Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Month: May 2008 (page 1 of 2)

The Godfather, America’s Top 40 and AFN Korea

I just wrote about some of the fun things I got to do this week, with f/x companies and Robot Taekwon V. But I also had another really fun surprise — a couple of days ago I was emailed by the producer Fred Roos (who produced THE GODFATHER, BARFLY, LOST IN TRANSLATION and much more) about an article I wrote for The Hollywood Reporter about AFN Korea being taken off the air in Korea (at least on cable).

If you read this site at all regularly, you will know that I am quite interested in Korea’s media and entertainment history, especially the 1950s and 1960s. Last January, I had an article in The Hollywood Reporter about how AFN Korea is supposed to be removed from Korea’s cable systems soon (actually, it was suppose to be gone already, but my cable service still is rebroadcasting it).

Anyhow, thanks to Mr. Roos, I had AFKN on my mind recently, and while doing a little research, I just stumbled across some fascinating AFKN history. It is a website called SOUNDS OF THE FAR EAST NETWORK, and it is all about US Armed Forces radio and TV in Japan. But it also has a small section (and very interesting article) about the American Forces Broadcasting in Korea.

(Not Armed Forces Network, but American Forces Network. I did not know that until I read that article).

The FEN site led me to the AFKN section of the Imjin Scout website. Imjin Scout’s AFKN page was then spun-off into its own website, AFKN Alumni, which in turn has this AFKN history page and these pics). also has its own history page… but for some reason, I cannot access it. Not sure if the problem is my computer or my location or what. But this is the Google cache of it.

Over here, one ex-AFRTS guy has uploaded a bunch of old radio broadcasts, dating back to 1964. Including the “American Disco Network,” from 1978.

As for AFKN, now only did Roos work there when he was in the military, but so did the famous producer Garry Marshall and the famous deejay Kasey Kasem. I wonder if many more big entertainment people passed through AFRTS in Korea over the years.

Giant Robots and Other Fun

This week was one of those really fun weeks that makes me glad to have the job that I do. I got to meet a lot of cool, interesting people and see some extremely cool and interesting things.

One story this week for The Hollywood Reporter was about the coming Robot Taekwon V movie that the veteran filmmaker Shin Chul is producing. The Hollywood producer William Teitler (POLAR EXPRESS, JUMANJI) has signed onto the project, so I talked to him and Shin and the other nice people at Shin’s company.

The new Robot Taekwon V movie will be based on the comic books that were just published (that Shin commissioned). It is a sequel to the original story, taking place 32 years after the first movie. Kim Hoon, the young hero of the first film, is now a 45-year-old salaryman with a lousy job and a bad marriage, when he gets a chance to pilot the 56-meter-tall robot again. Judging by the comic, the new story definitely has a lot of potential.

(Oh, it looks like the movie will not be coming to theaters until summer of 2010. So you will have to wait).

I even got to see an amazing bit of demo animation that local f/x house Mofac Studio made. I think something like seven f/x companies will be working on the Robot Taekwon V movie, but unfortunately, I think the Mofac demo is a secret and I have not been able to find anything about it online. There are these two videos on Youtube (here and here), but I think Mofac’s was a lot more impressive.

Then for something else I was working on, I coincidentally got to spend some time at the Mofac office on Friday. Mofac is one of Korea’s top f/x studios, and has worked on a lot of big projects, from VOLCANO HIGH to TAEWANGSASINGI (and now is doing a lot of work on LAUNDRY WARRIOR). Their office was quite cool. A nice renovated house, with walls covered in signed STAR WARS posters; President Jang has one of the most amazing collections of STAR WARS toys I have ever seen (along with plenty of comic book toys, anime toys and other goodies). Definitely looked like a fun place to work.

Korea Weekend Box Office – May 23-25

No surprise that the new INDIANA JONES film won quite handily this week. It took in 1.6 million admissions, or about $9.1 million. That is quite good — as in SHREK 3 good. But not PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 3 good.

Considering all the competition coming soon (SEX & THE CITY on June 6), not to mention how dreadful INDIANA 4 is (so very, very boring and witless), I’m guessing it should get over 5 million admissions, but nowhere near TRANSFORMERS numbers.

PRINCE CASPIAN got its butt kicked pretty badly in Korea, far outdone by INDY 4 and IRON MAN (although all three films are beating SPEED RACER).

This Week Title…………………………………….. Release Date Screens Nationwide Weekend Revenue (bil. won) Total Revenue (bil. won)
1. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 5.22 848 9.11 10.50
2. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian 5.15 584 1.86 6.82
3. Iron Man 4.30 432 1.34 26.28
4. Never Back Down 5.22 204 0.36 0.41
5. Taken 4.09 180 0.25 15.63
6. Penelope 5.15 192 0.21 1.26
7. Speed Racer 5.08 265 0.13 5.15
8. Nallari Jongbujeon – Korean 5.22 196 0.088 0.10
9. Horton Hears a Who 4.30 51 0.030 3.78
10. Detective Conan: Phantom of Baker Street 5.01 13 0.018 0.70

(Source: KOBIS – Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

Korean films are down to 41 percent of the box office. And not too many strong Korean films on the horizon until THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD hits in July.

Which reminds me, I think Hollywood is giving THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD a pretty wide berth. WALL-E and HANCOCK are getting released here at the same time as they are in United States (late June/early July), but the new Batman and X-Files movies are being bumped until August… I presume to give them a better chance. If director Kim Jee-woon does not screw this up, it looks like his film will be a monster hit.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird Looks All Good

The first review of THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD is in and so far the film is looking pretty good.

Derek Elley at Variety gives the film a very good review, saying:

From the initial train holdup through a shantytown gun battle to a 15-minute desert flatlands chase that’s a jaw-dropper, pic maintains an ironic grin that leavens the heavy discharges of ordnance and continuous roundelay of faceoffs.

Also nice to read in Derek’s review that Jung Woo-sung’s performance holds up, as there have been rumors that Lee Byung-hun and Song Gang-ho were much better than Jung.

One quibble with Derek’s review, though — why does he call the movie the “most expensive South Korean movie to date”? Uh, D-WAR?

I will add more reviews as I find them.

Copyrights and Wrongs and Rants

It has been a rather copyrighty couple of weeks for me, with the Korea Copyright Forum, the Seoul Digital Forum and the International Publishers Association Congress in Seoul and the USTR keeping Korea on its IP watchlist (sorry but I am too tired and lazy to link to all of those).

And throughout those “fun” events, a common message coming out of them was the need for governments to enforce copyright protections. Sometimes the message was nuanced and interesting (eg, Ted Cohen); sometimes it was the usual heavy-handed “arrest-them-all” rant (eg, Sumner Redstone).

(And once it was “Piracy is good,” when of the Black Eyed Peas spoke at the Seoul Digital Forum. Luckily, it was the day after Redstone’s rant, or else the ancient billionaire might have had a stroke).

While I do agree that there needs to be some respect for copyrights, listening to all of that corporate self-righteousness got me thinking, what are the corporations’ responsibilities for respecting copyrights?

Korea has shown pretty clearly that people are more than willing to spend money on music and other digital entertainment, as long as that entertainment is convenient, reliable and reasonably priced.

They spent money even when the competition is “free.” Because free really is not free at all. You hope the music file you are downloading works, but it might not. Or it might have a virus or some other nasty bit of code in it. And figuring how to make the bittorrent or emule or whatever work is not much fun. The “free” options are a pain in the butt, and that is a real cost, just like money.

Despite all the whining about Korea’s piracy problems, last year Koreans spent over $300 million on online and mobile music. Combined with $80 million in CD sales and you have a number pretty consistent with music sales for the past 10 years. (Sure the music labels complain that they are not getting their fare share, but the important point is that consumers are still spending as much money as ever).

Cory Doctorow, Radiohead, NIN and plenty of others have shown that making your stuff available on the Internet does not hurt their value. If anything, availability and accessibility enhances value.

My main point is, what responsibility do the various entertainment companies (big and small) around the world have to make sure their content is available? In Korea, it is pitiful how few movies and TV shows are available here, whether on DVD or online. Even programs that I know have been subtitled in Korean.

How can companies expect customers to respect their copyrights when they do not provide access to their copyrighted contents?

In the Internet age, people anywhere in the world have the ability to find, download and watch/listen to just about anything (as long as the Internet connection is good enough). The whole idea that you can divide up the world into pieces and control when each area gets access to something is so antiquated and backward.

Until the media companies start making a serious effort to make their contents available to me here in Korea (and to people in general around the world), I am not going to lose much sleep about them losing money to “piracy.”

The Good, The Bad, The Weird Trailer Is Online

A flood of trailers for Kim Jee-woon’s new film THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD have hit the internet in recent days. And I must say, it is one good looking movie.

A higher quality version of the trailer, but without the English subtitles, is here.

The three stars of the film, Jung Woo-sung, Lee Byung-hun and Sang Gang-ho, all look at the top of their game, too. Assuming CJ Entertainment can get GBW into theaters around the end of July or so, the odds are looking increasingly good that this will be the biggest Korean film of the year.

Korea Weekend Box Office – May 16-18

Wow. Just one Korean film in the top-10 this week — BEASTIE BOYS (aka MOONLIGHT OVER SEOUL), way down in seventh. As people expected, Korean movies’ share of the year’s box office is plummeting rapidly, thanks to the onslaught of Hollywood summer blockbusters. Korean films are down to 43.8 percent of the box office, while American films have climbed to 43 percent. Those numbers are just going to get worse and worse over the next couple of months.

The top film last weekend was the latest Narnia movie, PRINCE CASPIAN, which had a decent (but not outstanding) $4.06 million opening. That works out to about 641,000 admissions, down slightly from the 716,000 admissions that THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE had in its opening weekend.

Close behind was IRON MAN, which pulled in another $2.8 million to bring its 19-day total to $24.04 million — or 3.7 million admissions.

After the big two, box office numbers decline fast. The next three films did okay, taking in $630,000-740,000. But after No. 5, the remaining films did not do much at all. BEASTIE BOYS made $170,000 to bring its total to $3.7 million.

THE CHASER is still around on a few screens around Korea. It was 17th last weekend, making a few thousand dollars over to bring its big total to $33.93 million (5.07 million admissions).

This Week Title…………………………………….. Release Date Screens Nationwide Weekend Revenue (bil. won) Total Revenue (bil. won)
1. Prince Caspian 5.15 670 3.56 4.06
2. Iron Man 4.30 512 2.81 24.04
3. Speed Racer 5.08 367 0.74 4.84
4. Taken 4.09 238 0.71 15.05
5. Penelope 5.15 160 0.63 0.80
6. Horton Hears a Who 4.30 233 0.17 3.72
7. Beastie Boys (Korean) 4.30 155 0.17 4.66
8. Forbidden Kingdom 4.24 168 0.16 7.81
9. Priceless 5.08 123 0.11 0.79
10. Detective Conan: Phantom of Baker Street 5.01 28 0.051 0.68

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

Sai Yochi on Korean Films II

Last week I linked to Ryuganji’s great translation of a Sai Yochi interview, about his experiences making the movie SOO. Well, Don (of Ryuganji) is back for more, with yet another Sai Yochi interview — this one even more interesting and critical, but definitely a must-read.

FYI, SOO was made by Triz Club, Co., a movie company that I have never heard of before. So when Sai talks about the two producers he dealt with, I cannot really comment on who they might be. Although I should note that Sai calls them “386 generation” guys and in their mid-thirties — but if they were 386-gen guys, then they should be in the forties, not their thirties. The two guys listed as the movie’s producers, Hwang In-tae and Shin Bum-su (and I have no idea if they were the gentlemen Sai talked about in his interview or if he meant some other people), are not names I recognize at all.

If that is not enough Sai for you, Japan Focus recently translated an interview between Sai and Li Ying, the guy who made the recent YASUKUNI documentary. Really fascinating stuff. Li has been taken to task for his repeated references to a Yasukuni-related event in 1997 that no one can find evidence of having happened. But that seems to me to be a fairly low-level memory mix-up, at worst. Li’s definitely made a really interesting film.

Hongdae on the Rise Again

As you can tell by the map at the Korea Gig Guide, I originally planned on talking about good restaurants and other shops in Hongdae and around Korea on my blog(s). Never really happened though, in part because I am lazy, but also because I am not very happy with how this map looks and want to upgrade it some time before too long. Today, however, I was walking around Hongdae (the area around Hongik University, for the uninitiated) and ran across so many interesting little shops and restaurants, I felt compelled to write a little something.

This is not the most original observation, but I am regularly amazed at how fast the Hongdae neighborhood is changing. A few years ago I was avoiding Hongdae because I thought it was beginning to resemble the unholy spawn of Apgujeong and Itaewon — simultaneously too upscale and too trashy. But lately, I have been more impressed by the neighborhood, enjoying all the new shops it has to offer.

It was not long ago I used to moan about how there were not any Indian restaurants around Hongdae and Shinchon. But today, there are six (that I know of). My favorite is still the original Shanti (close to Hongik Subway Station). And there is Taj (in the Seokyo Building), a spin-off of the original Taj down in Myeongdong. Manokamana is the new place in Shinchon (very similar to Shanti, there is a review of it by Andrew Salmon here). There is the ridiculously expensive place in the white building by the AA Design Museum. And there are two more in the new Calliope Building near the Hongik University main gate, behind the Coffee Bean and the Prugio apartment — Kaka Kumar (a spin-off of the Ganga chain) and a new Shanti (not open yet, but it looks like it will have a really spiffy patio).

Oh, that Calliope Building also is home to some of the best mandu in Korea and a “gourmet burrito” house called Margarita (about to open)(Oops, apparently the burrito shop was closing, not opening). The Calliope Building is marked on this following map (only in Korean, sorry).

(I refuse to include the India Gate in the Hyundai Department Store in this list, but I have been told that it exists, up on the 10th floor).
(UPDATE: Hrm… could India Gate actually be decent? From their website description, they could be okay).

In addition to the Indian food, there are endless little “coffee & cake” shops, seemingly in every building, between buildings and any nook that can be converted into a mini-cafe. Some of them are actually nice.

And on the Donggyo-dong road, close to the Sannulim Theater, there is an impressive little goth shop called Beetlejuice. Just down the street from there is a very good sake and shochu shop called Syo Syo. Plenty of places for a good drink or a coffee.

There are simply way too many new places to list them all. But one thing that I am rather impressed by is the rising number of patios and open-windowed shops around the area. It used to be a real pain the butt to find a shop like that, but now they are all over the place. The great weather we have been having this spring has helped a lot, too. Very civilized.

Korea Weekend Box Office – May 9-11

IRON MAN continued strong for a second weekend, taking in nearly $5 million, bringing its total 12-day take to over $18 million (or 2.8 million admissions).

SPEED RACER did relatively well in Korea (at least compared to its disastrous opening in the United States), with 424,000 admissions, or $2.74 million.

TAKEN is still doing bizarrely well in Korea, bringing its one-month total to $13.5 million. I have no real explanation for its success here.

Not a bad little bonus for DETECTIVE CONAN, using a second holiday weekend to bring its total to $530,000.

This Week Title…………………………………….. Release Date Screens Nationwide Weekend Revenue (bil. won) Total Revenue (bil. won)
1. Iron Man 4.30 617 4.85 18.02
2. Speed Racer 5.08 485 2.41 2.74
3. Taken 4.09 303 0.99 13.54
4. Forbidden Kingdom 4.24 300 0.62 7.22
5. Horton 4.30 344 0.52 3.16
6. Beastie Boys (Korean) 4.30 306 0.60 4.07
7. Priceless 5.08 124 0.36 0.41
8. Tale of the Legendary Libido (Garujigi – Korean) 4.30 309 0.19 1.62
9. Seouli Boinya (Korean) 5.08 165 0.14 0.17
10. Detective Conan: Phantom of Baker Street 5.01 41 0.13 0.53

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

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