Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Month: January 2008 (page 1 of 2)

Korea Weekend Box Office – Jan. 25-27

Very impressive totals for FOREVER THE MOMENT, as the women’s handball film chugs past the 2.7 million admissions mark, or about $17.3 million. But will it be enough to revive MK Pictures?

This Week Title…………………………………….. Release Date Screens Nationwide Weekend Revenue (bil. won) Total Revenue (bil. won)
1. Forever the Moment (Uri Saengae Choego-ui Sungan – Korean) 1.10 493 3.50 16.3
2. Cloverfield 1.24 344 2.01 2.40
3. Open City (Mubangbi Dosi – Korean) 1.10 318 1.43 9.46
4. Sweeney Todd 1.17 284 1.04 4.11
5. Hellcats (Tteugeoun Geosi Joha – Korean) 1.17 284 0.88 3.37
6. Happily N’Ever After 1.24 240 0.70 0.87
7. Bee Movie 1.03 226 0.50 6.57
8. Alien vs. Predator 1.17 180 0.37 1.75
9. Mist 1.10 178 0.27 3.27
10. Enchanted 1.10 138 0.26 2.63

(Source: KOBIS – Figures represent 97% of nationwide box office)

But this is the crazy weekend, with so many high-profile, big-budget films coming out for the Seollal lunar new year holiday. There is a nice analysis in this KOREA TIMES story about how oversupply is hurting (crippling?) the Korean film industry. So true. Everyone knows that 70-ish films is the “proper” amount for the Korean market, and yet the film industry keeps on cranking out 110 a year. Doesn’t this feel like a lesson from your Economics 101 textbook? But what can you do when stupid money insists on throwing itself away?

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Concrete Bungle, and Other Random Notes – Vol 3, No. 4

  • Despite the strange urge to stick a canal through the length of the country, President-elect Lee “The Bulldozer” Myung-bak is apparently not just about the concrete. The Chosun Ilbo introduced us on Monday to Lee’s Design Korea plan to beautify the peninsula. This will involve everything from inviting top architectural companies to work on major building projects to toning down the garish signs and lights the blanket too much of Korea. A great and overdue idea… if he can pull it off.
  • Monday’s Chosun also had a pretty amusing story about the illegal CD sellers who roam the Seoul subways, taking a rough sample of what kind of stuff is popular these days. The article claims 40 ventures sell on the various subway lines, making it seem almost like a normal job. Kicker quote, though:
    Thus an eight-volume CD collection named “The New Original Hit Pops” contains a hologram mark of the Korea Music Copyright Association. But the certificate serial number C6-00028279 on the sticker was given to a soap opera starring Choi Ji-woo, the association said.

    (How is selling on the subways legal anyhow? Shouldn’t those “vendors” all get the boot and fined for selling things without a permit? Seems like an easy way to end the problem and put a bit of money into the city’s coffers.)

  • The Seo Taiji PR machine is ramping up again. A new album is on its way.
  • This is a little late, but I meant to mention that I had a little column in the Seoul Shinmun last week. Nothing terribly exciting, just some musings on creativity and globalization.

    Actually, I really misjudged the amount of space they had available, and originally I wrote way too much. Cutting was probably for the best, though. I can usually use some tightening up. In case anyone cares, here is what I wrote:

    By Mark Russell

    Of all the different aspects of the entertainment industry, none have had a deeper and yet more complex relationship with globalization than the movies.

    The importance of the outside world in stimulating the creative boom of the 1990s is well known and well documented. Many of the great strides made in Korean movies, whether on the artistic side or the financing, came from innovators who were educated abroad for at least a few years – for example, Lee Mie-kyung and CJ Entertainment, director Kwak Kyung-taek (“Friend”), and Ryu Seong-hee, the art designer for such movies as “The Host” and “Hansel & Gretel.”

    In fact, the global film market has had an important role in Korea pretty much since the film industry started here. In the 1920s and 30s, Korea was the most lucrative movie market in Asia for Hollywood, and all the major studios (Universal, Paramount, United Artists, MGM, RKO) had offices here. After the Korean War, too, international films flourished for a time.

    Even the movie market opening to foreign direct distributors in the mid-1980s, generally considered an event that nearly killed the local movie business, in many ways was good for Korean movies. For example, as the Hollywood studios fought for access to the Korean market, they also fought against the heavy censorship regulations that once stifled domestic creativity.

    These days, it feels like those lessons have been forgotten. Foreign movies are seen by some as a threat to the local industry, despite the huge growth in Korea’s movie exports over the past decade and despite Korean movies far outpacing their foreign competitors at the box office. The screen quota remains another major hot-button issue. And I even hear about Korean actors losing roles in major international movies because their managers are not comfortable with English or working outside of Korea.

    The trouble is, globalization is always a two-way street, and anytime you cut yourself off from the world, you are cutting yourself off from new ideas, innovation, and creativity.

    The Seo Taiji boom in music has long since turned stagnant, a neverending recycling of the same teen pop ideas.

    Korean television dramas, once seen as a fresh, lively alternative around Asia, have quickly lost their freshness, and with that they are losing their audiences.

    And the movie business – arguably the most innovative and impressive of Korea’s entertainment industries – is threatening to fade, declining into mainstream mush and a handful of innovative directors.

    Strangely, despite Korea’s amazing shift into becoming an online information society, it has defied one of the most basic assumptions of what the information age means – Korea has not grown more diverse, in many ways it has grown less so.

    Many analysts and writers have long said that as a society moves into the information age, choice will naturally grow as people can find easily anything they like and producers lose their control.

    But the movie industry in 2007 produced far fewer interesting, challenging and bizarre movies than it did in 1997. Korea’s films are usually very good looking and slick, and each year usually brings a few big-budget ambitious epics. Creatively, however, not a lot is happening these days.

    “The Korean Wave” was an impressive achievement. It brought international level production, distribution and related skills that revolutionized the entertainment industries and made Korea into an example for much of Asia.

    Clearly another wave is now needed, one that focuses on creativity, if Korea is to continue to be a major cultural force in the future. A handful of star directors is not enough. Korea needs to systematically put creativity into the movie development process. Movie companies, particularly the largest ones that dominate so much of the business, need to carve out niches where experimental and promising talents can be nurtured and encouraged to develop.

    It is a lesson that many of Korea’s automobile and electronics companies have already learned, and that more of the Korean economy will need to learn in the future. It is not enough to copy on the cheap, true value comes from innovation. And if you want to compete on the world stage, your products must be innovative at world class levels.

  • Korea Weekend Box Office – Jan. 18-20

    This Week Title…………………………………….. Release Date Screens Nationwide Weekend Revenue
    (bil. won)
    Total Revenue
    (bil. won)
    1. Forever the Moment (Uri Saengae Choego-ui Sungan – Korean) 1.10 587 4.93 9.74
    2. Open City (Mubangbi Dosi – Korean) 1.10 537 2.89 6.45
    3. Sweeney Todd 1.17 321 1.84 1.84
    4. Hellcats (Tteugeoun Geosi Joha – Korean) 1.17 315 1.43 1.44
    5. Bee Movie 1.03 384 1.18 5.56
    6. The Mist 1.10 357 1.01 2.58
    7. Alien Vs. Predator 2 1.17 178 0.88 0.88
    8. Enchanted 1.10 464 0.79 2.00
    9. Little Prince (Eorin Wangja – Korean) 1.17 228 0.22 0.22
    10. 30 Days of Night 1.10 181 0.18 0.55

    (Source: KOBIS – Figures represent 97% of nationwide box office)

    Note: I have changed WOMEN’S HANDBALL TEAM to FOREVER THE MOMENT, the name KOFIC seems to be using.

    Random Notes – Vol 3, No. 3

  • Good news for Hong Sang-soo — his latest film, NIGHT AND DAY, will be competing at the Berlin Film Festival. Despite winning all sorts of film award all over the world, and having been in competition at Cannes twice, I do believe this is Hong’s first time having a film in competition at Berlin. Good for him.

    After a bit of a dull stretch of film, Hong had a comeback of sorts with WOMAN ON THE BEACH, which I quite liked. Advance word on NIGHT AND DAY is pretty good so far… even though it clocks in at an intimidating 2 hours 24 minutes.

    I am especially looking forward to NIGHT AND DAY because the wonderful and talented Chun Sun-young worked on it as Assistant Director. Sun-young was nominated for a BAFTA award back in 2002 for her short film GOOD NIGHT.

  • Interesting article in the NEW YORK TIMES today about online gaming, and how Electronic Arts is now offering some games for free. Instead, it is trying to make money from “microtransactions” related to the playing of the game… basically, from selling gizmos for your game’s character, anything from clothes to weapons.

    I say this is interesting because anyone who knows Korea’s online gaming world will recognize that business model.

    E.A.’s most recent experiment with free online games began two years ago in South Korea, the world’s most fervent gaming culture. In 2006, the company introduced a free version of its FIFA soccer game there, and Gerhard Florin, E.A.’s executive vice president for publishing in the Americas and Europe, said it has signed up more than five million Korean users and generates more than $1 million in monthly in-game sales.

    Kind of cool. Although, to be honest, a little frustrating, too. Back in 2004-ish, I was talking with EA for months about writing a major feature about this business model and how EA was using the Korean method of online gaming and trying to take it global. But EA kept delaying and delaying and eventually the story kind of fell apart. So close…

  • Some music notes, too (hah!). Sato Yukie has a bunch of shows coming up.
    Jan. 23 – Club FBPoint Zero Three (Yukie’s jam band from Japan)
    Jan. 25 – Club Yogiga – Organic Music Concert. And more Point Zero Three.
    Jan. 27 – Club Yogiga – Bulgasari (4pm)
  • Friday is, of course, the latest Club Day in Hongdae, and it appears that once again, Club Day and Sound Day have been combined into one mega-day. Personally, that number of people scares me, but there are going to be so many bands it should be quite impressive. Galaxy Express, Byul, Oh Brothers, Sugar Donut, and much much more.

  • Flock Out of Luck Ministries Shutting Down

    As a reporter who does a lot of stuff in media issues, one of the major government ministries I need to deal with is the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC). I also write about Korean science, which has me dealing with the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST).

    So what does President-elect Lee Myung-bak do? He axes both the MIC and MOST. Yikes. Should I take that personally?

    I am cautiously optimistic about these changes. A professor of mine used to say, you can change the length of the alimentary canal all you want, the end product is still the same. But the truth is, organization does matter. It may not be as sexy or easy to understand as a great pop song or a cool movie, but boring stuff like infrastructure and organization is a vital part of any industry. Do not kid yourself, the “entertainment business” is as much business as it is entertainment.

    What do these changes mean? First of all, getting the MIC out of the way potentially a huge boon for much of the Information Technology industry. IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) has been held up for years because of the MIC’s squabbling with the Korean Broadcasting Commission. Also, how about Blackberries? Lots of cool toys like that have been kept out of Korea because of roadblocks put up by the MIC. There are plenty of tech issues keeping the iPhone out of Korea, but today we are one step closer to getting them.

    We can only hope that the end of the MIC will also mean an end to (or at least a reduction in) Internet censorship. Way too much of the Internet in Korea gets shut off at the whim of random bureaucrats.

    Despite the downsizing, Lee Myung-bak had a lot of science and IT stuff in his election platform. And he brought in people like Park Chan-mo (former head of POSTECH and all-round cool guy) to be one of his main advisors. Expect science and IT to remain central to Korean policymaking. After all, science, education and tech have been combined to create the Ministry of Knowledge-Based Economy (MOKBE?), which is quite a mouthful, but a clear sign of where Lee’s priorities lie.

    And who knows? What will happen once Lee Myung-bak comes up against the full force of bureaucratic intransigence? Once everything settles down, I imagine much less will change than people think right now.

    But some deregulating in the media industry could be a great shot in the arm, helping Korea’s media companies get a little more profitable, which in turn gives us consumers a better chance at getting better movies, TV, music and whatnot (“content” in boring industry-speak).

    And at least Lee kept the Ministry of Culture. It is not like the accountant barbarians are taking over everything.

    (Note: I might update this post over the weekend as additional stuff occurs to me).

    Korea Weekend Box Office – Jan. 11-13

    A bit of a change starting this week, as I will be reporting weekly revenue instead of attendance. Seems like the more relevant stat to me. But if something significant happens to a movie’s attendance (like topping 10 million admissions), I will try to mention it.

    The Korean won is worth about 940 won/dollar, so you can approximate the chart to millions of dollars easily enough.

    Let me know if you have any feedback, questions, concerns with the change.

    This Week Title…………………………………….. Release Date Screens Nationwide Weekend Revenue (bil. won) Total Revenue (bil. won)
    1. Women’s Handball Team (Uri Saengae Choego-ui Sungan – Korean) 1.10 493 4.14 4.92
    2. Open City (Mubangbi Dosi – Korean) 1.10 413 3.06 3.61
    3. Bee Movie 1.03 296 1.48 4.37
    4. The Mist 1.10 256 1.32 1.58
    5. Enchanted 1.10 322 1.01 1.23
    6. National Treasure 2 12.20 233 0.396 11.15
    7. The Golden Compass 12.18 210 0.320 17.82
    8. The Jacket 1.10 179 0.318 0.370
    9. 30 Days of Night 1.10 144 0.312 0.364
    10. Gidarida Micheo – Korean 1.01 237 0.200 2.79

    (Source: KOBIS – Figures represent 97% of nationwide box office)

    Random Notes – Vol 3, No. 2

  • I checked out some surprisingly good bands at Freebird the other night. It has been quite a while since I even thought about Freebird, but this time it had the best bands I have seen in Korea for ages.

    Most notable was ORIENTAL LUCY (sorry, I only have these crappy cell phone pics). Each song was quite different, ranging from a retro-70s-rock sound to a bizarre cover of a trot classic that sounded like something by SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES. (They have a Cyworld page here, but it is one of those annoying ones you need to sign into to use, so it is pretty much useless for most people.)

    Another very good band was FRENZY, a four-man instrumental shoe-gazing band that sounded a bit like classic Echo and the Bunnymen (my friend’s assessment).

    The other band was JERANG, perhaps not as good, but still interesting in their own way. A bit of an early-Radiohead, whiny sound, but not bad. I believe JERANG won the most recent Korea national high school talent competition. They four guys in the band are just 20 (Korean age, I would imagine, so 19 in the rest of the world), so they have some time to improve. But a good beginning.

  • I just ran across a relatively new-ish magazine and website dedicated to the Seoul art scene, called NEXART (actually, I think Nex Art has been around since 2006, but I just discovered it). At the moment it is in Korean only, but the website claims that an English section will be coming in March. If you pick up the ‘zine around town, most of the stories have a short English intro, which is limited but quite interesting.
  • Poking around on the Nex Art website then led me to the English (and Korean) website EAST BRIDGE, another site for finding out more about the Korean art scene.
  • As long as you are at East Bridge, do not forget to check out their huge list of Korean art links.
  • I just checked out the first two episodes of THE WIRE’s fifth season (through totally legitimate means, I am sure… Stealing them via Bittorrent would be wrong).

    Totally love it. Season 5 is, somehow, even more bleak than the first four seasons. But despite the depressing edge to things, it is still the best show on television, by far. Great writing, solid insights and, despite the dark cynicism, more than a few funny moments.

    In case you have not heard, THE WIRE season 5 turns an eye to the media, in particular to modern newspapers, with all the brutal insight the show has used to examine city politics, the war on drugs, schools and all the rest.

    Some early reviews have criticized the shows creator for having an exaggerated or cartoon-like perspective on the troubles facing the modern newspaper, but I think those criticisms are off-base. Sure it is not 100-percent correct, but THE WIRE is a fictional, entertainment program, not a documentary. I am guessing its view of the newsroom is as accurate as all the other institutions it has skewered over the years (which is to say quite accurate, but very much fiction).

    If you are in Korea, you can still track down season 1 of THE WIRE here and there, for just 20,000 won or so. Totally worth it. Or you can order seasons 1-4 from

  • Korea Weekend Box Office – Jan. 4-6

    This Week Title…………………………………….. Release Date Screens Nationwide Weekend Attendance Total Attendance
    1. B Movie 1.03 334 305,448 358,690
    2. National Treasure 2 12.20 334 192,535 1,586,336
    3. The Golden Compass 12.18 346 176,933 2,698,140
    4. Gidarida Micheo – Korean 01.01 306 151,828 321,030
    5. P.S. I Love You 1.03 249 119,076 214,123
    6. Sex Is Zero 2 (Saekjeuk Sigong Sijeun 2 – Korean) 12.13 256 104,151 1,934,090
    7. August Rush 11.29 174 80,352 2,102,733
    8. American Gangster 12.27 252 75,237 355,866
    9. My Love (Nae Sarang – Korean) 12.20 199 62,300 932,806
    10. Rainbow Eyes (Gamyeon – Korean) 12.27 211 55,351 286,975
    11. Hansel & Gretel (Korean) 12.27 223 53,616 288,086

    (Source: KOBIS – Figures represent 97% of nationwide box office)

    More Crummy Than Bread Crumbs — Hansel & Gretel Loses Its Way

    Some day, Im Pil-sung is going to make a really great movie. ANTARCTIC JOURNAL, his first film, was not. And, sad to say, HANSEL & GRETEL is not one either.

    The story is simple enough (and I will try to avoid spoilers). Eun-su (Cheon Jeong-myeong) is driving through the countryside, on his way to meet his mother, when he gets into a car accident. His is thrown from the car and passes out. When he wakes up, there is a girl with a red cloak and a lamp who guides him to her house in the forest.

    The girl’s house and family are very odd and unnatural. Lots of candy and sweet food, even though no one does any baking. Lots of bright colors and strange designs. And there are apparently some strange, nasty things that go bump in the night.

    Eun-su also soon discovers that he cannot get away; there is no way out of the forest. After a couple of days, the kids’ parents disappear, to be replaced by a more malevolent fellow. Gradually the mystery is revealed, along with plenty of blood and general ickiness.

    The good? Well, the designs are the usual bright and freaky stuff we always expect from Ryu Seong-hee (OLDBOY, I’M A CYBORG BUT THAT’S OKAY, THE HOST). And there are parts (especially in the middle) where the surrealism is interesting and promising.

    Unfortunately, the bad far outweighs the good. The story is too odd to be taken seriously as a drama, but not fantastic enough to be interesting in it’s own right. Eun-su is not a very interesting character and does not draw you in at all. The psychology underlying the surreal story is puddle deep. Furthermore, the characters keep saying the same things over and over again… Very annoying.

    In addition, like all Korean horror movies, a large chunk of the second half is filled with endless explaining and crying and explaining and crying. Ugh. Why do the bad, evil people at the heart of the story do the things they do? Who cares… they are just bad and evil. No nuance.

    Which is too bad. I like Im. I think he is underrated. Considering how tepid and similar far too many Korean movies were these days, it is great to see someone trying to do something different and off-beat. I think he was trying to do something like PAN’S LABYRINTH, but Im’s story is horribly underdeveloped.

    If you are interested in seeing more of the film (despite my mean review), the movie trailer is at Youtube. You can also see the trailer at the movie’s official website here.

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