Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Month: February 2008 (page 1 of 2)

Rockin’ in the Not-So-Free World

The New York Philharmonic Orchestra played in Pyongyang this evening. Amazingly, this did not cause free nations around the region to fall thanks to the “propaganda coup” the show provided Kim Jong-il.

But the show was broadcast live on North Korea’s television and radio, and it was the first time an American orchestra had played in North Korea. The Philharmonic played Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, Bernstein’s overture to “Candide,” some Wagner and Arirang.

Most telling about the logic behind the concert were conductor Loren Maazel’s quotes about the Boston Symphony performance in the Soviet Union in 1956 and the New York Philharmonic’s show there in 1959:

It showed Soviet citizens that they could have relations with foreign organizations and these organizations could come in the country freely. But what the Soviets didn’t realize was, this was a two-edged sword.


By allowing interactions between people from outside the country with people inside, eventually the people found themselves out of power.

Sure, he then played down the comparisons to North Korea today (must be a polite guest), but the parallels were clear.

Andrei Lankov expressed the same logic when I talked to him about the concert last year (as I wrote about here).

Anyhow, I am sure we will all wake up tomorrow and find North Korea to be the same as ever. But I hope the event will in some small way help change a few minds, if only a little bit.

(Note: I “borrowed” that pic from the New York Times website. Credit to Chang Lee, with thanks).

Echo of an Echo…

Over at Korea Gig Guide, I talk a bit about last Sunday’s Sanullim tribute show at Club Badabie. Very good show, btw. Hope to have photos soon, too (but not yet).

Korea Weekend Box Office – Feb. 22-25

Looks like work is getting out about THE CHASER, whose box office rose to 4.40 billion won this weekend from 3.59 billion won last weekend. The question is, will the film begin to fade now, after a moderate success, or will word-of-mouth take it to the next level? Honestly, I could imagine either happening. The film is quite good and it could become one of those must-see films that erupt from time to time. But it is also quite dark and gory, which might turn off some audiences. I guess we’ll have to wait until next week to get a better idea…

DEATHNOTE L opened okay, I guess. It had about 210,000 admissions as of Sunday night. Down from the 290,000 the original DEATHNOTE pulled in during its opening weekend, but not bad for the third film in a silly franchise.

In case you are wondering, Korean films have now pulled in 59.9 percent of the box office thus far in 2008. Hollywood has 33.9 percent, and just dribs and drabs for the rest of the world.

This Week Title…………………………………….. Release Date Screens Nationwide Weekend Revenue (bil. won) Total Revenue (bil. won)
1. The Chaser (Chugyeokja – Korean) 2.14 501 4.40 11.52
2. Jumper 2.14 397 2.12 8.44
3. Deathnote L: Change the World 2.21 298 0.96 1.23
4. Spiderwick Chronicles 2.14 239 0.85 2.60
5. Atonement 2.21 166 0.56 0.68
6. Once Upon a Time in Corea – Korean 1.31 232 0.32 9.97
7. Lovers of Six Years (6 Nyeonjjae Yeonaejung – Korean) 2.05 215 0.24 7.30
8. Juno 2.21 203 0.20 0.26
9. 3:10 to Yuma 2.21 176 0.17 0.20
10. The Orphanage 2.14 178 0.17 1.00

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

Straight, No Chaser

I finally got around to seeing the surprise hit THE CHASER (추격자) today, and quite liked it. For a thriller about a serial killer, prostitutes and their pimp, it was surprisingly fresh and funny (not to mention tense and really gory). It is not as good as MEMORIES OF MURDER, but it is one the best Korean films I have seen in quite a while.

When I first saw the trailer, I scoffed pretty loudly. It looked like a hodgepodge of cliches and lurid voyeurism. The sort of lame crap we have seen 100 times before. Boy, was I wrong.

Na Hong-jin’s THE CHASER is not your typical murder mystery, and does not follow the 3-act Hollywood structure at all. For one thing, the bad guy spends much of the film in police custody. He even confesses to his crimes, almost casually.

So where is the suspense? Don’t worry, there is plenty to go around. Jung-ho (Kim Yun-seok) is strangely engrossing as the ex-cop pimp looking to find out what happened to his girls. The various people who cross the killer’s path come to some grizzly demises. The police, of course, are little help, preferring to argue amongst themselves rather than do any police work.

The various chase scenes in the movie are well done, weaving throughout the alleys and narrow streets in a way that really draws you in. In a movie called THE CHASER, you really need to have good chasing scenes, and fortunately THE CHASER has several.

(One minor quibble, or potential quibble, but is that really Mangwon-dong we see in the movie? Much of the film is supposed to take place on a big hill in Mangwon-dong, Mapo-gu. But I cannot think of any big, hilly neighborhood like that in Mangwon. Maybe such a place exists, but I have never seen it).

Swords, Shrines and Cinema

A very interesting article on Li Ying and his documentary YASUKUNI in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. The film is apparently stirring up unrest among Japan’s far-right nutters, who have been sending death threats to the director as the film’s April 12 release date nears.

You can read more about the film here, a review with the director here, and a proper review of it here.

Baik’s New Album No Boo-Boo

Thanks to Indieful ROK for pointing out that Baik Hyun-jhin is about to release his first solo album in March. Baik is the main guy behind UH UH BOO PROJECT BAND, one of the more interesting Korean indie bands of the late 1990s. Their mini-album SONIKBUNKIJEOM (Break Even Point?) is generally considered a classic, with its miserable ajeossi/Tom Waits vibe (although Baik dislikes being compared to Waits, I think there are obvious reasons people do so). But for my money, the best UH UH BOO song was “Eohang Sok-ui Dabang – Gaejugeum,” from their second album, DOG, LUCKY STAR.

(Cross-posted at Korea Gig Guide)

Korea Weekend Box Office – Feb. 15-17

Huh? People were interested in seeing JUMPER? I would not have guessed that.

Nice to see THE CHASER doing well. The low-budget thriller got really good reviews and seems to have found an audience. But how long can it hold on? On Thursday, it will have to compete against the 3:10 TO YUMA, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and DEATHNOTE: L.

FOREVER THE MOMENT has now officially passed the 4-million-admissions mark, making it the biggest Korean hit since D-WAR.

This Week Title…………………………………….. Release Date Screens Nationwide Weekend Revenue (bil. won) Total Revenue (bil. won)
1. Jumper 2.14 429 3.72 4.69
2. The Chaser (Chugeokja – Korean) 2.14 507 3.59 4.34
3. The Spiderwick Chronicles 2.14 207 1.07 1.25
4. Once Upon a Time in Corea (Korean) 1.31 310 0.72 9.25
5. Lovers of Six Years (6 Nyeonjjae Yeonaejung – Korean) 2.05 284 0.71 6.64
6. The Orphanage 2.14 195 0.47 0.58
7. Life Is Beautiful (Daehani, Mingukssi – Korean) 2.14 197 0.41 0.51
8. The Devil’s Game (Deo Geim – Korean) 1.31 280 0.40 9.43
9. Forever the Moment (Uri Saengae Choigo-ui Sungan – Korean) 1.10 265 0.36 25.63
10. The Martian Child 2.14 18 0.060 0.070

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

As long as I am mentioning coming films, Feb. 28 sees the Korean release of Hong Sang-soo’s NIGHT AND DAY and Cristian Mungiu’s Cannes-winner 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS. And RAMBO 4.

March 6 is the happy day THERE WILL BE BLOOD comes out, which is the movie I really, really want to see. Wong Kar-wai’s MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS comes out then, too.

Korea Gig Guide Makes Its Debut

Okay, so it looks like I am ready to go public with one of those projects that I have been talking about for the past couple of weeks. It is the KOREA GIG GUIDE, and it is a small attempt at getting out more information about the Korean live music scene.

The idea is simple enough — I think there is a lot of good live music around Korea these days, but can be surprisingly hard to find. Even for Koreans — most live venues have terrible websites and publicity. And despite the overabundance of movie magazines, there is much less out there about music.

I am hoping that by making it easier to learn about the gigs and who the best bands are that more people might be able to go and enjoy them. And, if I am really dreaming, maybe better turnout might encourage those bands and lead to more.

It is still early, and I am not entirely sure how this thing is going to unfold. For the moment, though, I intend on listing as many live shows as I can find on the KGG’s Concert Calendar.

I am thinking of doing more, too. I might blog about music, too (and may or may not cross-post here). I might add a wiki or some sort of database like that.

Of course, a lot depends on the feedback I get from others. If there is a good gig coming and you want people to know about it, send me an email and I will try to add it. If there is demand, I could add concerts happening in other parts of Korea (and maps or whatever). I do like to make a concert guide as useful as possible to as many people as possible.

So, please drop by, take a look. Feel free to give me feedback, positive or negative.

(PS: Obviously, I am cribbing much of this idea from the Tokyo Gig Guide. Long been a favorite of mine… even if every time I go to Japan, it seems to be two days after some band I love has played there).

Good Muse From Korea’s Underground

Still not many blog updates while I work on some other things.

In the meantime, I have been really impressed at the interest in Korea’s (real) music scene out there in the blog world. Reminds me of the interest in the movie scene around 8-10 years ago.
Indieful ROK
Stuck With Free Music
KOA Zine

While at, I found a very interesting link to this page, which is basically a big list of old Asian rock and pop album covers from the 1960s. Mostly Singapore stuff, with some other tidbits throw in. You have got to love the funky stylings of that era. I am so jealous of that guy’s collection.

  • Oh, and I suppose I should mention that Rain (Jung Ji-hoon) announced his first starring role in a Hollywood film. NINJA ASSASSIN, to be made for Warner Bros, directed by James McTeigue (V FOR VENDETTA) and produced by the Wachowski Brothers. Jung has signed to William Morris, too, which means some pretty powerful people are now working on his career. Good for Jung.

  • Korea Weekend Box Office – Feb. 8-10

    Seollal is always one of the best seasons in Korea for going to the movies. And this year, because Seollal fell on a Thursday, that meant people got most of the week off of work. In other words, last week was a movie-going holiday with limitless potential.

    Unfortunately, the competition was pretty unbelievable. Six new, high-profile Korean films have been released in the past couple of weeks… all of which did okay, but none of which was able to distinguish itself from the others. As a result, a lot of films there did okay, but nothing special.

    The one special film continues to be FOREVER THE MOMENT, which has now topped 4 million admissions… or over $25 million.

    Oh, Korean films are now up to 61.5 percent of the year’s box office, in case you were curious.

    This Week Title…………………………………….. Release Date Screens Nationwide Weekend Revenue (bil. won) Total Revenue (bil. won)
    1. Once Upon a Time in Corea (Korean) 1.31 353 3.18 7.65
    2. Forever the Moment (Uri Sangae Choego-ui Sungan – Korean) 1.10 357 2.88 24.83
    3. Lovers of Six Years (6 Nyeonjjae Yeonaejung – Korean) 2.05 386 2.96 4.90
    4. The Devil’s Game (Deo Geim – Korean) 1.31 327 2.91 8.24
    5. His Last Gift (Majimak Seonmul – Korean) 1.31 291 0.93 1.47
    6. The Man Who Was Superman (Syupeomaenieossdeon Sanai – Korean) 1.31 298 0.92 3.45
    7. The Warlords 1.31 236 0.77 2.37
    8. Charlie Wilson’s War 2.06 165 0.58 0.97
    9. Radio Days (Korean) 1.31 229 0.33 1.32
    10. Alien vs. Predator 2 1.24 134 0.28 1.73

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

    Sorry for not doing more updates these days. As I said before, am rather busy with regular work, plus I am trying to get a couple of new things off the ground. Hopefully I will be able to announce them soon.

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