Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Month: August 2008

R.I.P. AFKN

Well, it came several months late, but at least AFN Korea has been taken off of my cable dial.

I wrote in the beginning of the year about how AFN Korea was getting removed from Korean cable TV services because the cable service operators are not licensed to retransmit the channel. AFN was supposed to be all gone by May, but it continued to linger, at least on my cable system.

Some time a few months ago, my analog cable service stopped carrying AFN (not sure exactly when, as I very rarely use the analog service). And finally on Tuesday, the digital cable channels were all rearranged, and in the process, AFN Korea was removed from it, too.

I use C&M Cable, which is the biggest cable company in Korea, so this looks pretty final. No more AFN for me … unless I buy a big ole’ antenna, so I can get it free-to-air for another three or four years. But I doubt that is going to happen.

I have so many found memories of AFN Korea, from when I first moved to Seoul. Back when Korean TV was truly dire. In the 1990s, there were very few cable channels, and few of them had much in the way of foreign programming. Deathly dull.

Back then, AFN offered a whole bunch of first-rate American programs, usually within months of being broadcast in the United States. For special broadcasts, like the last episode of Seinfeld, they would show the program just a few hours later. We also got to watch plenty of sports, most of the NCAA basketball tournament, most of the NBA playoffs, and a whole lot of football. (And oodles of NASCAR, but that is not really my thing). Plus there was all those old, heavily edited movies AFN played from 1am until 5am on weekdays.

Gradually, however, American TV execs got pissed off that people like myself (ie, non-military types) were watching all that US programming for free. Even worse, they really were upset that the cable companies were making money off of programs that were supposed to be only for US servicemen. When the Korean TV industry was tiny, no one cared, but as the 1990s went on, it began to grow into a much more lucrative market. So the US television companies started to deny AFN Korea the right to retransmit their programs. The sports quickly dried up. The TV programs grew older and lamer until there was seemingly nothing but Star Trek Voyager and Judge Judy. Then the news disappeared, too. For the last few months, FAMILY GUY and the other Tuesday animated shows (and GENERAL HOSPITAL) were just about the only reason I watched AFN.

So, bye-bye AFN. Thanks for the fond memories. The Anthrax Ninja. The great advice (Don’t use a beer bottle as a weapon. Don’t ruin OPSEC. Don’t waste your tour. Don’t commit suicide.) The Eagle. (Btw, who would win in a fight between the AFN Eagle and the Anthrax Ninja?).

Korea Weekend Box Office – Aug. 22-24

Looks like the Olympics have hastened our descent into the summer doldrums, with no film really doing a whole lot of business last weekend. This was a remarkably equal weekend, with the No. 10 film doing about half the business of the No. 2 film. No one film dominating the theaters. In fact, a couple of films did not even make the top 10, despite appearing in over 200 screens (X-FILES and SUPERHERO).

This Week Title…………………………………….. Release Date Screens Nationwide Weekend Revenue (bil. won) Total Revenue (bil. won)
1. Dark Knight 8.07 418 2.86 21.05
2. Gosa (Korean) 8.07 297 0.95 9.01
3. CJ7 8.21 288 0.91 1.05
4. Wall-E 8.07 296 0.79 5.40
5. Midnight Meat Train 8.14 252 0.79 0.96
6. Mummy 3 7.31 291 0.65 25.72
7. The Good, the Bad, the Weird (Joheun Nom, Nappeun Nom, Isanghan Nom – Korean) 7.17 237 0.57 44.96
8. Dachimawa Lee (Korean) 8.14 291 0.55 3.43
9. Baby & I (Agi-wa Na – Korean) 8.14 235 0.44 2.16
10. Eye for an Eye (Nuneneun Nun Ieneun I – Korean) 7.31 191 0.48 12.45

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

Digging in the Historical Records

So I recently picked up an unpleasant habit… potentially more dangerous than drugs, more costly than gambling, more insidious than drinking. I bought a turntable. Worse — I started buying old records.

Over the past couple of years on this blog, I have written about classic Korean rock music a few times. There is a lot of music from the 1960s and 1970s in Korea that I really enjoy. However, not a whole lot of music from that period has been reissued on CD. Yes, a lot of the biggest names are available on CD, especially from the Shin Joong-hyun family, but there was a heck of a lot of other stuff that never made it to CD.


Then one day, I was strolling through Hoehyeon Underground Mall, near Myeongdong, when I noticed all the used record stores there. I mean, of course I have seen them before, but I never really paid much attention to them. Why would I? But one this one occasion, I decided to ask about old Korean rock and pop music.

What a happy discovery that was. Plenty of interesting stuff to be had. Sure, if you want to buy mint-condition Shin Joong-hyun, you are going to pay a lot of money. But if you go off the beaten track and try out some less famous artists, the prices are not nearly as bad.

I think my best find as far has been The Trippers. Not as psychedelic as I might like, but not bad. Plus hearing a 1971 Korean version of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” is just too cool (RIP Isaac Hayes).

The Bunny Sisters seem to have not aged well, as wherever I went, there was plenty of their albums for pretty cheap. Sure, they are a little saccharine, but not a bad addition.


I also managed to find a He5 album. Granted, it was not in good condition (hence, I could afford it), but it still feels good to have a big album like that.


Very interesting (and more expensive) was ’71 King Hit Album, a compilation featuring songs by Kim Choo-ja, Kim Sang-hee, the Pearl Sisters and a whole bunch of other female singers.


And then there was the totally random. I also picked up some early Lee Soo-man albums, if only to get a sense of the man who would create SM Entertainment and the biggest pop music hit machine in Korea.

Once upon a time, the Daelim Sangga, running down Jongno 4-ga to Toegyero 4-ga, used to be the best place in Korea for old records. Sadly, those days are gone. I know because I took some bad advice and looked all over those concrete bunkers looking for old records. Plenty of people selling old turntables and stereo equipment, but only one person selling old records that I could find (and he was mostly selling old Journey and Judas Priest era albums).

Most of those old shops have moved, either to the Hoehyeon underground shopping arcade, or else to the Yongsan Jeonja Land mall, second floor. A great way to waste some time and money.

Anyhow, I don’t mean to bore anyone. But it is rather fun and interesting to have a whole new part of Korea to dive into. Hopefully I will not go overboard.

Korea Weekend Box Office – Aug. 15-17

Not a lot of change this week in the top-10. The new films — DACHIMAWA LEE, BABY & I, X-FILES — all failed to impress audiences, and did little business. DARK KNIGHT, MUMMY 3 and (to a lesser extent) WALL-E and GOSA continued to hold their audiences for a second week.

Looks like THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD is rapidly running out of steam. It might make it to 7 million admissions, which would make it by far the most successful Kim Jee-woon film ever, but would barely be breaking even for its investors.

This Week Title…………………………………….. Release Date Screens Nationwide Weekend Revenue (bil. won) Total Revenue (bil. won)
1. Dark Knight 8.07 465 3.63 14.58
2. Mummy 3 7.31 316 1.49 23.60
3. Gosa (Korean) 8.07 302 1.37 6.46
4. Dachimawa Lee 8.14 342 1.09 1.71
5. Wall-E 8.07 312 0.98 3.78
6. The Good, the Bad, the Weird (Joheun Nom, Nappeun Nom, Isanghan Nom – Korean) 7.17 296 0.97 40.47
7. Baby & I (Agi-wa Na – Korean) 8.14 248 0.65 0.97
8. An Eye for an Eye (Nuneneun Nun Ieneun I – Korean) 7.31 258 0.70 11.12
9. X-Files 8.14 267 0.57 0.87
10. Keroro 8.07 67 0.19 0.70

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

Not a lot of excitement on the horizon. Will be interesting to see how MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN does next weekend, followed by STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS and MAMMA MIA in early September. MAMMA MIA could be especially interesting, given how well that musical has done in Korea over the years.

Seoul Fringe Festival Kicks Off

Okay, this post is late, very sorry. But it is not too late to check out this year’s Seoul Fringe Festival, taking place right now in Hongdae.


This is the 11th Seoul Fringe Festival, a two-week celebration of independent, underground and sometimes just plain weird art, music, theater and other cultural goodness. Do not expect to see many of Hongdae’s biggest bands at Fringe. The whole point of the show is to give unestablished artists a chance to show off. They might be raw and unready (and they might not be any good), but I think it is good to shaking things up from time to time… especially in a place as hierarchical as Korea.

The festival takes place pretty much all over the area around Hongik University, with the bulk of events happening along the “meat street” area (the twisting road/park that runs just behind the LG Palace, KFC, and Soundholic).

You can download a map of Hongdae showing all the Fringe Festival locations from the front page of the English website (sorry, but it is a javascript link, so I cannot link directly to it).

Everything I Learned About Life I Learned From Korean TV Dramas…

Okay, this is hardly new, but it amused me greatly when someone reminded me of it recently. It is the top 50 things I learned from watching Korean TV dramas.

50 things you can learn from a korean drama

1) Hot, rich, younger men love fat, older vulgar women.

2) If you have a best guy friend, he is in love with you. And secretly you are too.

3) You and your boyfriend will always playfully chase each other on an ice rink, at the beach, or in the leaves. And you’ll laugh for no reason and your boyfriend will hit you “playfully” but the force of his push will have you flying across the room. But it’s okay. Cuz you’re still laughing like a crazy person.

4) Brothers/cousin/uncles-newphews will always love the same girl.

5) You’re allowed to make uturns wherever you want in Korea. And there is never traffic on the side you want to u turn to.

6) There is a super quick payment device that allows you to pay a bill quickly enough for a guy to run immediately out of a restaurant after his angry girlfriend storms out.

7) Everyone has cancer.

8) If you’re sick, all you need is an IV to make you feel lots better.

9) There is vomit and urine all over Seoul at nights.

10) Fighting at a pojangmacha with a random stranger is merely part of a normal night’s event.

11) Soju must cost 10 cents. Everyone drinks it everyday all the time, especially the poor people.

12) If you’re rich, you’re a jerk.

13) If you’re poor, you’re an angel.

14) Women sleep and wake up with a full set of makeup on.

15) You’re not studying hard enough unless you get a nosebleed.

16) If you have a nosebleed, you most definitely have cancer. And you have no money to pay for the surgery that will save your life. And your liver is missing. We’re not sure where it went, but it’s making your cancer progress faster.

17) If you work in a sool jeep, you have massively curly hair and wear flashy colors from the early 90’s.

18) You always order orange juice or coffee at a cafe. And you never drink it. EVER.

19) You will always call your boyfriend by his job title. Or simply sunbaenim. Never his name. Never. He doesn’t have one.

20) If you TRULY love each other, you must die together in the end. Frozen outside instead of finding shelter like sane people. Just frozen….

21) You go to America you come back miraculously successful. You go to England you come back amazingly fashionable. You stay in Korea the only thing that changes is your hairstyle.

22) And if you come back with no apparent reason then it’s because you have cancer.

23) Everyone always goes to the same hospital no matter where they are.

24) If you stand out in the rain for more than five minutes, you’ll end up with a fever and vertigo and people will rush you to the hospital to get some magic IV. And instead of taking an ambulance or driving they’ll race you on their back.

25) Even if you’re poor and can’t eat, you never wear the same clothes twice.

26) If you play a poor kid, you always have dirt on your face and your hair is always messy.

27) If you’re saving someone from being hit from a car, you’ll push them out of the way and wait for the car to hit you instead.

28) Everyone has a long lost sister/brother/twin. Usually one they didn’t know about.

29) If you don’t want to answer your phone, you can’t just turn it off. The battery
needs to be taken out.

30) All korean men can drink hard, smoke long, sing well and play piano. Usually all at the same time. And at the same restaurant that has a piano that they let anyone use.

31) If you’re in a relationship, you must at one point leave and have your lover tearfully come RIGHT before you board the plane (vice versa applies as well. You can be the chaser). 60% of the time you see each other, the other 40% you’re roaming around in circles and pass each other about six times, but miraculously never see them.

32) If you’re getting off a plane, you’re ALWAYS wearing sunglasses. ALWAYS.

33) All guys wear hideous tracksuits zipped up to their neck. Even if all they’re doing is jumping rope.

34) Girls will always storm off because they’re mad and the guy will stoically grab them by the arm and swing them back- and by magic, not dislocate their shoulders.

35) Guys always look like they’re 6 feet tall, even if they’re only 5’10. Thank you camera angles.

36) Guys like to wear foundation, eyeliner and sometimes a smudge of lipliner.

37) You always get stuck in an elevator with someone who makes you feel uncomfortable. Even if there are six different elevators, you’ll always be stuck in the same one with that bastard you hate (or just fought with).

38) Unless you’re fabulously rich, your in-laws will always hate you.

39) So will your sister-in-law.

40) Your brother-in-law might be pining away for you.

41) There are only 2 ways to kiss. You either press your lips against theirs with your mouth completely shut, and just press away for a very long and uncomfortable time. OR you devour the other person and suck out their soul. In both instances, the world spins.

42) A guy will always get the right size ring, even if you’re never held hands.

43) People stare off into space and ponder a lot. They’ll just stop in the middle of the road and watch a leaf on a tree for a good three minutes, and just ponder.

44) You’ll get pregnant the first time you have sex.

45) You’ll get pregnant if he kisses you on the forehead.

46) Hell- you’ll get pregnant if you hold hands.

47) If you overcome great obstacles to be together, one of you must die. Probably due to cancer.

48) One Korean man can kick the butts of 6 gangstas. Especially when they all stand in a circle and attack the guy one by one. Then when each of them get their butts OWNED, they wise up and attack the guy at the same time. Then the guy will get pulverized and bleed out onto the dusty concrete floor of the empty warehouse they’ve found to fight in. There will be a fire in a trashcan somewhere. And the girl will have watched this the entire time, screaming in horror. Instead of calling 119, she’ll just watch and cry. But it’s okay. Cuz the next day the guy will be fine with a few random bandages and a few face scars. But never a black eye.

49) It ain’t a real fight unless the gangstas fight dirty with a stick or switchblade.

50) If you study in the states (perferably Harvard), you are one of the top students and can speak perfect English (as assumed by the reactions of those around you). Why the rest of the world OUTSIDE of the TV can’t understand a single word uttered out of your melodramatic mouth is beyond me.

Korea Weekend Box Office – Aug. 8-10

Sorry for the lateness of the box office again this week. But once again, KOBIS’s numbers were not finalized until today.

Lots of strange things to note in the top 10 this week. First of all, how mediocre THE DARK KNIGHT did. Sure it was No. 1, but it barely topped 1 million admissions. I thought it would have been closer to 2 million.

WALL-E also opened rather weakly, although Pixar has not had a huge hit in Korea since FINDING NEMO. Also this week there was a lot of competition.

In the world of positive strangeness, MUMMY 3 continued to kick butt. The movie is doing mad business here in Korea, way out of proportion compared to the rest of the world.

This Week Title…………………………………….. Release Date Screens Nationwide Weekend Revenue (bil. won) Total Revenue (bil. won)
1. Dark Knight 8.07 549 5.28 7.78
2. Mummy 3 7.31 543 3.26 20.80
3. Gosa (Korean) 8.07 365 2.48 3.57
4. The Good, the Bad, the Weird (Joheun Nom, Nappeun Nom, Isanghan Nom – Korean) 7.17 382 1.73 38.58
5. Wall-E 8.07 351 1.57 2.14
6. An Eye for an Eye (Nuneneun Nun Ieneun I – Korean) 7.31 401 1.65 9.61
7. Sunny (Nimeun Meon Gose – Korean) 7.24 247 0.44 10.69
8. Keroro 8.07 84 0.30 0.42
9. Doremon 7.17 42 0.055 1.80
10. Space Chimps 7.17 30 0.014 1.55

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

Korea Weekend Box Office – Aug. 1-3

Why do Koreans love The Mummy franchise? Despite horrid reviews around the world and a pretty mediocre opening in the United States, THE MUMMY 3 had one of the strongest openings of the year, with about 2.1 million admissions (or about $13.5 million).

Note: THE MUMMY RETURNS has just 2.3 million admissions in its entire seven-week run, back in 2001 (making it the 10th biggest film of the year). MUMMY 3 beat that in about five days. The original THE MUMMY was the second-biggest film of 1999 in Korea (hard to say how well it did, because I only have Seoul numbers, but it probably had around 3 million admissions nationwide).

Kim Jee-woon’s THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD continues to do well, if perhaps not quite at THE HOST or D-WAR levels. But it has topped 5.17 million admissions now, making it the biggest film of the year.

Plenty of competition coming soon, but the smartypants over at CJ Entertainment had a pretty good idea — they have released the Cannes version of GBW, in around 10 theaters around Korea. An interesting way to keep the film a little fresher and encourage repeat business.

(Btw, I have seen both versions, and aside from about minute additional minutes at the end and one brief change in the opening, I do not recall any differences. The Cannes ending was not radically different, just less complete).

The thriller EYE FOR AN EYE had an okay opening, with 865,000 admissions since Thursday. Not bad, but I do not see it sticking around very long.

KUNG FU PANDA gets the longevity award, as it has been in the theaters here since June 5. These days, two months is forever.

PUBLIC ENEMY RETURNS makes its last entry this week, with 4.2 million admissions. That’s about typical for a Kang Woo-suk film these days.

This Week Title…………………………………….. Release Date Screens Nationwide Weekend Revenue (bil. won) Total Revenue (bil. won)
1. The Mummy 3 7.31 723 9.45 13.41
2. The Good, the Bad, the Weird (Joheun Nom, Nappeun Nom, Isanghan Nom – Korean) 7.17 569 4.19 34.27
3. Eye for an Eye (Nuneneun Nun, Ieneun I – Korean) 7.31 555 3.95 5.67
4. Sunny (Nimeun Meon Gose – Korean) 7.24 433 1.85 9.29
5. Nim’s Island 7.17 236 0.49 3.87
6. Doremon 7.17 96 0.34 1.60
7. Space Chimps 7.17 141 0.22 1.45
8. Red Cliff 7.10 123 0.17 10.06
9. Kung Fu Panda 6.05 48 0.090 28.94
10. Public Enemy Returns (Gangcheoljung – Korean) 6.19 33 0.038 27.64

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

THE DARK KNIGHT opened last night (I know because I saw it), and while it might not break records like it is doing in the United States, I expect it to be very, very big. WALL-E opens tonight, and I fear it is going to be the forgotten film. Then again, Korea is not a great country for Pixar. RATATOUILLE did not even make it to 1 million admissions.

Incidentally, A BETTER TOMORROW opens on Aug. 8 at the old Dream Cinema, by Seodaemun Station (line No. 5). It is the last of the old-style theaters in Korea (big, crappy, one-screen). They have been experiencing a big of a revival, as they await the wrecking ball, by showing a lot of popular older films. First it was DIRTY DANCING. Then THE MISSION did fairly well. They have played some Korean classics, too. Sounds like a fun theatrical experience.

Box Office Slow…

I want to update this week’s box office, but for some reason KOBIS is being really slow this week. The official government site is indicating last weekend’s top film, MUMMY 3, had about 240,000 admissions. But Universal Pictures International says that MUMMY 3 sold about 2.1 million tickets (about $13.5 million), which is rather radically different.

Maybe the person in charge of updating the KOBIS database is on summer vacation this week.

Anyhow, hope to post the box office numbers soon.

Galley Slave

Not a lot of updates again. And, yeah, I know I sound like a broken record about that. But at least my excuse this time is a little more interesting — I have, at last, received the galleys for POP GOES KOREA. Currently going through them, catching all the errors I can, ponder whether certain items have gone out of date, and trying not to cringe too hard at the writing I do not like.

Actually, I find myself sympathizing with a lot of those celebrity interviews you read in the papers and see on TV — you know, the ones where the actor is asked about his film, and he says something like, “Well, I finished filming over a year ago, so I don’t really remember.”

Although I have been working on the book with some frequency, the bulk of the writing was finished almost exactly a year ago. I have added sidebars and answered questions and tracked down photo credits, but for the most part, I was done last August. Kind of strange to be re-reading things that I wrote one, even two years ago. But at a certain point, you just have to let things go, as imperfect as they might be.

The good thing is, though, that the book is nearly done. With a little luck, it should be on store shelves by September.
——

Oh, one more reason I have not been writing much on the blog lately has been some fun projects I have been working on. They have led to a large amount of traveling as of late. I spend so much time in Seoul (and other major cities around Asia) that I really appreciate it when I can head off to the countryside for a few days. Especially when I can check out a part of Korea that I have never visited before.

I might write about some of those trips here soon. Not sure if they fit the theme of this blog, though. Maybe I should ask to guest post of Gusts of Popular Feeling or the Marmot’s Hole, which might be more in keeping with what I have in mind.

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