” from the beginning.

These set visits are an odd bit of artifice in Korea. A horde of media types gather to watch a staged bit of fake film making, followed by a press conference where the director and actors tell you how great it is to work together, how much they have all admired each other’s works, etc.

For the most part, the BREATH event followed the usual script. We crowded into the prison’s narrow corridor to watch a couple of scenes. Usually the chaos of having so many journalists around means that the filming is faked, but I was told that Kim put film in the camera and wanted to use the stuff we saw. Given how Kim only has 10 days to shoot this movie (he usually really rushes his shoots), I would not be surprised.

The biggest “news” (such as it was) was watching how Kim Ki-duk interacted with the press. The man has had some well known spats with the Korean press over the years, especially last year when he bashed THE HOST (or sounded like it, anyhow), complained about how his movies are treated in Korea and threatened to stop releasing his films in Korea altogether. Kim received quite the smackdown for his little tirade (which, I am told, really chastened and upset him). For our event, though, Kim was quite polite, if a little passive-aggressive, talking repeatedly about how he considered this movie to be like an “export” into Korea (because his films tend to do better in France and Italy than here in their homeland).

Oh, and the press conference was held outside, where it was pretty darn cold, especially when you were just sitting around, not moving. My camera’s batteries died before the conference began, but you can see the site below. Note, the Taegukgi flag was already hanging there, for reasons unrelated to the press conference or the movie.

On a few occasions, I have been lucky enough to actually visit actual sets when they were actually filming, which is much more interesting. I shared a bento lunch once with Kim Jee-woon and Lee Byung-hun (and producer Eugene Lee, who was kind enough to allow me to visit) on the set of A BITTERSWEET LIFE, in the basement of a well known hotel in the Cheongdam-dong area. It was remarkable for its laid-back atmosphere. The stars had side rooms set aside for them if they wanted, but for the most part, people just hung out, watching, talking. No big, private trailers for the stars to hide in.

Anyhow, big thanks to Sponge House, Cineclick Asia, Kim Ki-duk and everyone else for inviting me (us) aboard. I guess the aim is to have the movie ready for the film festivals in the spring or summer. I will save my comments/criticisms about Kim Ki-duk for then. But I hope this movie works out well for him.

Shakedown Shut Down

Well, that was unexpected. Grady Hendrix’s blog for Variety, KAIJU SHAKEDOWN is closing down. I guess I won’t be able to use Kaiju as an example anymore to convince The Hollywood Reporter (or whoever) to make KOREA POP WARS a fabulously well paid gig.

I have never met Grady, despite our paths having crossed a few times (at PIFF and HK Filmart and elsewhere). I’m sure he will be fine without KS, but here’s wishing him the best anyway.

Korean Music Charts – January 2007

Absolutely shocking how poor sales were for December. I thought that Korea usually gets a Christmas bump, but it certainly did not this year. The top-selling album, the latest SM Entertainment holiday release, sold just 33,453 copies. The tenth-place album, Park Sang-min’s latest, sold just 11,000 (last month, tenth place sold 20,000).

Foreign music sales were also pretty bad, although they were actually up a little from November.

Still no work on 2006 overall sales yet, but you can bet they are going to be pretty depressing. On the other hand, the advance word I am getting about digital sales (online downloads, mobile phone music, etc.) is pretty incredible. Last year, mobile and downloads were (officially) about $267 million, versus $118 million for CD and cassette sales. I say officially, because the math behind the numbers if pretty murky, with no one group responsible for all the rights or collecting all the money. Unofficially, that number could have been well over $400 million. And there are rumors that 2006 might have experienced another huge leap. I will write about those numbers as soon as I hear more.

This Month Artist Album Name Release Date This Month’s Sales Total Sales
1. Various SM Town 10 12.12 33,453 33,453
2. SG Wannabe The Precious History 11.16 33,426 78,548
3. Big Bang Vol. 1 12.21 33,343 33,343
4. Lee Seung-chul Reflection of Sound 9.27 26,017 86,593
5. Rain Vol. 4 – I’m Coming 10.13 20,995 106,110
6. Dong Bang Shin Gi Vol. 3 – O-Union 9.28 20,046 349,317
7. Brian The Brian 12.18 15,376 15,376
8. Bobby Kim Vol. 2 12.11 13,723 13,723
9. Sung Shi-gyung Vol. 5 10.10 11,912 94,328
10. Park Sang-min Vol 11 12.01 11,008 11,008

(source: MIAK)

Foreign Sales:

This Month Artist Album Name Release Date This Month’s Sales Total Sales
1. Il Divo Siempre 12.01 7,233 7,233
2. Richard Yongjae O’Neil Lachrymae 9.07 6,498 19,454
3. Various Love and Memory 12.07 5,471 5,471
4. The Beatles Love 11.21 5,081 9,126
5. Westlife The Love Album 11.20 4,629 10,216
6. Various Step Up (OST) 10.24 4,407 4,761
7. Shin Youngok Love Duets 12.05 3,845 3,845
8. Jo Sumi With Love 8.25 3,418 19,055
9. Various Wine: Music & Story 10.19 3,404 5,410
10. Kenny G The Most Romantic Melodies 11.20 3,237 6,698

(source: MIAK)

Random Movie Notes – Vol 2, No. 1

  • A strange little news story over at Yonhap that did not generate much heat, but which seemed rather ominous to me — South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun told his cabinet on Tuesday to investigate the nation’s news media to see if they are colluding to bad-mouth his policies.

    Yeah, like the media needs to collude to find problems with Roh. It is the media’s fault that Roh has alienated his base on the left, annoyed the right, and been so incredibly useless across the board (albeit with some minor improvements in decreasing corruption). Roh clearly has no idea how the press works, despite four years as president and however many as a public figure. Someone should tell him about catching flies with honey verus vinegar.

    Anyhow, lord knows the Korean press has its problems, but being bullied by the government is the last thing the press needs. Korean media needs more independence from government, not more control. But judging by Roh’s plan to merge TV and telecommunications regulatory agencies, he obviously likes to control everything he can.

  • Funny article in the Korea Times about how Korea’s top advertising queens are flopping on the big screen. As usual, the quality (or lack thereof) of the various films did not get much consideration. Considering how all those actresses (save Kim Tae-hee) have starred in successful movies in the past, it seems strange to me to blame their more recent failures and the actresses’ poor acting abilities. Try taking a lesson from Go Hyun-jung and act in a few small-budget arthouse movies.

    (Which is why I have a bit of a soft spot for Jeon Ji-hyun… who, at the peak of her popularity, starred in THE UNINVITED. Not a good film, but at least she made the attempt).

  • Midnight Eye has its annual Best/Worst-of poll for 2006 movies. Yang Yonghi’s DEAR PYONGYANG made several lists. Bae Doo-na’s LINDA, LINDA, LINDA made a couple. THE HOST even made Tom Mes’s list of best foreign films.
  • Thanks to Jon Pais over at Twitch Film for his kind words when he linked to this week’s box office report.

Korea Weekend Box Office – Jan. 12-14

A remarkably weekend for parity, as the top six movies all sold over 340,000 tickets from Thursday night to Sunday night. I cannot remember the last time so many films did that well (well, over Christmas was pretty strong, but they had an extra holiday to add to the box office that weekend).

The dragon fantasy film ERAGON was the No. 1 film this weekend, selling 504,600 tickets since opening Thursday (about $3.4 million). Not a bad opening for a silly little B-picture.

200 POUND BEAUTY shot over the 5-million-attendance mark over the weekend, and is still doing quite well a month after its release. I think it is going to top 5.5 million… but I fear it will not match the 6.1 million of MY BOSS, MY TEACHER. Sigh. Would have been nice to depose that film from its perch as the top comedy of all time in Korea.

No. 3 went to HERB, with a decent 442,000. Kind of in the middle to be considered a success or disappointment. We will have to wait to see if the film has any legs. It if keeps chugging along, then I could see it doing quite well. Or it could drop like a stone.

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM topped the 4-million line, a fairly impressive feat, too. MUSEUM is the biggest foreign movie in Korea since PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 2 last summer.

Even though DEATHNOTE 2: THE LAST NAME opened in No. 6, it sold 347,600 tickets, which is nearly 20% better than the first DEATHNOTE did back in early November.

This Week Title…………………………………. Release Date Screens Nationwide Weekend Attendance (Seoul only) Total Attendance
1. Eragon 1.11 298 102,600 504,600
2. 200-Pound Beauty 12.14 271 101,600 5,164,600
3. Herb 1.11 285 90,800 442,800
4. Deja Vu 1.11 184 77,600 272,100
5. Night at the Museum 12.21 243 73,900 4,193,300
6. Deathnote: The Last Name 1.11 212 63,500 347,600
7. Blood Diamond 1.11 120 53,800 173,700
8. Battle of Wits 1.11 200 43,000 187,000
9. Open Season 1.04 150 17,300 283,800
10. My Wife Is a Gangster 3 12.28 191 12,200 1,624,900

(Source: Film2.0)

The weird thing that confuses/amazes me is that MAPADO 2 apparently came in at No. 11, with around 40,000 tickets sold nationwide — despite that fact it will not be released until Thursday. Over 40,000 tickets sold just in advanced previews? There certainly does seem to be a buzz for the film, currently at No. 1 on Interpark’s advance reservation site, accounting for 38% of reservations (ROBOT TAEKWON V is second with 31%, then you drop all the way down to 4.3% for the third-place film, 200 POUND BEAUTY).

MAPADO was most notable, to me, for having a poster campaign that in no way resembled the actual movie:

It appears that the same marketing team is responsible for MAPADO 2:

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